What is intelligent automation?
Intelligent automation refers to the infusion of technologies of various kinds into business operations to achieve new efficiencies, reduce manual dependencies, and ensure compliance. Intelligence Automation can transform the efficiencies of all functions ranging from customer care, supply chain, IT operations, finance, and HR among many others. Although software-oriented, Intelligent Automation has applications across all industries where there are processes that can be digitized and automated.
Is intelligent automation the same as automation?
Intelligent automation is an advanced form of automation where data analytics and insights are used to drive automation at scale and with greater efficiencies.
The various stages of automation are:
- Manual operations
- Native automation
- Basic automation
- Intelligent automation
- Hyper automation
Components of intelligent automation
Intelligent automation is not a single software or a tool. It is an umbrella term used to describe the application of several technologies that when combined together deliver the benefits of end-to-end automation.
There are three main components of Intelligent Automation:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Business Process Management (BPM)
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence can be rightly called the brain of Intelligent Automation. It offers cognitive capabilities that allow structured and unstructured data to be analyzed, form correlations out of them, and arrive at recommendations that will facilitate decision-making. The subsets of AI like Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Image recognition, etc. may be used to automate several business processes.
Business Process Management (BPM)
Business Process Automation or Business Workflow Automation automates processes and workflows to give business agility and consistency. It reduces manual intervention and ensures that repetitive tasks that usually occur in large volumes are automated. It also reduces errors and improves the reliability of the workflow.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
RPA is yet another automation tool that allows businesses to complete back-office tasks like extracting data or filling out forms by bots. They can also mimic human actions like scanning a document for information gaps and reverting it for edits or proceeding to the next step in the workflow. While BPM takes care of overall process automation, RPA takes care of automating tasks and subtasks within the process to improve business agility.
The integration of these three components leads to Intelligent Automation. It refers to handpicking specific processes that are best suitable for automation instead of diving into full-scale automation of an entire business.
How does intelligent automation work?
Intelligent Automation works in three stages:
- Process discovery
- Analytics and insights
Identifying processes with large volumes and recurring in nature that can be automated. For any process to be automated it is necessary that they are repetitive actions that are uniform or predictable in nature. Automating them could spare human workers from having to spend time and effort.
Optimizing current processes to make them compatible with automation. This involves doing a thorough screening of the current workflow to add or eliminate stages that could facilitate automation. The objective of the optimization is to ensure that the whole process can work on its own through automation and through minimal manual intervention.
Analytics and insights
The final stage of Intelligent Automation is compiling all data, including structured and unstructured data. The data pool so created is sliced and diced to arrive at insights that would help improve operations. For example, what stage of the process consumes the most time, and how it can be optimized for maximum productivity?
Benefits of intelligent automation
Intelligent automation empowers humans to work with unparalleled efficiency that was unimaginable a decade ago. Contrary to the common belief that automation is replacing human workers and taking over their jobs, intelligent automation is actually working as a catalyst that is accelerating task completion by reducing the manual effort that human workers have to exert.
Here are some definite benefits that intelligent automation can bring to any business:
- Automate process-driven operations
Every function like HR, accounts, IT, and operations, has a certain workflow to it that ensures that the whole organization works like a well-oiled machine. However, any human-driven process is error-prone. Errors, whether trivial or serious, can cause bottlenecks resulting in back and forth of activities that delays the entire workflow.
Intelligent automation can tackle this challenge by automating process-driven automations. They work based on rules that the algorithm is programmed with. Anything that is beyond the scope of the program is treated as an anomaly and is escalated to a human worker for resolution. As a result, there are fewer errors, almost negligible when compared to the benefits of achieving operational efficiency at scale.
- Cleanse and organize data
Data is the raw material that runs intelligent automation. Without clean data, no automation system can take accurate decisions or provide contextual recommendations. In fact, even in a hypothetical situation, no organization can function smoothly if its data is corrupted, contains false duplicates, or in other words, is not clean.
Clean data refers to accurate data in the right format that does not have any duplicates and can be considered complete within the said dataset. To start an intelligent automation journey, cleaning up and organizing the entire data is necessary before processes can be automated. Although it might appear to be a tedious chore, it will reap dividends in the short term and long-term.
- Improve customer experience
The obvious benefit of intelligent automation is an evident improvement in customer experience. Automation improves the customer experience in two ways. First, it empowers human workers to work better, thus reducing the delays that usually hinders customer experience.
Further, it also gives access to analytical data that can be sliced and diced to understand customer preferences at a grassroots level. Armed with such data, businesses can deliver personalized offerings that will delight customers. A simple example of this is the use of chatbots to provide canned responses to the most frequent customer queries.
- Strengthen cybersecurity
For a very long time, cyber security has remained the forte of specialists who track website performance, access controls, and set up mechanisms to thwart security incidents. It has remained a manual process that requires extensive manual labor to analyze data, inspect incidents, unusual requests, etc.
For small and medium businesses with a shoestring budget setting up such an elaborate security infrastructure could be difficult. Thanks to intelligent automation they can have almost identical security setup that will keep them protected from security threats. Automation can detect security anomalies that exhibit unusual behavior early on without letting the issue crop up into an incident of a bigger scale.
Further, the system can also automate how default security measures can be automated to ensure that no vital steps are missed in ensuring cyber security. This could include even basic maneuvers like requesting users to update passwords and recovery measures on a periodic basis.
- Improved compliance
In a typical organization, compliance with local laws and statutes is ensured by a dedicated legal team or a consultant. With automation, it is possible to populate all the mandatory regulations that the organization must comply with and monitor it from a centralized dashboard. The use of RPA also ensures that this process of populating data, organizing it, and analyzing it for compliance monitoring can be done effortlessly.
Industries where intelligent automation has maximum potential
The common belief is that intelligent automation is restricted only to IT operations or where a digital workforce exists. While it is definitely beneficial for IT operations, automation also offers tremendous benefits for other industries as well.
Some of these include:
The assembly line, lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM) — almost every major best practice can be traced back to manufacturing. In a way, it is the manufacturing sector that laid the foundation for automation at scale. It is no surprise that intelligent automation is taking giant strides in space with the advent of the Internet of Things.
Manufacturing 4.0 has been the buzzword for years now and has matured in financial and technological feasibility. It can be rightly called the harbinger of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The factories of the future would have more robots and fewer humans managing them.
The assembly lines will have fewer conveyor belts. Instead there will be more smart grids with invisible paths that only robots can see and track through their software programs. Floor plans would be optimized for maximum efficiency using AI and ML programs.
In the past, BPOs were known for providing cheaper workforce and cost benefits. However, these USPs are no longer sufficient for BPOs to sustain their client base. It is necessary that they keep pace with the ongoing trends in digital transformation, especially automation.
Automation can help BPOs retain their competitive edge while meeting the business needs of their existing customer base. Further, by adopting automation and providing automation implementation services, BPOs can also unlock new sources of revenue that were earlier inaccessible.
Internally, BPOs can use automation in the form of RPA for resource management and process optimization. Even resource planning and allocation can become cost-efficient if automation is leveraged to figure out which project consumes maximum and minimum resources, resources wasted due to poor planning, etc. Further, automation can be used for data entry and validation, reconciliations to solve discrepancies caused due to human error, etc.
From a market perspective, BPOs can help enterprises wanting to adopt automation follow best practices in implementation.
The BFSI industry is the biggest benefactor of intelligent automation. It generates a large volume of transactions on a regular basis, has a sophisticated back-office operation, and also needs to ensure compliance at all levels. In fact, even in 2017, 25% of RPA implementations took place in the BFSI sector (Source). The scope for automation in the sector is only increasing day by day due to mushrooming growth of innovative FinTech offerings.
With automation, the BFSI sector can automate those rule-based processes where human error is not acceptable. For example, in the past, KYC documentation for loan approvals and bank account opening was manually verified by human workers. Going forth, RPA and automation technologies can perform such tasks with better efficiency and accuracy. Armed with AI and Machine Learning capabilities like image recognition and pattern recognition, they will be able to process large amounts of similar documents within a short span of time.
Healthcare is the most sensitive sector of all. It deals with real lives and resurrecting them from disease and near-death scenarios.
Automation in healthcare takes an interesting turn compared to other sectors where complete reliance can be exercised. Here automation can be used as a support system, like virtual assistants for doctors and healthcare givers who have to pore over tons of patient data. With the assistance of automation, it would become easy to scan medical reports, pair them with common symptoms and arrive at a conclusion about the patient’s state of health.
In short, it would enable the doctor to expedite the treatment process and aid in relieving the patient from discomfort or pain at the earliest. The same has been confirmed by a McKinsey study which found that at least 33% of healthcare providers’ tasks are likely to be automated, which can also reduce costs and improve healthcare affordability.
Intelligent automation arms businesses with the power to scale their automation in specific processes where the gains are evident. It leans on analytics and insights and uses them to optimize processes. Manual processes which are rule-based, repetitive in nature, and occur in large volumes are ideal candidates for intelligent automation.
Intelligent automation can deliver significant benefits to all kinds of businesses. From improving workforce productivity to augmenting customer experience, there is so much that it can offer. Furthermore, almost all major industries which are adopting technology at scale can also bank on intelligent automation. To quote Amber Rudd, “Automation is driving the decline of banal and repetitive tasks.”
Where is your organization in terms of automation maturity? Are you still stuck with manual operations or adopting automation slowly? Maybe it is time to level up to intelligent automation.