Sarah Burnett is an executive vice president and distinguished analyst at Everest Group, with global responsibility for the company’s Service Optimization Technologies (SOT) research program. Sarah and her team have produced some of the most in-depth reports and thought-provoking papers in the automation field, covering Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and process mining, and shedding light on global service provider’s capabilities in these fields, best strategies for adoption, and best practices implementing business process automation.
But Sarah doesn’t stop there. She’s also chair of BCSWomen, the women’s group of the British Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), and founder of AI Accelerator, a program of free AI events, seminars, and webcasts by experts, to encourage more women into the field of AI. One of Computer Weekly’s top 50 most influential people in the UK technology sector, Sarah is a regular speaker at client and industry events and webinars, and an active social media contributor (@SarahBurnett).
Why did you choose RPA/Intelligent Automation as your career path?
I’ve worked in technology all of my life. In fact, in a job earlier in my career, I wrote software to automate and control production lines in food processing plants. Later on, I was a business intelligence and analytics industry analyst. When I joined Everest Group six years ago, I was asked to set up a new research program to focus on the new wave of business process automation technologies. I was very happy to take on this challenge. I set up the program known as Service Optimization Technologies (SOT) and have been running it ever since. My core team has grown from just two to ten, and we now work closely with the 100+ other analysts at Everest Group who specialize in verticals and function-specific business processes.
What enabled your success in this field?
From the beginning, my team and I set out to do deep, detailed, and fact-based research. From very early on, we assessed and positioned the products in the market on our Everest Group FIT and PEAK Matrix assessment frameworks. We started with Robotic Process Automation technologies and have since expanded to other Intelligent Automation (IA) technologies. We’ve just published the first of our process mining, and Intelligent Virtual Agents’ PEAK Matrix reports, and the second of our Intelligent Document Processing studies.
We also set out to provide a 360-degree view of the market with “how to” automation playbooks and assessments of how well enterprises were doing with IA, with our Pinnacle Model studies. Over the years, we’ve built a large, unrivaled knowledge base in the Intelligent Automation space.
How do you see the market developing in the next few years?
All of our market-sizing predictions show strong and growing demand for IA technologies, but we should be cautious when the whole world is in the grip of a pandemic and many businesses are in a tailspin. That said, at the end of the day, businesses must operate to survive, and automation gives them the opportunity to make up for staff shortages due to sickness and to reduce operational costs. Initially, much of the focus has been on crisis management and ensuring cash flow. As we start to better understand the bigger-world picture after the Coronavirus pandemic, I expect we will see a boost in investment in technology for digital transformation. The pandemic could prove to be the biggest incentive for this – modernization, digitalization, automation, and extensive transformation. As for the technologies, we will see more product features, either built in-house or acquired. I continue to press vendors for better controls and management of automation at scale. I’ve seen many business services providers invest in these capabilities, but not as much investment by software vendors.
What do you love about your job?
I love the fact that I work with innovative, leading-edge technology vendors, and that I get to see what can be achieved with software. It takes time for these to become widely adopted, so I get to see glimpses of the future, today.
What is your biggest professional challenge?
Technology moves so fast that keeping up with developments while maintaining your deep-focus knowledge and insights can be challenging. As an analyst, I have to be disciplined in my research and stay on top of developments the whole time.
How has being a woman impacted your professional journey?
I think as a woman you have to work hard to be taken seriously, but it can be done. You just need to keep at it. When it comes to your career opportunities, if you’ve proven your worth and your company still doesn’t treat you the same way as your male colleagues, then move on. Don’t waste your time there. Being a woman can also be an advantage. For example, it helps you stand out, particularly if you’re reasonably opinionated and are not afraid to express your views and support them with your research findings.
What is your advice for young women who are interested in or entering the RPA space?
Get to it and learn to code those robots. There is much demand and this market provides good opportunities to learn coding skills. Try and develop an understanding for the business, the purpose of processes, and the likely impact of your work. That will make you a more all-rounded developer.
How can we inspire women to pursue tech careers and in RPA specifically?
That is the million-dollar question. You may well know that as chair of BCSWomen, the women’s group of BCS, the British Institute for IT, I have been working to attract, retain, and support women in technology for years. What I’ve learned over the years is that we need role models to inspire young women to join the industry, show that the work can be very interesting, and that the rewards can be good. We also need to rethink how we do a lot of other things, for example, making hiring and HR retention policies more female-friendly.
Technology is still male-dominated. Since RPA is fairly new, do you see it differently or evolving more quickly to include more women?
I think the concept of citizen developers, when combined with good internal training and handholding could help women see the benefits of RPA and get them interested in coding.
Only 5% of today’s tech leadership positions are held by women. How do you think more women in leadership roles will change the tech landscape?
I believe that we would see better business performance and enhanced products. There are many studies that show companies perform better when they have women on their boards. As for products, I have no doubt that diversity in design and engineering teams would increase innovation and lead to better designs. There are many stories of how products were designed with only men in mind and later had to be changed. That type of scenario leads to increased costs and negative PR as well.
Be sure to join Sarah on the Kryon upcoming webinar: "The Critical Role of Automation in the New Normal featuring Everest Group."