In the digital era the need to quickly respond to customer expectations and aggressive actions of rivals demands a persistent transformative approach – one that discovers and automates efficiencies, crafts engaging user experiences, and readily adapts when needed. These will be the roles of the emerging generation of digital automation platforms, robotic process automation tools and the process mining technology needed to discover and automate the delivery of customer value.

Today’s modern enterprise is under persistent threat of digital disruption. Many current industry leaders can fall from grace and perhaps fail unless they consistently reconsider how they conduct business. Digital transformation has emerged as strategic means to exploit innovative technologies that improve the customer experience, increase operational efficiency, craft new digital business models, and adapt when threatened by rivals and new market entrants. 

Common to all attributes of digital business is the need to improve, transform and automate intelligent and adaptable business processes. The traditional vehicles to do so were business process management (BPM) suites, enterprise content management (ECM) software, and other specialized platforms designed to automate workflows, manage workgroups and document flow, or enable general purpose application development. Each enabled considerable efficiency for their purposes, but were less than intelligent and unwittingly also created a new, daunting and expensive business problem: manual repetition.

All these tools crafted new applications, many of which included a flood of forms for data capture and other information-rich documents that required manual retrieval, review, updates and actions. Similarly, the core business applications used by enterprises – such as ERP, CRM and supply chain management (SCM) systems – all evolved, creating new user interface screens that required similar manual repetitive actions. Moreover, mobility accelerated the rapid growth of e-commerce that soon overran many customer service organizations, creating an immediate need to automate and scale.

As these trends played out, BPM, ECM suites and other application development environments began to transform and converge into smarter process- and content-oriented application development and runtime platforms. They enabled a ‘low-code/no-code’ approach that uses graphical drag-and-drop tooling and preconfigured templates to compose, rather than code, applications. Some added analytic tools to interpret context and make recommendations. IT vendors in these markets are now positioning their new offerings as the means to enable digital transformation – creating next-generation development environments we refer to as digital automation platforms (DAPs).

DAPs include new efficiencies that allow business and IT teams to collaborate to rapidly automate business processes, improve developer productivity, and support enterprise DevOps strategies. However, they do little to resolve highly repetitive manual operations, and their abilities to automate many e-commence tasks were incomplete. A new class of tools has entered the market to do so.

Robotic process automation (RPA) crafts software robots (bots) that can automate repetitive manual activities within business processes, helping reduce errors, cost and cycle times. In some cases they use machine learning (ML) technology to interpret context and make relevant recommendations to users, thus easing the burden on customer service organizations while enabling scale. But doing so is not a simple matter. Proper analysis of manual operations is required; without this, RPA projects can just replace old inefficiencies with new ones, or worse – frustrate customers with bad recommendations.

A class of IT analytic tools has been under development for many years attempting to automate, with checkered success, the tasks needed to accurately visualize and understand how current business processes and manual tasks execute and perform. Process mining technology (PMT – also referred to as process discovery) has recently matured in response to the emergence of DAP and RPA platforms. It now makes practical the examination of process hierarchies, decisions, policies, rules and tasks to reveal how to improve and automate the quality and efficiency of process flows, manual operations and outcomes. DAPs, RPA and PMT today represent formidable tools needed by all enterprises as part of their transformation to digital businesses and to efficiently adjust to the age of aggressive digital rivals and empowered customers.

This Technology & Business Insight report on automation and digital business is based on a combination of our analysts' primary research and a series of detailed interviews with IT managers at end-user organizations, technology vendors, managed service providers and VCs. The full report includes a glance at the vendor landscapes and assessments of the current challenges and future outlook of DAPs, RPA and PMT automation technologies.

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