Intelligent automation is making tangible impacts across many markets and industries. Danny Major FBCS explores and explains its place in digital transformation.
Automation, once the cause for revolution in the manufacturing industry, has made steady progress into the world of white-collar work, creating a wake of technology advancements as it goes; to drive functional efficiencies into the enterprise it is commonplace for software tools to be deployed. However, there is a growing trend among software vendors to provide a one-stop-shop of tightly integrated capabilities for all your enterprise automation needs – and it is called intelligent automation.
The application landscape of the modern enterprise is complex, often having an assortment of applications both old and new. Some come with rich application programming interfaces (APIs), others do not.
As each application plays a vital role in the way the enterprise conducts its business and operations, they cannot simply be replaced. This metaphorical noose has meant that digital transformation can only go so far without a costly program of application and tooling migration. However, various advances mean that there is now another way.
Behind intelligent automation
To be clear, intelligent automation is not new: it is in fact an evolution of multiple technologies, grouped together under a logical label, which enable the automation of office-based work. What is new is that this label is growing so quickly that there is little consensus on what is included and what is not. Additionally, where software vendors in this space previously stuck to their lanes, new acquisitions and partnerships have made it possible to have all your business outcomes met through a single automation vendor relationship.
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To take the least contentious classification, intelligent automation can be described as the marriage of business process management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA), task and process mining, intelligent document processing (IDP), computer vision, and conversational AI (including natural language processing).
Blending and tight integration of these capabilities enables work across the enterprise to be automated, irrespective of the age or compatibility strengths of the applications estate in place. Furthermore, the user-friendly interfaces of the tools within the intelligent automation category mean that there is a much larger pool of people who - when appropriately trained – can use them to drive business change.
Real-world success stories
This culmination of technologies has had its fair share of success stories. It has enabled new businesses to disrupt existing markets and empowered established businesses to make difficult pivots into new markets. These technologies together have also enabled organisations to survive and thrive during COVID-19.
Here are some examples:
- National Health Service: automated processing of GP Referrals saved an NHS Trust £220,000 and reduced the referral time from 25 minutes to 5 minutes
- Lloyds Banking Group: within 7 days, the bank introduced a new service underpinned by automation for mortgage repayment holidays, in addition to business interruption loans, bounce back loans, interest and fee free overdrafts and loan refinancing. The net result was a customer satisfaction score of 81% as found by ‘Money Saving Expert’
- BT: In 2019 BT announced that it was saving 1,800 hours per month through intelligent automation and had an ambition to grow this figure to 23,000 hours per month by 2022. The programme’s focus was enhancing customer and employee experiences in the company’s consumer, enterprise and global divisions
- Utilita: Automating 24 processes within the utilities sector within 12 months; including managing the switch from credit agreements to pre-pay schemes, ordering new pre-payment top-up cards for customers and handling the transfer. In addition, with the help of intelligent automation, 66,000 new customers were onboarded, supported in 2019 following the collapse of two energy suppliers
Challenges and opportunities
Whilst there have been significant benefits gained from intelligent automation, there are still further opportunities. These include:
- Reusability: when delivering outcomes into regulated industries where the process is governed (for example Know Your Customer in financial services), intelligent automation enables the same solution to be used by multiple businesses. Early indications of reusability can be found in various process marketplaces and exchanges being developed to house these repeatable solutions
- Expansion of AI: in the same way the advances in technology have strengthened the arsenal of intelligent automation, advances in AI also extend the scope of the addressable use cases for automation within the enterprise. The improvements of character, text, and image recognition (computer vision) has helped use cases which involved scanned documents and data – large language models (LLMs) particularly present opportunities for greater depth in computer to human collaboration
- Maintaining skills: with the extent of technologies under the intelligent automation banner, businesses need to maintain a growing portfolio of skills to design, deliver, operate, and improve the outcomes which they deliver. Although vendors strive to integrate the different capabilities into a single concise user interface, the current reality is that the day-to-day use of these technologies is more akin to a patchwork tapestry — albeit a tightly woven one. Enterprises that benefit from the full extent of what intelligent automation can offer must continue to invest in the skills of their staff or service providers
- The governance challenge: innovation means that enterprises are having to create their own approaches to governance and control. One of the more common approaches for managing a deployment of intelligent automation is to do so in a federated model. This practice has many benefits, but it can introduce further layers of complexity in governance, as control is relinquished outside of a core team of specialists
If it isn’t already, intelligent automation should be on the roadmap for a business strategy — so let us talk about where to start.
- Alignment to strategy: be clear about where intelligent automation bolsters your strategy. Is it streamlining a customer experience as with Lloyds Banking Group, or is it reducing customer acquisition costs as with Utilita?
- Executive support: in its simplest form, this will be a project with goals and objectives — however, it needs support and for all involved to understand why this activity is valuable
- Choose the right partner: this includes both the software vendor and the delivery partner. Look to understand who can best support your industry, and their approach to aiding you in achieving ongoing self-sufficiency
- Review and adjust: intelligent automation can drive strategic agile change within your business, so ensure that it does not set off on a 3-year roadmap with the blinkers up, and that it adjusts to the needs and opportunities of your business
Based on the level of success achieved by businesses in the public and private sectors alike, there is little doubt that intelligent automation makes a tangible impact across areas such as business transformation or enabling access to new markets. However, various levels of investment are required, ranging from understanding the strategic goals that intelligent automation should support to ensuring teams are appropriately enabled and equipped to meet the challenge.