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So Long Automation, Hello Hyperautomation

April 30, 2021 Digital Workplace
David Roe
By David Roe

As many organizations look to automation to drive productivity, automation itself is evolving and changing as these same organizations start implementing it. The growing interest in the technology was underlined by the recent UiPath IPO that gave the company an initial market capitalization of $29.1 billion.  

For organizations that have embraced task-driven automation technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), it is starting to become clear that a single, task-based automation tool is not enough to implement efficient, resilient digital business processes.

Instead, according to Gartner, they are now turning to hyperautomation, a process whereby organizations automate whatever can be automated and transition from RPA used for simple, rule-based task automation with structured data to RPA combined with AI that can automate complex processes with unstructured data and a significant level of ambiguity. The data generated from intelligent automation can then be interpreted by humans to make business decisions. 

Behind it all is data. With the exponential growth in the volume of enterprise data, companies need to adopt new strategies like hyperautomation to keep pace with their customer and employee experiences, said Kurt Trauth, senior vice president of customer experience strategy and analytics at Charlotte, N.C.-based Stratifyd, a developer of AI and analytics platforms.

Hyperautomation Feeds on Data

One of the critical elements of hyperautomation, Trauth said, is the way it will democratize data and advanced analytics tools like AI-powered speech and text analytics to more business users, rather than siloing away these capabilities in the hands of IT teams and data scientists.

In practice, hyperautomation provides business leaders the flexibility to make data-driven decisions in near real time. In particular, the adoption of no-code artificial intelligence, automation and text analytics will give business leaders the power to unlock insights from the 80% of unstructured customer interaction data they are missing out on today.

“If business leaders can take the burden of manual data preparation and analytics off their teams with AI and automation, they can focus more of their time on responding to and modifying the customer experience,” he said.

"For example, customer experience teams can use hyperautomation to monitor call center interactions to predict [Net Promoter Scores] without the typical lag time in surveys, or they can uncover real-time insights from chatbots to highlight improvements for the digital experience team."

Related Article: What UiPath's IPO Tells Us About the Growth of Automation

Expanding the Automated Business Process Universe

Hyperautomation is a response to the limits of RPA and to code in general. The first thing to understand is that, for a business process to be automated, it must be deterministic. That is, you must know exactly what to do in response to a given input, said Chris Nicholson, CEO of San Francisco-based Pathmind, a company that applies AI to industrial operations.

There is no room for ambiguity. Code is deterministic and operates on the principle of "if this, then that," never "if it is kind of this, then maybe that or this other thing." But many business tasks are not deterministic. There's wiggle room and ambiguity. Incoming data can usually be interpreted in several ways and there might be more than one way to deal with it. That does not work with code or with RPA.

"Humans are underrated," Nicholson said. "We know how to respond to new events that we were not specifically programmed for. We often know how to handle corner cases and exceptions, how to bend the rules when necessary to accomplish a larger goal. Software and RPA can’t do that."

Hyperautomation can help by enabling humans to make decisions more efficiently even amid ambiguity. This is called decision support. As we move away from the deterministic world of RPA and structured data, we get into unstructured data like an image or a long document on a PDF. When you are analyzing text in natural language, there's always ambiguity.

“The only writings we produce that are not ambiguous are code and mathematical proofs." Nicholson said. "So to respond to the ambiguity of natural language, you need probabilistic models. A probabilistic model is one that says: The data you have given me 'probably' means X, and therefore you should probably do Y."

Feeding those kinds of predictions from a probabilistic machine learning model to a human who is familiar with the situation can vastly accelerate work because it points them in the right direction.

“That's one thing that people mean by hyperautomation. Humans apply context awareness and ambiguity handling to business processes, which code alone cannot do. But trained AI agents can help people do that faster,” Nicholson said.

Related Article: What Do Machine Learning Engineers Do Anyway?

Automation Is Not Just About Technology

While the advantages are clear, there are other issues to consider, according to Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Boston-based research organization Deep Analysis.

The issue with automation, he said, is that it sounds good. It even sounds logical. But it has a long history of delivering profound change while also disappointing us in equal measure. Automation is at the core of enterprise software and IT, as it has been from the dawn of automating calculation of numbers versus using an abacus. But the rationale for continued automation is seldom as clear-cut as it seems.

“Over the past several years I have made a point of regularly asking enterprises and tech vendors alike why their enterprise automation project was undertaken,” he said.

The answers usually are to improve productivity, accuracy, customer service and increase agility. But when pressed, the primary reason is simply to cut costs, which typically means cutting jobs.

“It’s a cliché but when approaching automation projects, it's worth remembering the adage of ‘resourceful humans’ vs. ‘human resources.' Many a project has and will continue to backfire when highly resourceful humans have been replaced by much less resourceful automation technology," Pelz-Sharpe said.

He added that some automation technologies provide insights that were previously impossible to gain, for example cognitive capture. With those insights, businesses can do things they never could before. In principle at least, that seems like a solid basis to use those technologies. However, many other so-called intelligent and hyperautomation technologies simply allow businesses to do things faster, cheaper and with fewer humans involved in the process. That is a radically different rationale for automation and one that comes with a whole new set of challenges. 

Integrating Emerging Technologies

To summarize hyperautomation, it is integrating the use of different types of emerging technology such as AI, machine learning and RPA to digitize and automate most business processes, said Logan Mallory, vice president at Lehi, Utah-based Motivosity.

Many companies have made investments into new technology only to face limitations in the way they can use the technology, so they still require human intervention as part of the process. With hyperautomation, the organization can truly automate processes to maximize efficiency benefits and deliver more value to the customer.

“We're already seeing lots of automation in marketing processes, especially ones which are already digitized," Mallory said. "Marketing teams already collect a lot of customer information digitally such as names, addresses and past purchases. This data could be analyzed and insights automatically generated for teams to work on."

Some organizations even integrate insights with their marketing platforms to adjust budgets between marketing channels automatically or trigger changes in a certain marketing platform. This allows teams to be highly responsive to trends and changes, while customers can benefit from getting relevant marketing messages that address their pain points and being led to a product that can solve their problem.

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