Chris Huff
Chris Huff 28 March 2019

Beyond Robotic Process Automation: Intelligent Automation Is the Next Step to Working Like Tomorrow, Today

Businesses of all sizes rely on an assortment of processes to get things done and achieve organisational goals. New customer onboarding, financial reporting, batch processing, and shipment scheduling and tracking are just a few examples.

If handled quickly and efficiently, they deliver meaningful benefits that impact revenue and growth, including enhanced service levels, lower operational costs, and higher customer satisfaction. It’s also true that these processes – often paper-based and manual – are excellent candidates for automation. 

To be sure, many companies have implemented robotic process automation (RPA) within pockets of their organisation. But even in the digital era, a large share have yet to implement RPA even for optimised processes, and even fewer to automate end-to-end using intelligent automation. A global Forbes Insights survey found a quarter of processes are still completely or mostly manual, and another 37% are a mix of manual and automated.

That there is still significant room for automation through the enterprise is hardly in dispute. In fact, nine out of 10 executives say they recognise its importance to their future success. And those that have started their transformation by implementing RPA technology, which uses software robots to automate routine, manual tasks, are seeing efficiency and productivity gains.

The real opportunity, though, is to move beyond RPA to intelligent automation. This next generation technology – bringing together capabilities such as process orchestration, cognitive capture, and advanced analytics – is the only way to drive maximum business value.

Thus, the true “next step” for the enterprise of the future isn’t automating in small pockets with point solutions. Instead, it’s implementing intelligent automation across the enterprise. This approach checks the box on every C-suite goal: time and cost savings, improved collaboration, higher employee satisfaction and a better customer experience.

Where the Opportunities for Intelligent Automation Are

But where do businesses start? How do they identify the most promising places within their organisation to extend automation capabilities? The Forbes Insights survey uncovered opportunities in three key areas.

Document and data processing. Accounts payable, legal and sales teams are often unnecessarily burdened with document-heavy processes. But when invoices, contracts and sales and purchase orders are handled manually, errors and delays occur, leading to higher costs and missed payments. According to the Forbes Insight survey, just 13% of companies say they’ve fully automated the interpretation of unstructured content, while one-quarter simply turn text over to humans. Other organisations say their firms fall somewhere in between, with automation ranging from keyword extraction to sentiment analysis.

Of course, manual processing of large volumes of documents isn’t sustainable or desirable in a world where consumers value speed and experience most. Businesses need employees to focus on higher-value, customer-oriented tasks, and no one has time for bottlenecks. One way to transform this situation is to implement RPA with integrated intelligent optical character recognition (OCR). This technology creates a complete workflow that automates document-heavy processes, making them faster and more reliable while also giving employees more time to attend to customer needs.

Automating tasks into an end-to-end sequence. Businesses so far have automated processes in discrete corners of the enterprise, often starting with financial reporting. Yet, despite the success of these projects, most firms haven’t attempted to automate a process from beginning to end. Just 25% of survey respondents say they’ve automated a larger business process, using humans to intervene only when there are exceptions.

Those that have, though, realise significant time and cost savings. Dentsu Aegis, an advertising network, applied natural language processing (NLP) to craft new RFPs. Its program, which learned from ingesting 20 of the company’s best and most recent RFP responses, reads an incoming request and understands the questions and the context. The bot then matches the open questions to previous responses, creates a draft and converts it into a PowerPoint presentation.

The result? Their sales team no longer needs to scramble to locate and tailor past proposals to client specifications, saving the company up to 60 hours of manual labor on each RFP.

Judgment and decision making: Robots also free humans from routine decisions, thus optimising processes based on real-time information. Coyote Logistics, a subsidiary of UPS, uses artificial intelligence tools like natural language processing and machine learning to create robots that handle processes requiring judgment and decision making.

“We process free text in real time and apply machine learning algorithms to make a judgment that directs the robot on a particular course of action,” says Diana Rudha, senior manager, automation and software development at Coyote.

What it Takes to Scale Automation

For building additional automation processes, it’s critical to establish a center of excellence (CoE). Slightly more than half of companies (51%) have already taken this step, according to the Forbes Insights survey, while 41% plan to establish one.

Automation success, though, depends on three crucial elements: people, process and technology. As the Forbes Insights report states, it’s important to involve IT early, as they provides essential guidance on which are the most appropriate technologies to adopt and how they best fit within the enterprise network and security protocol. Meanwhile, business people have the unique knowledge needed for identifying potential use cases.

Selecting the right technology is also crucial. Organisations should look for an intelligent automation platform that is capable of aggregating the complementary technologies RPA requires, managing the robot teams and then scaling them across the entire enterprise.

It’s also important to strike a healthy balance between machines and humans. Companies often are captivated by the allure of driving exceptionally high straight-through processing rates or reducing labor costs. But firms are more likely to build a sustainable automation program when they recognise there are things robots inherently do well and things humans inherently do well. Intelligent automation is about integrating technologies and striking that balance, while also bringing transparency to the state of automated processes via responsive and innovative reporting.

Forward-thinking enterprises harness automation to drive operational benefits, like time and cost savings and increased capacity. But they also understand the need to scale beyond single-point processes in order to deliver strategic benefits – such as higher customer and employee satisfaction, competitive differentiation and improved profit margins – essential to sustainability, scalability and success in the digital age. Intelligent automation provides the opportunities to work like tomorrow–today.

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