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Businesses worldwide are automating many workflows, and the pandemic is accelerating the need for better, more integrated tools. A big part of the push is fueled by remote workers who can only work digitally without access to the paperwork that forms the lifeblood for many office tasks. One crucial tool for accomplishing this speed up is robotic process automation (RPA) software, one part of an increasingly unconnected mesh of automation that’s replacing traditional workflows. 

This insight was one of the main themes from Forrester’s new report surveying the marketplace for RPA software tools. The report sees strong growth that will drive revenues to $22 billion in 2025, up from $13.9 billion in 2021. 

Traditionally, the letters RPA were attached to software designed to simplify and smooth the flow of documents and other information through a team. Many companies deploy the tools to juggle scanned images of paper documents like tax returns or images of driver’s licenses. Some use the tools for accounting work, others for legal compliance, and others are finding ways to simplify basic chores. 

The new report from Forrester notes that the definition of the term is blurring as the general marketplace for automation grows, too. As RPA tools improve, they’re adding connections to other enterprise tools, producing what Forrester calls an “automation fabric market.”

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“Embedding RPA into enterprise software suites or making RPA part of a broader intelligent automation play is a long-term trend as enterprises build a heterogeneous automation fabric,” the report reads. It goes on to add that in 2022 alone, “5% of Fortune 500 companies will adopt an automation fabric to drive automation-fueled business transformation.”

The word “robotic” is often confusing for some because there are no physical devices involved. The term began because much of the work was focused on physical paper, but the tools have grown more sophisticated. New versions from leaders like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath deliver workflow management tools that usher items throughout the organization. 

The tools are often seen as a big part of the low code or no code movement because they’ve been designed to allow average workers in the organization to create and modify the data pipelines. While the appellation of “no code” is often a bit of a dream, there’s no doubt that many corporations appreciate what they can achieve without a dedicated team of developers. 

Forrester likes to call these “citizen process experts” and predicts that they’ll continue to take a larger role in creating and managing the information flows. The report suggests that businesses that take a lead in “democratizing the understanding of processes and how to use automation” will be the ones that succeed the most in building effective RPA pipelines. 

At the same time, Forrester hints that the difference between human and machine is becoming more blurred. Some tools known as “process mining” effectively discover how data is already moving in the environment, making it much simpler to duplicate it with a new RPA tool. 

“Digital assistants will work side by side with humans, first learning how humans work with computers and then suggesting, building, and running automations,” the report states. “Reinforcement learning will push the complexity threshold of automation use cases while humans remain in the driver’s seat. We see small and midsize product vendors in particular offering basic digital assistants to round out a strong vision.”

As AI infiltrates the workplace, RPA is also on the rise

The RPA market is also one of the stealth vectors for AI infiltrating the workplace. From the beginning, the tools incorporated machine vision algorithms for scanning documents and converting them into digital representations. Newer versions include machine learning options to make intelligent choices like locating the invoice number on a form. 

A big part of the growth will come from RPA services, a marketplace that may grow to provide $16 billion of that $22 billion in revenue in 2025. Forrester estimates that 60% of this money will come from adding new automation workflows to existing stacks. The rest will be consulting and support for existing installations. 

The adoption should be greatest in financial services, the public sector and healthcare, three groups often clogged with paperwork and compliance challenges. Forrester expects these three to make up 41% of the revenue alone. 

While these sectors will continue to dominate, Forrester anticipates that their share of the market will shrink, in part because the industries will grow faster. In the last few years, finance and accounting went from 36% of the applications in 2019 to 28% in 2021. 

Much of the marketplace should also remain in the back office” that is, tasks done internally to maintain records. Yet, Forrester sees some growth coming in the “front office” as businesses integrate the automation tools with the open websites visited by customers. There will be more uploading of documentation as consumers feed the RPA machinery more directly. 

In the long term, Forrester imagines that integration like this will gradually end the growth in RPA specific tools. Larger, more comprehensive pan-business automation fabrics will absorb the workflow and RPA will become just a part of this greater business. Tools like chatbots, older data collections like customer management systems, and newer, external options like data-as-a-Service vendors will all feed into this interconnected fabric.  

The report predicts that, “Platform convergence in 2022 will focus on sophisticated tools to orchestrate workflows and data flows between humans, digital workers and AI agents via a combination of surface and native integration.” It goes on to explain that “Meanwhile, technologies such as process mining, chatbots, and low code will increasingly find a place in these evolving platforms.” 

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