The End of Geography – and Other Intelligent Automation Predictions for 2017


Few would argue that 2016 has been a banner year of growth and maturation for the intelligent automation marketplace. Intelligent tools that a year ago were still being dismissed by some as hype are becoming fixtures in global enterprises. Consider increasingly advanced cognitive and autonomics capabilities from IBM Watson and IPsoft, as well as increasingly common success stories from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendors such as Blue Prism. As these tools go mainstream, customers are recognizing that the benefits extend far beyond cost reduction and increased productivity and include enhanced compliance, security and analytic capabilities.

Dizzying as the pace of change has been, a look ahead to 2017 suggests that the fun is just beginning. Mihir Shukla, Founder and CEO of Automation Anywhere, recently hosted the December session of the company’s monthly BotVisions webinar series to discuss the state of the RPA market and digital workforce, and to offer some prognostications as to what to expect and prepare for over the next 12 months.

In assessing the current environment, Mihir noted that a couple of years back, RPA initiatives were primarily confined to departmental deployments. Today, meanwhile, large enterprise-wide projects are increasingly common, and executives are increasingly looking at their digital workforces and operating models in a strategic manner.

In terms of 2017, Mihir anticipates the confluence of RPA and cognitive will gain momentum and define the automation strategies of a growing number of enterprises. The prospect of combining the straight-through processing strength of RPA with the pattern recognition and logic capabilities of cognitive applications has fueled intense interest for its potential ability to address longstanding and thorny issues in industries such as insurance. If Mihir is correct, and if the RPA plus cognitive synergy does indeed take root in 2017, a year from now the term “game changer” will take on a whole new meaning.

Not one to shy away from specifics, Mihir predicts that in 2017 fully 75 percent of the F1000 will at a minimum test the waters of digital workforce deployment. While he believes results and return on investment will vary dramatically, Mihir presented the details of a potential scenario: according to his calculation, a highly efficient traditional enterprise employing 5,000 people can process 10 million transactions at a cost of $75 million in capital expenditure. In a digital environment, meanwhile, 500 people collaborating with 2,000 digital bots can process 50 million transactions – at an operating expenditure of $15 million. In other words, what Mihir calls the digital “Amazon” model delivers five times the productivity at one-fifth the cost of the traditional “Barnes and Noble” model.

Staggering as those figures are, another observation Mihir offered during the webinar’s Q&A session underscores the truly fundammental nature of the disruption we are all today witnessing and participating in. When asked if the impact of the digital workforce would vary by geographic region, Mihir responded that Automation Anywhere has digital bots that can “speak” 12 languages. This capability renders what has traditionally been a critical decision criterion for sourcing locations far less relevant. Moreover, in an international environment characterized by tension and uncertainty regarding border security and immigration, the idea of leveraging automation to avoid troubled regions is becoming increasingly attractive to executives seeking to reassure shareholders.

Mihir harbors little doubt that automation will soon transform how global organizations decide where they do business. “The digital workforce is geography-neutral,” he said. “Once it happens anywhere, it can happen everywhere.”

About the author

Chip Wagner served as the Chief Executive Officer of Alsbridge from 2013 to 2016, when he helped merge the firm with ISG. Over the past 30 years, Chip has become a recognized industry expert, specializing in ITO and BPO strategy development and implementation, business transformation, contract negotiations and telecommunications. Committed to helping clients understand and respond to emerging trends, he is a thought leader in the nascent field of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and a regular speaker on the impact of innovative and disruptive technologies. As CEO of Alsbridge, Chip directed the firm’s business strategy, oversaw global operations and worked closely with key client and service provider organizations in a variety of industries and countries. He maintained a keen focus on top line growth and profitability, and was been directly involved in more than $15B in sourcing transactions.