Celonis chief product officer predicts automation and the cloud are two key trends that are likely to dominate the agenda for 2021

  • COVID-19 has forced businesses to turn their operations digital more rapidly, and enterprise software spend is set to increase dramatically as a result. 
  • Automation and the cloud are two key trends that are likely to dominate the agenda for 2021, predicts Celonis chief product officer Hala Zeine. 
  • “Automation for automation’s sake is not a good thing, but processes that can be adjusted on the fly is where the desire for automation emerges,” Zeine told Business Insider in an interview. 
  • Business Insider named Hala Zeine to our list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech in Europe.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Amid a gruelling financial year for companies as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, enterprise tech remains big business. 

Companies in all sectors are increasingly relying on digital to improve their processes, and 2020 has brought significant changes, particularly on the frontlines. Going forward, enterprise tech companies will focus on key areas like automation and the cloud to make employees and companies’ lives easier. 

That’s set against a backdrop of increased spend by corporates on enterprise tech. Gartner estimates global enterprise software spend to hit $556 billion in 2021, a 10% increase year-on-year. Businesses will have to consider automation more than ever, given the disruption to global supply chains, according to Hala Zeine, chief product officer at German enterprise tech company Celonis. 

“The key is gathering data from multiple different systems, finding insights in that data and seeing how it could be automated to make processes more agile,” she told Business Insider in an interview. “Automation for automation’s sake is not a good thing, but processes that can be adjusted on the fly is where the desire for automation emerges.”

Hala Zeine was featured in Business Insider’s Transformers 100 for 2020

Zeine compared the point of automation in enterprise to autopilot in a plane’s cockpit where calculations that were previously done manually are taken over by a computer, freeing pilots from doing repetitive skills and allowing them to be more efficient. 

The enterprise tech behind this shift is built on an array of synergies. AI, automation, and process mining are now beginning to fit together in complementary ways and this is likely to be a key theme for 2021. Process mining, which automatically tracks how an organization works and how problems are solved divides information into useable datasets which are being analysed with increasing sophistication by AI. 

“A lot of customers are going through massive migrations at the moment and want to understand what new systems would look like,” Zeine added. “So what we’re also seeing is a lot of AI specialized solutions that have entered the market which can take insights and drive automation.”

Intelligent automation can help with improved efficiency for companies with robotic process automation (RPA), a particular area of innovation. The RPA market is being fought over by companies like SAP, Pegasystems, and UiPath, and could be worth $12 billion by 2023, up from just $5 billion in 2019, according to Forrester research

The long-term shift to cloud

Despite COVID-19 setbacks for the traditional enterprise software players, Zeine is optimistic about the shift to cloud computing.

Business Insider noted in August that European software firms faced a decline in end-of-year spending that one early-stage investor described as a “bloodbath.”

And in October, German enterprise tech giant SAP cut its revenue and profit forecasts, which led to a 22% single-day drop in its share price in Frankfurt.

However, the company indicated that it was pouring greater resources into cloud services where it competes with companies like Salesforce and Oracle. 

And analysts indicate that nimbler, cloud-focused players are set to continue taking share away from giants like SAP.

Cloud is an area of long-term movement for enterprise tech, according to Zeine. Unsurprisingly, with data being more important than ever for companies, its storage has become a paramount concern. 

The uptake of cloud, she said, has made company systems larger and more complex. That’s offset by the capabilities that cloud can offer to firms both large and small.

Cloud computing provides a platform for scalable and quick access to high-performance computing infrastructure that can be beneficial for organizations that either need to scale quickly, or that do not want to invest in computing hardware. Non-digital industries were understandably hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing many operations online by force, not choice. 

“The coronavirus pandemic is driving short-term demand in areas such as cloud adoption, remote worker technologies, and cost saving measures,” according to research by Gartner that indicated that cloud security spend would increase 33% year-on-year in a recent report

Increased cloud affordability has played a role in this shift too, though companies must wrestle with new security problems. Earlier this year, almost 4000 databases were wiped in “Meow” attacks which seek misconfigurations to exploit.

“The key thing is going to be companies look end-to-end with their processes,” Zeine added. “You need to gather insights that already exist in the system and turn the insight to actionable executions and the cloud makes that much more accessible.”

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