Bringing RPA to Its Next Frontier: The Cloud
Robotic process automation is accelerating, and its next frontier is the cloud.
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The adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) continues to accelerate. In fact, according to Gartner, it’s the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, with revenue increasing 63.1% to $846 million in 2018. Gartner forecasts RPA software revenue will reach $1.3 billion in 2019.
Despite these extraordinary figures, we have not yet reached the precipice of where this transformative technology will take global enterprise and society as a whole.
According to IDG’s Future of Work survey, while “86% of executives interviewed indicated that human work, AI systems, and robotic automation ‘must be well-integrated by 2020,’… only 12% of executives said their companies ‘do this really well today.’”
To accelerate RPA adoption, the technology must be more widely accessible and easily scalable, so that nontechnical business users can create their own function-specific software bots. It must harness built-in artificial intelligence, enabling an intelligent RPA platform that’s more intuitive to use and more powerful in capability.
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And perhaps most importantly, RPA must be available on a variety of delivery channels. Nearly half of all companies say 31% to 60% of their IT systems are based in the cloud, according to CompTIA’s 2018 Trends in Cloud Computing report. With the cost and flexibility benefits the cloud provides, it’s no surprise that “81% of companies say that the cloud has greatly enhanced or moderately enhanced their efforts around automation.” Businesses are clearly looking for ways to optimize and take advantage of the cloud.
When you combine all of these business requirements — that is, RPA that includes AI and can be used by anyone with access to the web — what emerges is a cloud-native intelligent RPA platform that is easy to access, easy to use, easy to scale, and works with all applications, whether on-premises (inside the company, on the desktop or a server) or in the cloud.
Today, cloud-native architecture is radically transforming the way we think about developing, deploying, and managing applications. Cloud-native RPA, which executes and orchestrates processes and workflows within a company, is the next piece of the intelligent automation puzzle for enterprises that are serious about reaping its many benefits.
Cloud-Native vs Cloud-Washed
What exactly does “cloud-native” mean? According to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the term means the entire application — from the control plane to the data plane, top to bottom — is designed to take full advantage of the cloud’s capabilities.
Cloud-native applications use complete units of functionality packaged in containers (such as Kubernetes), deployed as microservices (collections of loosely coupled, independent services), on elastic cloud infrastructure through agile DevOps processes and continuous delivery workflows.
In short, cloud-native is a lot more than just virtualizing your on-premises application and delivering it via the cloud. Doing it right means reengineering the design, implementation, deployment, and operation of your applications from scratch.
RPA vendors have traditionally built their applications for on-premises deployment and, in response to the demand for the cloud, have taken their on-premises software as-is and placed it in the cloud. That is what is colloquially labeled a “cloud-washed” architecture, and with it remains all the bother of deploying and maintaining traditional software and infrastructure — but none of the many benefits of a cloud-native architecture.
Bringing RPA to the Cloud
The RPA industry has thus far not previously mirrored enterprises’ preference toward cloud computing — delaying ubiquitous RPA adoption — until now — and the advantages of cloud-native, intelligent RPA deployments are immense.
For business users, cloud-native RPA operates as a self-service technology accessed via a web-based graphical interface from anywhere. With a single click or drag-and-drop motion, users can automate those parts of any job that don’t require human creativity, problem-solving capabilities, empathy, or judgment.
Just as with popular Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps, users can create what they need using an intuitive web interface within the browser. For many common bots, no coding is required. There are no large client downloads to install and manage or commands to memorize; automation and processes are exposed via drag-and-drop functionality and flow charts.
Also, because there is no software client, IT doesn’t have to get involved. Infrastructure management costs go away, significantly reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO).
From an IT perspective, the software is always up to date — there’s no need to perform intrusive upgrades on all client machines every time the vendor releases new functionality or fixes. Additionally, continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment methodologies ensure the latest RPA technology is seamlessly deployed without disruption.
Finally, understanding the regulatory constraints that some enterprises face, an ideal RPA platform provides customers the options of being natively deployed in the cloud, on-premises, or in a hybrid mode where the data is on-premises while the orchestration is in the cloud.
For developers, since the same software stack is running both in the cloud and on-premises, they don’t need to re-create their bots if they operate in a hybrid environment, as many companies are wont to do today. Thus, intelligent automation can be deployed seamlessly from on-premises to the cloud in its entirety with no additional management cost or complexity.
The benefits of cloud-native architectures stretch across the board — in scalability, management, security, cost, and ease of access while providing a great experience for all users.
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