4 Predictions for Intelligent Automation Technology in 2020

Doculabs has a different perspective than analysts and vendors when we think about predictions for the new year. We consider the roles of both users and providers of the technologies and are most concerned about what can be deployed in happy production in 2020, or at least in the next three years. With that in mind, here are four of our predictions for intelligent automation technology — the trends that will mean the most to our clients. We also provide perspectives from HyperScience Head of Partnerships Max Lien and Kofax Vice President of Strategy Dan Kuenzig. Both were kind enough to provide their predictions for 2020.

Prediction 1: Expansion, Combination and Orchestration

The field of vendors and products will continue to expand this year. We currently track more than 60 IPA products with at least some focus on document capture and automation, typically document classification, extraction, validation and transformation. We also track hundreds of other offerings in the IPA areas that don’t directly address document ingestion (like NLP/NLG).

What is more interesting is that suppliers and customers are combining IPA pieces into useful aggregations. HyperScience’s Max Lien, head of partnerships, says, “As businesses look to mature their RPA initiatives in the coming year, they will increasingly require adjacent technologies like machine learning (ML) to achieve their end-to-end automation goals and unlock greater business value.” Dan Kuenzig, vice president of strategy for Kofax, agrees, saying, “RPA as a standalone offering will officially retire in 2020, and the market will move on to integrated intelligent automation. The reason is simple: all the easy tasks will have been automated.”

HyperScience and UIPath, for example, join text extraction to the front of RPAs to allow the robots to automate a greater population of documents. RPA vendor Blue Prism is offering Decipher for extraction, and Kofax combines its Kapow RPA capabilities with ingestion and case management.

In 2019 we often found ourselves explaining that robotic process automation and intelligent process automation are not, in fact, about automating processes. They automate tasks, and except for relatively simple processes, should be embedded in some kind of process automation and management backbone. The process automation platform will orchestrate the processes, letting you monitor and manage the activities and processes. Pega, Camunda, IBM and Kofax are among the process automation platform vendors that orchestrate their own or third party IPAs.

This will feed into a broader focus on process orchestration. Kofax’s Kuenzig says, “2020 will accelerate emerging trends around modern orchestration priorities, though. Organizations will leverage orchestration as the intelligent fabric to connect the front, middle and back office to remove silos.”

Prediction 2: Solution Differentiation and Shake-Out

Suppliers and customers are getting wise to which products work best, in which conditions, and which products are the most deployment-ready. In 2019 many of our clients (typically large financial and insurance firms) were planning or conducting POCs (proofs-of-concept), testing their current tools with some of the new products on the market. In our experience, this trend is accelerating in 2020 and bake-offs will become part of the normal sales process.

There has already been some differentiation and shake-out. Automation vendors who can provide missing capabilities (like handprint) and are ready, or nearly ready, for deployment have and will continue to defeat the competition. Legacy capture vendors with uncompetitive offerings, or IPA vendors who don’t understand the processes and ecosystems they have to embed themselves into, are already dead in the water unless they dramatically improve their offerings.

Prediction 3: Good News and Bad News for BPOs

Bad news first: many of our clients are rethinking outsourcing for document scanning, processing and storage. This is partly because of the poor vendor health of several of the larger BPOs. But it’s also because of the growing gap between the labor-intensive, inefficient, inflexible performance of the service providers versus the changing needs and capabilities of the customers. Customers know that they can use the new generation of automation to reduce ingestion and processing costs. The BPOs typically don’t want to move off their labor model or are inept at using automation. Some BPOs are building their own IPAs, while others deploy an ad hoc hodgepodge of vendors and tools without any good strategy. Neither of these approaches will work in 2020.

The good news is that some BPOs have a strong technology strategy, usually going with a single platform vendor supplemented by a small set of IPAs. In our opinion, BPOs using Kofax for capture and IPAs are the best example of this, supplementing where needed. In the coming year, these BPOs will further differentiate themselves from the rest of the herd.

The other good news is that some clients we know are taking whole processes or parts of processes back in-house, using intelligent capture and automation technology to automate ingestion or processing.

Prediction 4: Big Ideas

Finally, we see two young trends emerging in 2020. They are big ideas.

The first is that firms will begin making a rigorous distinction between utilities and differentiators among opportunities and approaches to automation. In a nutshell, address the utilities quickly and cheaply, and then focus on using intelligent automation to hit the differentiators out of the park.

Utility opportunities are simple, typically broad, and should be provided and maintained as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Utility opportunities include most ingestion extraction processes and most RPA activities. Firms should seek and use commodity tools and outsource services for these.

Processes that are differentiators are far more complex and provide competitive advantage if done right. Kofax’s Kuenzig is thinking hard about these. The examples he gives are getting a 360 degree view of the customer, managing — really managing — the customer journey by orchestrating layers of business processes and tasks, and greatly enhancing the customer experience.

The second big idea applies to firms who have been aggressive with AI and big data the last few years. In 2019 we saw firms in financial services and pharmaceuticals repurpose these technologies and apply them to information governance activities. They are beginning to use them for data and document security classification, records and information classification, and general information lifecycle management and governance. This massive enterprise-scale approach has not been possible until now, and we expect other wealthy, aggressive firms to begin such initiatives in 2020.

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Rich Medina
Rich Medina
I’m a Principal Consultant and co-founder of Doculabs, and the resident expert in using ECM for information lifecycle management.