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4 January 2017

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What does the future hold for robotics? Five predictions for 2017

Attitudes towards robotics have been changing. In the last 12 months, there has been a shift from people thinking ‘why should I consider robotics?’ to ‘why aren’t we considering robotics?’. If 2016 was the year of the pilot, 2017 will be the year of adoption.

So why now, and what else can we expect from robotics in 2017? We share five of our predictions.

1. Moving beyond the pilot

Next year, we will see automation projects moving out of proof of concept phase and into full-on, automated processes. People will begin to scale their automation projects, taking on much larger roll-outs and going after the benefits. We expect to see continued activity with more cognitive AI solutions, such as IBM’s Watson.

As projects move out of the pilot stage, we’ll also see a growing movement toward ‘intelligent operations’ – bringing technology and people together to more effectively run the business. RPA, Cognitive Systems and AI are rapidly changing the way that business can be done, and by who or ‘what’.

RBS was the first to announce the use of ‘chatbots’ to engage with customers in place of a contact centre. However, other systems include Voice Digital Assistants (VDAs), Virtual Agents and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to pick up programmable tasks, freeing people up to analyse, interpret and act on results. These systems can also talk to each other and learn from trends and patters to further alleviate the need for people to trawl through reams of data to find an answer.

2. Taking ownership of automation

As the adoption of automation becomes more widespread, clients will be more organised, identifying roles where cognitive solutions fit within various operations with a view toward continuous improvement.

New roles will emerge to accommodate individuals’ who have overall ownership of automation – a ‘Chief Automation Officer’, for example. There needs to be a specific appointment in order to have the cloud to move automation through the business.

The way automation is viewed within organisations will also change as more firms begin digital transformation initiatives and change programmes. Automation will become to be seen as the ‘glue’ or wrapper that brings the digital transformation journey together.

All businesses are aiming for successful outcomes when it comes to digital transformation, but many are attempting to do everything manually. Given digital transformation is ‘digital’ by nature, it should be automated if possible. So the challenge firms will take on is managing digital transformation in such a way that automation is used to support the bigger programme of work wherever and whenever possible.

3. Taking on blockchain and the cloud

Banks are going to start making some bold steps in the footsteps of companies who are already putting their first trades through via blockchain, and who are already in the cloud. However, even though blockchain may reduce overall systemic risk because your trade to settlement time is reduced enormously, banks will still have to find a way of plugging it in to their own technical landscapes.

However, as with approaching any digital transformation, banks can’t just turn off operations temporarily and start afresh while still sustaining the level of business they have. The approach many are taking is to apply a thin layer of technology over the top – things like robo advisors, which are actually digging into banks’ existing knowledge bases and systems and performing tasks for the client while easily serving them at a lower cost.

4. Taking in the whole picture

While desktop automation tools have been around for a while, and so have Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools, it’s only now that people are beginning to look across functions to think about automation as a whole, and that’s where companies can really start to add value.

Over the next 12 months, Intelligent Automation (IA) is set to become huge. Combined with BMP and workflow tools, IA will be able to provide a new and different perspective on how automated processes can be applied to operations. People will no longer be looking for large automation opportunities, but for end-to-end process management that combines humans and technology to provide the most efficient processes.

5. The automation arms race is on

We expect that three or four automation tools will emerge as strong frontrunners, while others will struggle to compete in an increasingly busy market. This arms race will be ongoing as people build out on capability, with some consolidation in terms of people pulling together investment in capabilities, not just in investment but in services as well. Consolidation will stem from a number of firms who have made it into the investment level in private equity, which will begin shaping the market.

Looking towards 2017, we expect to see more scalable, successful examples of robotic process automation. We hope that people are prepared to move beyond the organisational red tape and go for it together with all the benefits it will bring to business.

James Hall, CEO, Genfour

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