4 automation issues to watch in 2021

The business norms that have taken hold during the COVID-19 pandemic won't wither away with the virus. The trends around automation have accelerated: Keep your eye on these four
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At the start of 2020, few of us thought digital transformation would become such a critical part of our business. The pandemic has accelerated investment in transforming everything as a means of survival.

We’ve had to automate our warehouses to keep distance between drivers delivering goods and associates unloading trucks. To speed development of the COVID-19 vaccine, companies like Takeda were able to accelerate drug discovery and patient trials to deliver results in record time thanks to  Robot Process Automation (RPA).

And while the vaccine rollout promises the return of some semblance of normalcy, it doesn’t mean we will return to business as usual. The business norms that have taken hold during the pandemic aren’t simply going to wither away with the virus. The trends around automation have accelerated, and there is no reason to believe they will slow down.

[ How can automation free up your staff's time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ]

Let’s look at four emerging automation trends that will impact business in 2021.

1. Hyperautomation

The trends around automation have accelerated, and there is no reason to believe they will slow down.

Gartner declared hyperautomation its number-one strategic technology trend of 2020, and it was the only trend to return to the list in 2021. In a nutshell, hyperautomation seeks to marry various automation techniques to achieve true end-to-end automated solutions.

More simply, hyperautomation is applying structure around the chaos. Organizations have been steadily automating pieces of business processes, but few have stepped back to see the larger picture of end-to-end organizational change through automation.

[ Related read: How to identify Robotic Process Automation (RPA) opportunities. ]

An example of hyperautomation would be RPA coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) to design more effective processes based on ROI drawn from analytics. By applying hyperautomation, your automated processes would actually hone themselves, resulting in even more powerful process improvement.

Automated process discovery is a key component to learning how your team works and suggesting new candidates for automation. This isn’t just a job for the machines; hyperautomation pulls in business analysts, end users, and subject matter experts, allowing people to work side-by-side with the machines.

2. Rise of the automation architect

The automation boom has propelled previously niche roles to the forefront. Companies suddenly need experts in-house to sort out the ever-growing complexities that automation brings to their business.

The automation architect establishes the standards and tools for enterprise use of automation. They dive into policy and analyze how automation impacts people and processes. They lead the modernization efforts, building the business case as to why something should or should not be automated. They also analyze the impact automation makes across business units to determine a standardized approach for the entire organization.

[ What else does an automation architect do? Read also: What type of IT architect are you? ]

In a recent survey by Gartner, 20 percent of large companies were planning to bring on automation architects in 2021. That number is expected to rocket to 90 percent by 2025.

3. RPA mainstream use grows

Global spending on RPA services is expected to hit $12 billion in 2023 – up from $5 billion in spending in 2019. RPA is increasingly being used to help employees be more effective in their daily tasks. By automating traditional tasks, companies can remove human errors while ratcheting up efficiency. Taking away mundane tasks frees up workers to tackle more challenging problems.

By automating traditional tasks, companies can remove human errors while ratcheting up efficiency.

As RPA becomes increasingly mainstream, it is beginning to branch out beyond the realm of IT. Business-savvy COOs and CFOs are looking to apply the transformative power of RPA across the enterprise. Gartner predicts half of RPA adoption by 2024 will be outside of IT.

Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is also maturing quickly. IPA marries RPA with artificial intelligence (AI) to apply the power of machine learning in an effort to redesign more effective processes. IPA has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach business processes.

4. Internet of Behaviors data increases

Internet of Behaviors (IoB) uses data to alter behaviors. Every day, each one of us generates massive amounts of data. From our social media feeds and smartphone location tracking to telematics on our cars and health data monitoring through wearables, privacy is more of a myth every day.

IoB synthesizes this data to build digital footprints for each one of us that businesses can leverage. Telematics is a great example: Used to analyze driving habits, it can track speeding as well as reckless and careless driving, which signals that a driver is at high risk for a future accident. Using this data, insurers can opt out of covering hazardous drivers, and commercial fleets can focus their safety training on higher-risk drivers.

When it comes to insurance, drivers can currently opt into this monitoring with the promise of lower rates, but this won’t always be optional. Some insurance carriers, like Metromile, are working directly with car companies to build tracking into their new models. 2021 will see IoB creeping into more business use cases in every industry.

Digital transformation efforts will continue to grow in 2021 as companies strive to become leaner and more competitive in today’s fast-changing landscape. Business processes were ripe for disruption once remote work became the new norm. Most companies have seen productivity gains around this new model and will continue to evolve processes to facilitate it.

Gone are the days of seeing what is possible. Sinking money into AI projects that yield nebulous results is a thing of the past. Today, companies are concerned with what measures can effectively change their business. The time to quibble over squeezing automation items into the budget is long past, and companies must constantly ask how they are automating for the future.

[ How can you automate more? Get the free eBooks: Getting Started with Kubernetes and O'Reilly: Kubernetes Operators: Automating the Container Orchestration Platform. ]

Mark Runyon works as a director of consulting for Improving. For the past 20 years, he has designed and implemented innovative technology solutions for companies in the finance, logistics, and pharmaceutical space. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and is a contributing writer at InformationWeek.