Dewey Defeats Truman: RPA is Dead


Recent headlines proclaiming “RPA is dead” should remind us of that famously incorrect headline we learned about in grade school, "Dewey Defeats Truman.” It was published on the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent President Harry S. Truman defeated Thomas E. Dewey, the then-governor of New York. The Tribune’s erroneous prediction expecting Truman’s loss was rolling through the printing presses while Truman was, in fact, winning the presidential election. 

Those who are similarly predicting the death of robotic process automation (RPA) are missing the bigger picture: RPA is making its way through the corporate landscape, weaving itself inextricably into the fabric of business process execution. ISG Research indicates that more than a quarter of U.S. and European companies will make automation a “board level” priority this year.  RPA’s arrival at the highest level in an enterprise tells us that RPA is not only still alive but flourishing.

As advisors who have helped hundreds of companies navigate the RPA market, we consistently see RPA’s increasing penetration across industries. Some firms are at the beginning of their automation journeys. ISG Research confirms that more than 70 percent of companies are just getting started with RPA. They are anxious to embrace RPA and leverage its benefits. Other firms have launched their RPA journeys and are now seeking to accelerate and expand the use of “virtual workers” to optimize use of their RPA investment and reap greater benefits.  

Evolving and expanding RPA is an important element of the automation journey. Automating manual work processes suitable for robotic automation is not a one-time event. It is a beginning. Work is not constant – it changes and evolves as enterprises grow and adjust to dynamic business and market conditions. And automated business processes must be implemented, modified, enhanced, expanded and integrated as the operational and technology landscape within a business changes over time. Expanding and adjusting the use of RPA as processes evolve to support the business is a way of keeping them alive – not a reason to declare them dead.

Many organizations that are new to RPA go through similar stages, first validating what they have heard about its capabilities, where it can be applied, how others are using it and how it can be used to transform an organization into a digital enterprise. Of course, not all companies have optimized their use of RPA, but that does not mean the potential is diminished. Rather, the journey is exactly about that:  how a business optimizes its investment in RPA, expanding the use of virtual workers horizontally across business units and corporate functions, and vertically deeper into suitable process areas and functions to automate manual work tasks. For enterprises that seek the benefits of digitization, RPA is an essential part of the approach to process delivery, organizational redesign and operational alignment in the efficient use of digital and human resources. Typically, those leading and implementing RPA make the connections between the investment and the return – and then they promote, sponsor and push its use into every corner of manual work that makes up the business function.

Many clients have been using RPA for a few years. For them, it’s not about “how to use,” but about “how to scale,” and increasingly how to integrate cognitive technology with or layer it alongside RPA.  They understand how RPA forms the foundation of an ecosystem of technologies outside of traditional IT systems and applications that enable the business to do its work with greater efficiency and effectiveness. When implemented in this way, RPA is at the epicenter of a multi-tool environment that will eventually consist of other RPA tools as well as tools that convert unstructured data to structured data, business intelligence, extract-transform-load (ETL) database tools and machine learning tools, among others. This vision of a purposeful business-driven automation environment rests on a foundation of RPA.

How would Harry Truman react to the assertion that RPA is dead? Widely known as the “show me” president, he may have asked for the proof. He might have asked how it can be dead while more than 90 percent of enterprises indicate it has been instrumental in helping them meet or exceed their productivity, compliance and data accuracy goals. And he may have asked how it could be dead if leading RPA software companies are receiving valuations in the billions. The truth is, the adoption of RPA and the demand for qualified individuals to develop automated processes are on the rise.

More and more companies are considering adopting RPA to gain benefits such as reduced human labor cost, improved work throughput, fewer errors, faster response time and greater compliance. If they are like other companies that are already well on their way, they will want to experience the faster time to value RPA offers, expanding the use of virtual workers in the enterprise and then building on their foundation to achieve even higher rates of efficiency and productivity with cognitive technology.