In 1946, D.S. Harder, an engineer manager at Ford Motor Company, coined the term automation in reference to the mechanization of metalwork in automobile manufacturing. By mechanizing tedious and dangerous tasks, Harder increased operational efficiency in the plant while simultaneously improving workplace safety.
Since that time, automation software has been applied across multiple industries, to improve data collection, manage high-volume transactions and enable intelligent business processes. Companies that invested in artificial intelligence-powered automation are reaping huge returns. A study by McKinsey reported that an investor in standard robotic process automation (RPA) technology saw an 80% reduction in processing costs. Industry leaders are making increasingly bold moves to follow Harder and create digitized assembly lines.
With the innovation boom has come a new wave of technology. Gartner defines RPA as “a productivity tool that allows a user to configure one or more scripts (which some vendors refer to as “bots”) to activate specific keystrokes in an automated fashion. The result is that the bots can be used to mimic or emulate selected tasks (transaction steps) within an overall business or IT process.”
In a sense, RPA is the “hands” of software automation. These bots can be instructed to activate keystrokes, clicks, data migration and more. But RPA stops with variation. Because of its scripted nature, RPA’s limitations are reached when applied to complex or situational use cases. Where interpretation is required, something more technologically advanced than interface interaction and descriptor technologies is called for.
Intelligent automation (IA) takes RPA a step further, through the application of AI. While RPA acts as the hands, AI can be seen as the brain. The resulting technology is hyperautomation, which Gartner defines as “a business-driven, disciplined approach that organizations use to rapidly identify, vet and automate as many business and IT processes as possible.”
According to Gartner, hyperautomation involves the orchestrated use of multiple technologies, tools or platforms, including AI, machine learning, event-driven software architecture, RPA, intelligent business process management, integration platform as a service (iPaaS), low-code and no-code tools, packaged software and other tools for decision-making, process and task automation.
Forecast to reach $600 billion dollars in 2022, hyperautomation “has shifted from an option to a condition of survival,” according to Gartner managing vice president Fabrizio Biscotti. With this aggressive pace of change, industry leaders can be left behind if caught underprepared to adopt disruptive technologies. Those that can will reap a plethora of cross-business synergies created by AI-powered business intelligence and streamlined processes, resulting in higher employee retention and an improved experience. Research conducted by Deloitte suggests that IA already has an adoption rate of over 50%, and is forecasted to hit 70% by 2023.
The book Intelligent Automation: Welcome to the World of Hyperautomation, by Pascal Bornet, Ian Barkin and Joachin Wirtz, cites three top priorities of CEOs in which IA plays a crucial role: new growth opportunities through disruptive technologies, technology to reduce costs while improving productivity, and the need to enhance digital proficiency. What’s more, according to Deloitte, automation initiatives have already delivered improvements in compliance (92%), quality and accuracy (90%), productivity (86%) and costs (59%), with a payback of less than 12 months. Leaders need to build these same three priorities into their digital and sustainability strategies in response to the digital automation revolution.
At the same time, there are concerns about how automation and AI will impact the future workforce. In the third quarter of 2021, McKinsey reported that 40% of employees were likely to resign in the next three to six months. Friction between employers and employees is cropping up around issues such as opportunities for advancement, flexible work schedules and a general sense of belonging. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work during their lifetime, yet only 15% report a sense of real engagement with their employer.
As workforce training and turnover continue to be critical components of planning, leaders are looking to intelligent business processes to create an empowering work environment. Reports suggest that the main barrier for at least half the workforce continues to be unproductive administrative tasks, such as wasteful meetings and excessive e-mails. A study by Bornet, Barkin and Wirtz suggests that with proper automation technologies, as much as one fourth of all busy time could be given back to employees, and nearly 50% of productive tasks could be augmented by business intelligence and efficiency tools.
Furthermore, nearly 70% of employees reported that the implementation of IA technologies would allow them to dedicate more time to primary responsibilities, and pursue education and professional development opportunities. As the concept of “hire to retire” fades away, it would be wise for leaders to evaluate the primary obstacles their employees face, and how they can become powerful agents in enhancing employees’ growth and development.
Many experts agree that improving the employee experience can have a positive effect on the customer experience as well, enabling automated help services, expediting requests for quotes and orders, customizing product recommendations and promoting intelligent account-management techniques. A fully digital customer experience is a given in today’s marketplace, with 90% of customers expecting to conduct the buying journey continuously via browser, mobile, call center and brick-and-mortar establishment.
With the pandemic forever altering standards of business, more organizations are looking to further digitize. But they’ll need to look further than supplying just a 24-hour call center. Already 70% of consumers expect a self-service option in addition to call centers. And, as consumers become more tech-savvy, sellers must adjust the buying experience in line with these skills and preferences. According to Bornet, Barkin and Wirtz, as much as 60% of the global consumer market ranks service-rep performance as a top frustration.
Nearly a quarter of the businesses processes that we call standard today can be eliminated by dedicating more time to innovation, professional development and primary responsibilities. As organizations become more efficient, hyperautomation is evolving into the next frontier of intelligent enterprises. With fields such as data capitalization management and AI engineering on the rise, so too is demand for new skillsets ramping up. Organizations that prioritize those top-three executive goals will find themselves riding the crest of the wave that is the fourth industrial revolution, and enjoying the benefits of the market’s momentum.
Kathleen Taggart is GTM strategist for intelligent automation with DataXstream.
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