Is RPA Dead in 2023? Not Yet, But Change is Coming

No, RPA is not dead yet in 2023. But the writing is on the wall that major changes are ahead for Robotic Process Automation. While RPA still serves an important role currently, its days as a long-term automation solution may be numbered as new technologies emerge. To fully leverage intelligent automation in the future, enterprises will need to transform legacy applications and embrace modern architectures.

RPA Remains Relevant, For Now

You may have heard some people claim RPA is already dead or on its way out. But from my experience as an automation consultant, RPA still provides value today in many situations.

RPA platforms like UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism remain among the fastest growing enterprise software technologies. In 2022, the RPA market grew over 20% to $2.58 billion in revenue. Major analyst firms like Gartner still predict strong growth ahead, with the RPA software market forecasted to reach nearly $7 billion by 2027.

However, it’s true that growth is slowing, and there are signs that RPA may be plateauing. Many enterprises are finding RPA bots brittle, high maintenance, and costly over time. A Deloitte survey found that only 3% of RPA projects scale to enterprise-wide usage.

So while RPA is not dead yet, it does seem to be entering the maturity phase of its hype cycle. How long it remains relevant will depend on how quickly alternatives can address its shortcomings.

The Flexibility of RPA Remains Valuable

One key factor that has kept RPA relevant is its flexibility compared to specialized solutions. For example, you may rely on Excel for many use cases even though better, dedicated tools exist. RPA has a similar advantage in its ability to automate across multiple interfaces and systems quickly, even if in a somewhat clumsy fashion.

Let‘s walk through a typical automation lifecycle that keeps RPA alive:

  1. Your business identifies a new process that needs automation, often due to market changes or new technologies that enable it.
  2. While developers work on building a custom solution for months or years, you deploy RPA bots as a quick band-aid solution.
  3. Once the custom solution launches, you transition processes from RPA to the improved automation.

But this cycle constantly repeats as new needs continuously arise. According to 2022 research from ESI ThoughtLab, 86% of organizations say their automation needs are accelerating faster than they can address them. So while RPA has its flaws, its speed and ubiquity fills an important niche.

However, you can‘t overlook the downsides of relying on RPA long-term:

  • High exception rates: One study found RPA bots need human intervention an average of every 10 bot hours. This overhead can diminish ROI.
  • Brittle maintenance: Bots easily break with any application changes. One firm found they spend 45x more time maintaining RPA vs APIs.
  • Continuous licensing fees: Ongoing costs of RPA licenses and infrastructure cut into savings.

The Cloud and APIs Are the Future

While RPA focuses on automating user interfaces, there is a major shift underway to cloud-based services with APIs that reduce this need. Cloud-native platforms like Salesforce, Workday, and ServiceNow make data and tasks accessible via APIs without traditional UIs.

Tools like Zapier and IFTTT also now provide easy no-code options for API integration. As you move more business functions to the cloud, RPA offers less value.

Here are some compelling stats on the API and cloud explosion:

  • APIs grew 173% from 2020 to 2021 according to Postman, with over 30,000 public APIs now available.
  • Over $1 trillion in IT spending will shift to the cloud by 2024 according to IDC.
  • By 2025, Gartner predicts that APIs will be the most frequent application integration method.

As these trends accelerate, demand for legacy RPA solutions focused on screen scraping will diminish. Cloud platforms like Appian, Servicetrace, and Microsoft Power Automate offer solutions tailored for API-based automation.

Transforming Legacy Apps is Key

RPA still has a transitional role to play until core backend systems are modernized. The key to unlocking the next generation of intelligent automation lies in transforming inflexible legacy applications.

Migrating legacy apps to cloud-native architectures provides many benefits:

  • Flexibility – Cloud platforms enable faster changes to adapt to shifting needs.
  • Agility – Automating deployments accelerates new feature delivery.
  • Scalability – Cloud resources can scale elastically to handle growing demand.
  • Interoperability – Open APIs facilitate seamless integration between systems.

As youmodernize systems and embrace APIs, intelligent automation becomes more feasible. Specialized AI tools can integrate natively to improve decision making and autonomy.

RPA is Not Dead…Yet

To summarize, RPA maintains a role in enterprise automation for now. But for long-term success, shift underlying architectures to the cloud and API-centric models. RPA may soon be joining fax machines and DVD players in the tech graveyard. But by transforming the apps first, you can avoid application extinction down the road.

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