With roughly $300mil in seed funding raised across several Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software vendors over the last twelve months, RPA is worth a closer look. There is obviously something big unfolding with the first $1B market cap company created through seed funding in the last twelve months, and nearly 30 products in the market offering services in the RPA eco-system.
FromHereOn hosted the second RPA for Developers MeetUp at Basecamp in Sydney this week, and we're still amazed at the relative obscurity of something that has such disruptive power. MeetUp attendees are all developers seeking community, but also real solutions to the challenges they face in their day jobs. And while blockchain has some street cred, robotic process automation just doesn’t register. Well not yet.
Early adopters in Australia are the operations teams in banks and insurance companies, and Australia is ahead of Europe and South East Asia as an early adopter globally, and this is evidenced by a significant developer and client community here in Sydney. The opportunity to support other regions in the globe as they understand the use cases and develop the capability to implement will be worth keeping an eye on.
RPA is the practice of finding activities in a business that people have traditionally done, and then automating it with a script. Each script or automated activity requires a bot (software instance). An example of an RPA bot activity is scanning a Pdf file to find an invoice number, customer number, and purchase order number, digitising it if needed, then moving it to the next database. It doesn’t even have to be done quickly, but it can be done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, completely removing the process from a persons workload.
Activities suited to RPA are typically not glamorous, but as approx 25% of all back of house activities in large companies can be automated with an RPA bot the number of applications is enormous. And to get a sense of the potential, the number of bots currently in use in the market in Australia is estimated at only around 1000, while the application for them is foreseen at something closer to 100,000. ie 100x growth just on current market.
Hard to predict though is whether blockchain and smart contracts, emerging at the same time and competing for a similar proposition (Ie software automating business processes that were previously undertaken by people) will overtake and thus obviate RPA. While blockchain is a game changer and likely to dominate value exchange within any new system in the future, RPA is available now, is relatively cheap to deploy, and can be inserted in existing legacy enterprise systems. Over the next 5 years the efficiencies RPA can offer large complex businesses are profound so we are likely to see widespread adoption. As new services are built solely on blockchain and smart contracts through the longer range view for RPA is less certain.
And before you take to the streets to defend the jobs of back-office staffers, developers report the operational staff they work with loving RPA projects because they elevate the workers from the daily grind of running the processes, to working on improving them. So with upside for the enterprise, and employees and ultimately customers (through faster more accurate service) robotic process automation will continue to develop and grow its reach in Australia and beyond.
FromHereOn has no vested interest in RPA other than to support the developer community, and better understand the use cases to remain at the leading edge in strategic design and enterprise architecture.
Special thank to Pavel Gimelberg for hosting this Meet Up and developing the conversation.