Why Automation Will Become a Business Imperative in 2021

Author Craig Le Clair, vice president, principal analyst, Forrester Research

The world of automation has changed in the past year. Just six months ago, tech and business leaders would lightly suggest automation ideas, jockey for budget, and get nods and smiles for their efforts but little commitment. Now, automation has moved to heated board-level discussions that often end with statements such as “If we don’t automate everything we can, we may not survive.”

This shift in thinking has dominated Forrester’s 2021 automation predictions. Remote work, support of remote business, recessionary pressures, new digital muscles for employees and customers, and pandemic constraints will force millions of pragmatic automations to production levels in 2021. Here is a sample of what a diverse group of our analysts predict for automation in the coming year.

Documents Extraction Gets Smarter

Twenty percent of enterprises will expand intelligent document extraction investments. Intelligent document extraction platforms (IDEPs) can classify and extract data to manage compliance risk, e-discovery, contract analytics, email, and forms use cases. Opportunities are heating up for two reasons: Workers can no longer push papers around the office (given that they are working from home), and advances in computer vision and machine learning have made solutions more valuable and easier to build and maintain.

Intelligent automation suites will provide one quarter of all robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. Commoditization, major enterprise software acquisitions, new entrants, specialization, and public market ambitions are defining a diverse RPA market. Like machine learning, RPA will become an embedded feature in many platforms by the end of 2021. RPA will be available from almost 200 software companies that are in the business of digital transformation.

Where Failures Will Occur

In a rush to push out automation, a notable failure will occur. Without doubt, the pandemic accelerated investments in various forms of business process and IT automation. This has pressured enterprises to rapidly patch in automations. Not surprisingly, failures will occur that not only damage company reputation and customer trust but draw media scrutiny. In 2021, up to 30% of organizations will ramp up their focus on quality by better planning and testing their automation before deploying it in production or exposing it to employees. In addition, employee strike teams and centers of excellence will rise in importance.

And by the way, don’t be surprised if you see more drones buzzing away. Commercial drone registration took off in the US and in China. More than 1,300 drone manufacturers produced and registered more than 330,000 drones. Social distancing is playing a role, and governments are getting on board with better regulations to adopt and commercialize drone usage. Rapid evolution of computer vision and 5G will enable real-time drone intelligence over ultrareliable, low-latency communications.


Author Craig Le Clair is vice president, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Read more from Forrester Research here.

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