Intelligent automation, the synergetic combination of automation and artificial intelligence, is changing the way we do business across multiple sectors. These new tools can gather and process vast amounts of information, automate workflows and processes, learning and adapting as they go. Potential applications are manifold; we will look at just some of them in depth along with potential cost savings, improved efficiencies, reduced error rates, and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
What is intelligent automation?
Automation was kick-started by the Industrial Revolution. As a fundamental pillar of industrial and business growth, its evolutionary journey has passed through many stages, including mechanical, the production line, computers, industrial robots, guided missiles, and robotic process automation. Intelligent automation is its latest iteration. Essentially, it combines business process management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA), and artificial intelligence (AI).
- BPM is defined officially as “A discipline involving any combination of modelling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimisation of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.” In other words, it is all about improving operational and business
- RPA is the application of computer software (or robot) to the emulation of human and digital system interaction for the execution of business processes. Essentially, the software obtains data and controls applications via the user interface just as a human being would. Unlike a human being, RPA does not make errors or take coffee breaks and costs far less than an employee.
- AI is machine simulation of human intelligence, including learning, reasoning, planning, speech recognition, and visual processing. At its core, machine learning involves algorithms that learn from historical data and examples, utilising that learning to provide insights, relationships, and predictions.
Putting it all together, a vast range of integrated solutions can be configured to undertake business processes better, faster, and cheaper than human beings.
What are the benefits of intelligent automation?
Intelligent automation is changing the workplace, providing a wide range of benefits. Some of the major ones include:
- Greater accuracy – intelligent automation removes human error from the task
- Reduced manpower – with functions carried out automatically, manual effort is reduced
- Improved speed – process times are reduced significantly. Tasks that might take a human being several days can be completed in seconds
- Improved customer experience – faster response times, accurate data, and consistent reporting all enhance customer satisfaction
- Continuity of service – with no need for breaks and shift changes, intelligent automation offers around-the-clock service
- Improved efficiency – the cost of transaction processing can be reduced considerably
- Ease of use – intelligent automation is relatively easy to implement and maintain
Why is intelligent automation important?
How seriously should we take intelligent automation? Some suggest it is just the latest buzzword or hype. Google indeed considers it sufficiently important to motivate the acquisition of six robotics start-ups over six months. In fact, most businesses find it vital. In a 2018 survey of global business leaders, 86 percent believed that to stay ahead, they needed to deploy intelligent automation within the next five years.
While automation and artificial intelligence have been around for many years, recent Advances in machine learning, improved sensor technologies, and access to ever-increasing computing power have spawned new software and hardware robots with applications in most industrial sectors. Just some of these application areas are:
- Financial Services – investment data research; company creditworthiness utilising multiple data sources, writing research reports and machine decision making; detection of money laundering.
- Pharmaceuticals - machine determined medication plans; monitoring drug side effects.
- Security – monitoring security cameras and other sensors, generating warnings of possible threats
- Workflow Management - using intelligent automation to evaluate a current situation and deciding optimal actions.
- Systems Integration – using intelligent automation to integrate unconnected disparate systems
We look at the last two of these in more detail below.
Customised workflow management
Workflow management involves coordinating the various tasks carried out by an organisation. The aim is to optimise the workflow to achieve an improved outcome depending on the organisation’s goals. It is likely to include creating workflow maps, eliminating redundant tasks, automating processes, and removing bottlenecks.
Workflow management software automates parts of this process, though usually, it isn’t possible to automate all parts; some inevitably involves human interaction and decision making. Intelligent automation adds a new dimension, recognising that humans are working together with automated systems as part of the total process, coordinating the workflows between the two, adding value and reducing costs.
Systems integration is another area where intelligent automation is making a significant impact. Rather than building new systems to solve a problem, integrating existing systems or system components can produce the desired at a much lower cost. However, it sounds easier than it is in practice. Making the right systems integration decisions is vital; the wrong ones could detrimentally affect outcomes and costs.
Intelligent automation can simplify the integration process, lower the human IT skill requirements, and help implement the integration process.
What are the potential cost savings of intelligent automation?
While many businesses recognise that intelligent automation offers the potential of substantial cost savings, estimating realistic figures isn’t easy; however, the consensus suggests between 40 – 70 percent is achievable.
Looking at financial services, a sector in which BigTech businesses such as Google, Amazon and Facebook are becoming significant players, the 2018 report “Growth in the machine: How financial services can move intelligent automation from cost play to growth strategy,” from Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute, suggests that intelligent automation can offer cost savings of 30 - 50 percent by 2020, adding $512 billion to global revenues.
Improved customer satisfaction
While intelligent automation will undoubtedly reduce costs and improve efficiencies, those are not the only benefits. Improvements in customer satisfaction are even more significant. While around a third of financial organisations report revenue increases of up to 5 percent, twice as many report customer satisfaction improvements of over 60 percent. The Capgemini report states that 63% of the organisations it studied reported that intelligent automation improved customer satisfaction.
Intelligent automation has many applications. It can work with vast amounts of disparate data discovering and acting on new insights, automate processes and make decisions, and continually learn from its own experience, thus continuously optimising its performance. Already it is having an impact on the way we work, reducing labour costs, empowering non-IT staff to accomplish complex tasks, improving efficiency, and providing superior customer experience.
We have indicated several areas where intelligent automation provides autonomous and semi-autonomous decision making including financial services, health care, and security and have seen how it is simplifying complex tasks such as systems integration and workflow management. It is essential to highlight that while many large enterprises are embracing intelligent automation, it is no longer the reserve of such organisations.
The reducing costs of intelligent software automation mean that it is now available to small and medium enterprises and start-ups, providing almost immediate benefits such as reducing the need for expensive, highly skilled labour. If you don’t take this opportunity, you can rest assured that your competitors will. It can’t be ignored.