Oct 10, 2018

Beyond RPA: why intelligent automation is in your future

The smart, new way to orchestrate all your processes

As the hype around robotic process automation (RPA) accelerates, the acronym RPA is gaining broader recognition, much like ERP, CRM, or IoT. Yet getting the most business benefit out of RPA comes from a less understood term: intelligent automation. RPA is a good starting place for enterprise investment, but this post explains why intelligent automation is also in your future.

Automating business processes isn't new, but recent advances in RPA software, commonly called whole solutions, make it easier to implement – and therefore easier to see a solid return on investment. That's why some RPA software companies with less than $100 million in annual revenues have been valued in the billions. As technologist Marc Andreessen – a visionary venture capitalist – said in 2011: “software is eating the world." There are strong indications that this will continue.

RPA software is best for automating repetitive, rules-based tasks involving structured data. Large volumes of highly transactional processes, such as data entry, are ideal candidates for RPA software implementation. The software is process- and industry-agnostic so it can run across many corporate processing functions, from finance and accounting to human resources and customer service. It also works well in industry-specific applications, such as insurance claims processing.

Recent McKinsey research indicates that almost 60% of businesses around the world have already started automation projects with RPA software. An additional 20% plan to do so within the next year. To maximize the long-term benefits from these RPA investments, enterprises should build a strategy for intelligent automation.

What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation extends beyond the simple task automation that RPA software achieves to include process automation and process orchestration. Almost all business processes consist of work that goes beyond task automation using structured data. To get the most out of automating real-world processes, which involve much larger amount of unstructured data, analytics, and cognitive/AI (i.e., learning), businesses need technologies together with a platform approach.

RPA software provides immediate savings through efficiency improvements for task-specific elements within a process. By contrast, intelligent automation can provide far greater business impact through process-level orchestration to generate new revenue streams, optimize customer experiences, or increase competitive advantage.

Intelligent automation involves a broader technology scope (RPA plus analytics, AI, and more) and requires significant process and domain knowledge. But it also offers much more business impact. RPA may be the starting point of your company's automation journey, but your needs – given increasing customer expectations and new competition – will require other technologies, process-wide tools, and domain expertise. Yes, intelligent automation is in your future.

How to prepare for intelligent automation

However enticing the potential short-term productivity benefits of RPA software projects, it's important to think about the longer term as you prepare for a successful intelligent automation journey. We recommend the following steps:

1. Develop a strategic plan for automation
Successful enterprises make automation a strategic priority from the outset. That means creating clear strategic objectives, ensuring there is executive sponsorship, and making automation an enterprise-wide mandate. It also means avoiding short-term, fragmented approaches: first, by gaining a comprehensive understanding of costs and benefits, and second, by developing a vision and strategic plan for broader organizational buy-in.

2. Recognize the importance of people and governance
Leading enterprises recognize the importance of domain knowledge and context that only humans can bring to their intelligent automation journeys. As Elon Musk noted from his experience at Tesla, “Humans are underrated."Leaders must focus on roles and people, workforce management – including the emerging digital workforce – and collaboration with IT early and often. They should continually assess their workforce skills and the new roles that future automated processes will call for.

3. Seek help from experts to scale adoption
Leading enterprises know when they need outside help. They consult with automation experts to help plot their intelligent automation journeys. They achieve scale through a combination of deep process and domain understanding, technology-neutral automation approaches, and consistent management across multiple technology vendors. Lastly, they leverage a modular platform that has advanced analytics and cognitive/AI capabilities – beyond RPA software – to help them achieve scale and deliver greater business impact.

Pablo Picasso once remarked of computers, "They are useless. They can only give you answers." Similarly, it is people, domain knowledge, and process understanding that can generate the necessary questions for successful intelligent automation. Good luck with your company's journey.

About the author

Dan Glessner

Dan Glessner

Vice President, Digital

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