The COVID-19 pandemic, while winding down, has permanently changed the course of business for many firms and industries. Among those changes, it forced enterprises to adopt more sophisticated automation programs that have the ability to reshuffle priorities on a dime by using the latest analytics.

The repercussions of this shift are profound. In 2022, Forrester predicts that existing process improvement platforms will converge and be challenged by new AI-led entrants; investment to address global worker shortages will be prioritized; and to address the future head on, enterprises will embrace an automation fabric to fuel extreme innovation.

Here’s a deep dive into some of our 2022 predictions for automation:

  • New entrants and platform convergence will inhibit RPA growth by 10%. Process automation tools such as robotic process automation (RPA) and digital process automation (DPA) enjoyed healthy growth in recent years. In addition, enterprise application cloud providers like Salesforce and ServiceNow added RPA and enhanced process offerings. Such tools come from different heritages but will converge on a unified set of tools for process automation. One might think well-funded RPA sweethearts such as Automation Anywhere, Tibco-Blue Prism, and UiPath will ride their momentum into the winner’s circle. They will indeed remain prominent, but a new wave of AI-led vendors will encroach in the process automation market in 2022.
  • Thirty-five percent of service companies will introduce physical robot workers. Restaurants and other businesses can’t fill the glut of job openings for service workers. This worker shortage will not go away, even with reduced employment subsidies. Healthcare, food preparation, and warehouse jobs that typically command low wages with difficult working conditions will increase steadily over the next 10 years. Companies that depend on them will invest in service-worker automation for customer self-service, grounds maintenance, delivery robotics, food preparation, surveillance, and janitorial support, altering the low-end service-worker landscape permanently.
  • Five percent of the Fortune 500 will adopt automation fabric to fuel extreme innovation. Companies with advanced automation programs will obliterate — not merely beat — the competition. To reach this state, enterprises must define an automation fabric — a framework to build, orchestrate, and govern a hybrid workforce of human and digital workers — that links AI-based and traditional automation components, supported with a proactive program for innovation.

These predictions are not only irreversible, but they will move us toward a new standard level of automation, visible to customers and the bottom line. To stand out, businesses must build on the lessons learned from the pandemic and drive automation to levels that will stretch their creativity and staff. The efforts will pay off for those with the mettle to achieve what most will not.