This blog, co-written with Frank Trainer (Vice President of Process & Delivery, Apexon), draws on their joint experience in the digital transformation and automation environments.
As digital transformation cements its place in the technology zeitgeist, the fact that the concept is part of mainstream business optimization strategies means that more companies are committed to its integration. The term has often been unfairly dismissed as a marketing buzzword, but as the path to digital maturity continues to evolve, there is a defined need for organizations to ensure they get it right.
For companies that want to maintain a competitive advantage, the time for sitting on the fence is over. Customers expect brands to digitally transform, not only because the demands of the connected society are forcing the issue but also that the tools and solutions for the change are already here. And while there will always be questions about when is the right time, the simple truth is that decision makers must do it right.
The caveat is that digital transformation can be overshadowed by confusion as to how the best way to proceed. There is a consensus among the tech sector that the ongoing global health crisis was a much-needed catalyst, but the pandemic merely flagged up the need to focus on digital answers to real-world problems. High on this list is a requirement for companies to take advantage of solutions such as intelligent or cognitive automation.
With that in mind, this jointly-written blog post will look at both the potential of intelligent automation and how it can be used to advance digital business goals. In addition, we will consider why Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is part of the overall solution and how the two fit into a required digital transformation.
Automation Builds Digital Maturity
When you look under the hood of digital transformation, there are (at least) three defined stages of digital maturity that organizations must experience to achieve their goals.
According to Salesforce, digital transformation is “the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.” This definition redefines what business is in the digital age, transcending traditional roles such as sales, marketing and customer service and replacing them with how companies think about and engage with customers.
An acknowledgment that there is a requirement to “go digital” is normally the first stage. Companies need to quickly adopt a digital mindset, experimenting with and launching products that incorporate the required digital transformation. If successful, they can move to a second stage – the creation of a digital infrastructure and foundation to support the ongoing requirements of “being digital.”
Once this has been integrated into existing working practices, companies should evolve to a final stage. This is where they make strategic decisions based on both the level of digital maturity and the intelligent or autonomous solutions being introduced.
Within each phase, organizations must maintain a high degree of autonomy in terms of how to initiate, drive and then scale their digital initiatives.
A recent report by Gartner predicts that 90 percent of large organizations will have adopted some kind of RPA by the end of 2022. The last few years has seen an increased acceptance of automation technologies such as RPA, mainly because they help to minimize manual, repetitive processes.
On a basic level, they both speed these processes up and improve accuracy. In addition, RPA solutions can be customized easily and deployed rapidly, but it should be noted that they are limited to narrow tasks.
Automation Needs Data
RPA is within reach of almost all enterprises, even if they are in the earlier stages of their digital journey. On the flip side, the challenge of joining these disparate processes up into a cohesive process is, for most enterprises, often a work in progress.
Structured data is used to perform what would be monotonous tasks with greater precision and accuracy. RPA is a rule-based, easily programmable technology with almost immediate ROI. However, any exceptions that the RPA tool encounters need intervention from a human or, more often than not, an intelligent automation tool.
RPA will eventually be seen as occupying the more basic end of the automation spectrum, but the benefits they can bring to a company right now make for impressive reading. Apexon (an Apexon company), has already demonstrated how customers have made significant cost and time savings, such as when a multinational modular space leasing company improved database accuracy and streamlined its invoicing processes.
Intelligent automation is the next level up on the continuum. RPA and AI combine to automate complex end-to-end business processes, allowing companies to take advantage of a cognitive solution.
Widespread integration into working processes is still nascent, but intelligent automation can stitch together the many disparate, siloed automation initiatives enterprises currently host. For example, a recent Forrester report, cited by TechRepublic, referred to the technology as an “automation fabric” that will help to solve the piecemeal approach that companies are currently taking towards transformation goals.
Intelligent Automation Bridges Gaps
As companies mull over which technologies to prioritize on their path to digital maturity, intelligent automation will become more of a priority.
Whereas organizations currently have a high number of tactically deployed automation initiatives, intelligent automation can start to join those individual steps up to address wider, business-centric digital transformation goals. This focus will allow companies to shift their digital transformation into a higher gear.
Automation technologies have classically helped speed up processes and cut costs but, according to a recent Forrester survey, 37 percent of respondents said they are now investing in them to accelerate their digital initiatives.
In addition, Gartner predicts that market for the software that enables joined-up automation – often referred to as hyperautomation – to reach $600 billion by 2022. Gartner’s Fabrizio Biscotti even describes this next wave of automation technologies as having gone from being “an option to a condition of survival.”
What is clear is that intelligent automation promises a lot in terms of bridging the existing gaps between automation initiatives. However, intelligent automation is not a quick fix and deploying it requires some groundwork. Much of this focus depends on where an enterprise is on its digital transformation trajectory.
Creating smart workflows that deliver maximum ROI involves integrating different digital capabilities and is considered to be a complex, highly skilled endeavor. This includes aligning existing automation solutions with techniques such as OCR, NLP, big data analytics, and more. From an integration standpoint, enterprises may need to be prepared to upgrade their systems before embarking on more automation implementations.
There are non-technical challenges to intelligent automation as well.
Businesses have a role to play in readying the workforce for what will undeniably, eventually, constitute a significant shift in the world of work. In a recent MIT report – “The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in An Age of Intelligent Machines”– the authors consider the increased adoption of advanced machines and processes as inevitable and imminent.
And while this can set the dystopian alarm bell ringing, the authors of the report note that “the dynamic interplay among task automation, innovation and new work creation, while always disruptive, is a primary wellspring of rising productivity.” Rather than replacing a workforce, this rise in productivity will drive up living standards, they note, and this may well be the case. However, it is worth remembering (once again) that automation should augment and not replace human workers.
Intelligent Automation is Already Here
Highly regulated sectors such as healthcare and financial services have been keen to implement intelligent automation solutions. Nowhere is this better illustrated as in the fast-growing regulation technology (RegTech) sector. For what have always been very traditional industries, automation delivers not only improved regulatory compliance, but also reduces costs.
On the spectrum of automation technologies, there is a level beyond intelligent automation. Often referred to cognitive automation or intelligent process automation (IPA), this version brings both structured and unstructured data into its processes and will further push the boundaries of what we now know as automated systems.
Enterprise leaders must therefore assess providers based on both their automation expertise as well as their digital engineering credentials.
The reason for this is quite straightforward; intelligent automation is a discipline that integrates many other enterprise technology components into the overarching intelligent automation “fabric.” Essentially, this is not a standalone solution you can switch on and forget about.
Fast-Track to Digital Transformation
Intelligent automation is both a highly promising technology and one that enterprises must be aware of as they look to accelerate their own digital maturity. An intelligent automation platform has many levels, so factoring in the type of data, volume of tasks and desired outcomes is critical.
To those of us who know that the tools are already here to make mundane tasks obsolete, intelligent automation is going to bridge the gaps between the human and robotic workforces – augmenting and transforming, not replacing. And if we go beyond piecemeal savings and efficiencies, intelligent automation will help organizations meet the demands of an increasingly connected society.
Advanced automation will increase expectations of what it means to be an agile, innovative business and how companies interact with customers. An integral step in the evolution towards digital maturity, the enterprises that embrace it now are on the fast-track to their digital transformation goals.
Apexon’s digital engineers are adept at not only solving the toughest challenges that our customers can throw at us but also the integration of next-generation solutions into workflows and processes. To find out how we can help you achieve the required digital maturity, please fill out the form below.