In the last few years, concepts like “Digital Transformation” have become so vague and confusing that it leads to businesses not knowing where to start, which results in disappointment and failure. The truth is, however, that a full Digital Transformation would require more than one technology; hence the term Intelligent Automation, which is the automation of the company’s processes, assisted by analytics and decisions made by Artificial Intelligence.
Intelligent automation (IA) is already changing the way business is done in almost every sector of the economy. IA systems process vast amounts of information and can automate entire workflows, learning and adapting as they go. Applications range from the conventional to the groundbreaking: from collecting, analyzing, and making decisions about textual information to guiding autonomous vehicles and state-of-the-art robots.
Deloitte and other independent analysts urge companies to include intelligent automation in their work processes otherwise they will be left behind. But what is IA, how are other businesses applying it, and how might it be beneficial for your business?
What is Intelligent Automation?
In brief, it’s the integration of two technological concepts that have been around for quite a while: artificial intelligence and automation.
Artificial intelligence encompasses things like machine learning, language recognition, vision, etc., while automation has become part of our life since the industrial revolution. Just as automation has progressed, so artificial intelligence has evolved, and by merging the two, automation achieves the advantages bestowed by intelligence.
You may have heard about robotic process automation (RPA). It’s a software capable of automating simple, rule-based tasks previously performed by humans. RPA can mimic the interactions of a person and connect to several systems without changing them as it operates on the graphical user interface or GUI. One disadvantage of RPA is that it needs structured data as input and can perform only standardized processes.
Intelligent automation gives software robots a method for learning how to interact with unstructured data. IA usually includes the following capabilities: image recognition, natural language processing, cognitive reasoning, and conversational AI.
Applications of Intelligent Automation
IA is applicable in a wide variety of processes:
- In Processing Situational and Textual Data
IA enables machines to collect and analyze situational or textual data and come up with an appropriate course of action.
- Changing the way our business functions
IA helps its users deal with certain issues regarding the functioning of their businesses such as processing vast amounts of data or the problem of high labor costs and labor scarcity, among others.
- Simplifying performance across various domains
With IA machines can scan the data, check it for accuracy, discover inconsistencies, and suggest multiple courses of actions suitable for a particular business requirement.
Advantages of IA for Decision-Making
Now let’s look at how IA improves decision-making across various industries.
Financial Services: Major investment managers use software robots to study research notes for consistency. Credit Suisse Group, for instance, analyses companies using a huge volume of data sources. The intelligent automation system they use can even write reports and arrive at conclusions without human intervention. The company says that its intelligent software has allowed it to improve both the volume of its research output and the quality of the reports it produces.
Prescribing Treatment Plans: IBM’s Watson helps medics to stay ahead of the curve. With a continuous stream of new developments and researches to process, doctors could easily spend many hours investigating the best treatment options for a patient only to miss some vital scrap of information. Cognitive computing technology allows Watson to propose treatment plans based on all the available evidence.
Identifying Threats: Crime and terrorism have always been major concerns in today’s big cities. Humans can’t monitor security cameras 24/7. There are simply too many of them. That’s why cities like London, for example, implement systems that alert security analysts to possible threats after analyzing data from sensors and cameras.
Evaluating Creditworthiness: Quarterly financials are a good way of evaluating a company’s creditworthiness, but in a fast-paced business environment, significant changes in financial standing can fall between reporting dates. Intelligent software can monitor thousands of data sources, evaluating the information, and identifying risks that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Furthermore, it offers more favorable terms in response to opportunities presented by companies with a positive credit outlook.
Workflow Software and Conditional Logic: On the surface, managing workflows through an automated system should be simple enough. But there are times when the outcome of a workflow, and the route it follows, depends on conditional logic. This could be more complex than a simple “if A=B then C” equation. Intelligent automation can evaluate a current situation based on all the factors and systems that impact on it, deciding on the best course of action to follow.
Physical Tasks and Intelligent Automation
We already understand basic automation in which “robots” carry out tedious tasks in production line settings, but machine intelligence has taken this to the next level allowing us to automate tasks that we could only perform manually in the past.
Distributing Products: Crate & Barrel and Walgreens are among the retail giants that are using robots that can improve the efficiency with which they fulfill orders. Robots travel around warehouses without colliding with other traffic. They fetch units loaded with products that will be dispatched and bring them to the teams responsible for order fulfillment and shipping.
Collaboration of Robots and People: Using robots in auto assembly is nothing new, but only a decade ago, robots and people worked separately for safety reasons. Then Volkswagen introduced a collaborative robot that works with human operators, taking over an arduous task that’s a part of an assembly process. If the human technician is in the way of the robot, it will react to the situation. It, therefore, needs no protective housing and can collaborate with its human “co-workers.”
Robot Soldiers: Intelligent automation is already being used in airborne drone technology, and there are even four-legged robots that can run, climb, navigate tough terrain, and respond to orders from a human commander.
Driverless Cars: Autonomous cars that you can send to do your shopping, collect a friend or family member, or simply use to get around safely, are a hot topic right now. Many believe that this advance will revolutionize the future of transportation.
Hauling Ore: Driverless trucks are already at work in Australian mines, and big mining companies see these autonomous vehicles as a way of improving productivity and worker safety. The trucks can navigate the site with little human intervention, and the company says it is saving up to 500 hours a year through its use of IA.
Key Success Factors for Achieving Intelligent Automation
Now that we understand the definition of IA and its benefits, we are faced with the usual problem: “How do I start to apply this to my business?”.
Here are 7 steps you should consider that will help you successfully implement intelligent automation.
1. Decide what success looks like
Knowing that intelligent automation will improve your business is one thing but making sure that you get backing and buy-in to roll it out throughout your company is another. Be clear on what goals you want to achieve; it will be easier to measure performance, manage the team, and celebrate success.
Your success can be measured in a clear metric like “a 20% reduction in operating cost” or a “70% improvement in throughput”, or it may be a less defined point similar to the ideas presented above. Whatever “good” looks like should be something you and others agree internally.
2. Identify IA candidates
Some automation initiatives are driven by a desire to improve a specific process or activity, but for most building an automation roadmap helps to prioritize where to start with automation.
The ideal candidates for automation may vary depending on the product or platform you choose. The following list will give you a few ideas on where to start identifying automation candidates:
Could you easily give a set of task instructions to a new employee? If processes can be defined and communicated to new workers, they are typically good automation candidates.
- Defined or definable workflow
Is there a workflow guide or runbook? An existing runbook or workflow is not compulsory but it helps speed the process of building automation.
- Use of multiple applications or tools
Does execution require the use of multiple systems and/or applications? Processes that involve humans as the interconnection between systems make for good automation candidates.
Is there room for ambiguity or feeling in the process? Processes requiring human judgment are not typically good candidates for hands-off automation. Although they may be suitable for assisted automation.
- High volume / low to medium complexity
Is there a high-volume activity that isn’t overly complex? Tasks like these are a good way to quickly bring a return on your investment.
Is there an amount of work that requires human judgment to initiate, approve, or define? Processes do not need to be 100% automated to deliver benefit and the Digital Worker can be configured to do the bulk of the work while keeping the human in the loop for initiation, approval, or authorization.
3. Start small and scale fast
Intelligent automation is not the same as other digital transformation options. Its ability to digitally transform a business in a vastly reduced time is unmatched. The non-invasive nature of RPA in combination with AI and other intelligent technologies means it can be put into action within months. Many organizations are now running proof of value projects while deploying one or two in-action processes. Once these small-scale processes have proven their value, the automation journey can pick up full steam and scale across the business. You can either develop similar processes in the same vein or apply intelligent technologies in other ways.
4. Secure executive sponsorship
When seeking an Executive Sponsor, it’s important to lay out the expectations of the role and its significance for the success of the project. Here’s what your Executive Sponsor needs to do:
- Provide clear direction for the project and how it overlaps with the organization’s overall strategy
- Ensure the project is on time, on budget and within the scope
- Secure project resources
- Provide feedback on status reports
- Ensure the necessary stakeholders are involved
- Champion the project at the executive level to secure buy-in
5. Build the right team
There are a few critical roles in an automation team – and while a person may take on multiple responsibilities early in the program, as the team expands, they may become full-time roles or teams in their own right.
Head of Robotic Automation
Any digital transformation needs a leader with vision. The head of the team should see what part of the organization will benefit from automation. They are also responsible for buy-in at every level and in as many departments as possible, and for timely and successful delivery.
The architect is responsible for defining and implementing the optimal approach to automation. This team member usually uses models such as the Robotic Operating Model and creates capabilities to maximize benefits, scalability, and replication.
The process analyst must capture and break down the requirements for a scalable and robust automation deployment. Documented and well-defined tasks can effectively be re-used if necessary, in part or in whole.
The developer is responsible for building and delivering the process objects, in line with the best practice standards outlined by the vendor or other leadership team members. Depending on the automation solution you choose, this person doesn’t need to have coding expertise.
Working closely with developers and analysts, the process controller runs the automation project on a day-to-day basis. From testing to the release, the controller runs and co-ordinates processes, flagging up any issues in the production and finding potential areas of improvement.
The technical architect is a key expert in a solution deployment process. Together with lead developers and other technical leads, the architect has the potential to raise awareness and explain how the digital workforce can work in an organization.
These are typical roles and responsibilities. Each will require a different level of understanding and skills with the automation tool, so you need to implement a training program that will ensure role-based education, preferably with certification or accreditation of skills to validate capability.
6. Communication is key
It’s an indisputable fact that Intelligent Automation will affect the way an organization operates. This may have a certain impact on staff, meaning that people might become uncertain or fearful. It’s important to address these concerns, and with full buy-in from leadership, explain in-depth the significance of the automation process.
7. Build a Centre of Excellence (CoE)
CoE is an organizational team that sets out and drives the automation strategy that aligns with the business objectives. Other responsibilities of CoE include:
- Designing and establishing a roll-out plan with effective governance, security, and controls.
- Ensuring focus and prioritization on delivering the “high value” projects.
- Coordination and control of projects and resources.
- Reporting outcomes and benefits.
- Resource management.
- Supplier management.
When approaching the creation of a CoE, it is worth considering whether you want to take the centralized approach or the federated approach to automation. Our research shows that it depends on the situation. Think about how much control you needed over the deployment of automation and if allowing smaller teams to manage their own niche digital workers fits with your strategy.
Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation, supported by substantial investments, are fueling a new era of intelligent automation, which is likely to become an important driver of organizational performance in the years to come. Companies in all sectors need to understand and adopt intelligent automation, or risk falling behind.