Most European enterprises (92%) expect to adopt robotic process automation (RPA) technology by 2020.
A survey of 500 European businesses by ISG found the core drivers to be improving customer experience and streamlining the internal finance operations.
The survey, conducted alongside RPA software company Automation Anywhere, also revealed that 54% of the businesses questioned expected to reach the advanced stage of adoption by the same date, compared with the 27% at that stage now.
Businesses are putting money behind the technology. The ISG research found RPA budgets in Europe had increased, on average, by 9% over the past year, significantly ahead of the average increase for general IT spending. It also found that more than half of RPA budgets were spent on third parties, such as consultants and IT service providers.
When it comes to using RPA for customer-facing activity, 43% of respondents said this was where the greatest impact would be, while 42% said the finance treasury and audit operations would benefit most.
“Robotic process automation is delivering improved outcomes for enterprises across Europe, and our research shows many more businesses will be taking advantage of the technology by 2020 as adoption accelerates,” said ISG partner Andreas Lueth.
Andreas Lueth, ISG
“The increasing prominence of RPA in organisations is borne out in the fact that many businesses are now choosing to appoint heads of automation, a role that has appeared only in the past two years.
“This technology has the potential to revolutionise customer service and back-office functions alike, but organisations should be wary of falling into the RPA trap. The decision to deploy RPA should be treated as a strategic business initiative, with defined objectives and measures. Without this, the chance of failure is high,” he said.
But security is a key concern, with 42% citing this as an obstacle to greater use of RPA. Lack of budget and resistance to change were both cited by 33% as concerns.
Speaking at recent event hosted by RPA supplier Blue Prism, Phil Fersht, CEO at analyst company HfS Research, said automation supported digital disruption by improving customer experience.
“With digital transformation initiatives, there’s a shift from removing headcount to getting more value from staff – and RPA is playing a key part in this,” he said.
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At the same event, Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work and globalisation at the London School of Economics, said while RPA might seem expensive, the return on investment could be high.
“Some companies are experiencing a triple-win of shareholder value, customer value and employee value,” he said.
Jonathan Kidd, head of digital operations and robotics at Bank of Ireland, which is using Blue Prism RPA software, agreed.
“It isn’t about replacing people with robots any more, or savings – it’s about taking the robot out of the person, freeing them to do higher-value tasks, to deliver better services that improve the customer journey,” he said.