In June this year, I coined the term “automation fabric” to describe emerging trends in the automation world. I wrote a report about it (see Automation Is The New Fabric For Digital Business). Since then, the trends that I pointed out have only been accelerating. In this two-part blog post, I wanted to outline my views on the evolving process automation space, the “automation fabric,” and where it will lead us in 2022 and beyond.

We Are At The Cusp Of A New Cycle Of Digital Disruption

The first wave of digital disruption has reached maturity. In the first decade of this century, we saw the emergence of natively digital companies (such as Airbnb, Netflix, and Uber) . These companies reshaped entire industries by placing digital technology and digital innovation at the heart of their business models. Traditional firms that adopted similar digital ways of working were able to survive the ensuing disruption, and even thrive.

However, over the subsequent decade, the opportunities for breakaway digital differentiation dwindled. Instead, what we have today is “digital sameness.” Look, for example, at the top brands in any industry market segment. You will be hard-pressed to find meaningful differences between them and their competitors, because they are all surfacing the same customer problems and designing almost identical customer experiences powered by similar technology stacks and “industry standard” processes. Sure, digital may still be the only game in town; but the differential impact of every incremental dollar spent on digital has been steadily trending downwards.

Automation Offers An Alternative

As machine learning and artificial intelligence infuse themselves into business processes, we find ourselves at the cusp of a new enterprise technology cycle: the base of a new S-curve, if you will! As this cycle plays out over the next decade or so, we will see the emergence of “autonomous enterprises” — organizations whose operating models are enabled by self-aware, self-correcting, self-directed digital technology, with AI and automation at their core. While natively digital firms brought the first wave of digital disruption, the next wave will be different. This time, autonomous enterprises organized around, and infused with, machine intelligence will bring disruption.

Today’s process automation technologies provide the scaffolding to embed intelligence within business processes. Enterprise leaders recognize this. In February 2020, 37% of respondents in Forrester’s Q1 2020 Global Digital Process Automation Survey said they were investing in automation to accelerate digital transformation (as opposed to 13% who were focused on cost reduction).

So, on the demand side, the expectations from automation have leveled up. Meanwhile, supply-side trends paint an even more intriguing picture. I will discuss the supply side in part two of this blog post next week. Meanwhile, if you wish to learn more, you can read my report or catch my on-demand webinar. You could also contact me directly through Forrester’s inquiry process; I’d love to hear more about your automation experience.