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Intelligent Process Automation Is Here — Where Are You?

October 25, 2022 Information Management
David Barry
By David Barry

The pandemic brought on many changes in the workplace, and alongside them a great deal of new technologies. While many existed prior to the pandemic, some saw increased levels of refinement and sophistication. Robotic process automation (RPA) and its relative, intelligent process automation, are two such technologies.  

Initially deployed to reduce costs, speed up tasks and improve accuracy of core business operations, RPA has quickly evolved, expanded and transformed to support overall business goals. Intelligent process automation emerged before the pandemic, an offshoot of robotic process automation (RPA which added a layer of artificial intelligence (AI) to the mix. IPA is also known as intelligent automation (IA) or cognitive automation.

IBM defines intelligent automation as a marriage of three technologies — AI, business process management (BPM) and RPA — to streamline and scale decision-making across organizations. Given this, what place does intelligent automation have in the workplace of the future?

Overcoming RPA Shortcomings

Bruce Orcutt, senior vice president of product marketing at Charlotte, North Carolina-based ABBYY, describes intelligent automation as a natural evolution of automation technologies because it addresses the challenges organizations have been facing when trying to deploy RPA. More specifically, IA adds cognitive capabilities in the form of machine learning and AI to RPA bots, and this added capability has driven widespread interest in intelligent automation. 

ABBYY research has found that 45% of IT decision-makers had implemented three to four intelligent automation projects in the past two years, and 89% reported those implementations as successful. That's a substantial increase from 2019, when less than half said they had been successful when using RPA alone.

RPA, though promising when it emerged, is just not the right solution for long-term automation efforts, said Tony Lee, CTO at New York City-based Hyperscience. The technology is fragile and inflexible, he said, requiring immense oversight. This often creates more troubles than efficiencies.

Intelligent process automation solutions on the other hand can automate increasingly complex, dynamic workflows using AI, ML and human-in-the-loop technology that reduces human oversight and allows more time to be spent on strategic work.

Related Article: Why Organizations Still Struggle With Deploying AI

Looking Into the Future

Lee believes organizations must come to expect more from the technologies they use. "This will be critical to tap into the full potential of technology and people, so we’ll be better positioned to enable seamless collaboration, increased throughput and overall efficiency," he said.

“In today’s hybrid work environment, it’s critical for workplaces to drive efficiency for knowledge workers and reduce the mundane, time-sucking tasks like data entry,” Lee said. "This is especially effective in highly regulated, data-centric industries like the public sector or financial services, where automated document processing can support ever-increasing information and workloads."

Orcutt also believes efficiency and a people-first focus are the two most important things that IA brings to the digital workplace. Companies are investing in IA to assist employees in doing more with less, to streamline and optimize processes, to ensure everyone has the tools they need to work smart and reduce the risk of burnout, he said.

Adding to the benefits is the idea that IA, according to the ABBYY research, may deliver greater ROI than RPA, with 62% of those surveyed saying they expect to get returns equating to twice their investment.

 

Related Article: Establishing Intelligent Automation ROI Is a Moving Target

Reducing Communication Overload

Enabling today's digital workplaces are powerful communication and collaboration tools. But according to Michael Allen, CTO at Long Beach, Calif.-based Laserfiche, the ease with which colleagues can reach out to anyone in their organization for a quick question or ping is both a blessing and a curse because it amplifies the problem of communication overload that email wrought on the workplace.

IA provides some relief to this communication overload by automating digital processes using the power of machine learning and other technologies that allow software to act intelligently using contextual data.

“The type of work that intelligent automation systems can perform automatically or with minimal human intervention tends to be low-value added work that often generates emails and instant messages to colleagues to answer questions about routine business activities — something ripe for automation,” Allen said.

The result, he said, is that this allows knowledge workers to spend their time and attention using the tools of the digital workplace to connect with colleagues to solve problems that are more meaningful and have greater value-add.

Related Article: The Information Overload Pop Quiz

Driving More Efficient Processes

The goal of most workplace technologies is to build efficiencies — and IA is no exception. The problem with other technologies, though, according to Carlos Martin, co-founder and CEO of Cedar Park, Texas-based macami.ai, is that people are too often inserted into the supposedly automated machine process by having to make decisions, produce reports, document things, gather information, etc.

More often than not, Martin said, this is what leads to burnout; doing non-mind-challenging and repetitive tasks, producing reports that nobody reads, responding to emails and doing tasks for people that didn’t plan appropriately, he said.

“We’re seeing this with the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting,” he said. “People are burned out from doing mindless tasks and want to spend more time with their loved ones and have the time to do things that have more value for their professional and personal lives."

He believes intelligent process automation helps with this because it can enable users to delegate non-value-adding activities to the machine. Now, more than ever, he said, companies need this type of support system to enable the workplace of tomorrow that is likely to be shaped by value rather than churn.

Related Article: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Automation

Intelligent Process Automation and Digital Transformation

Intelligent process automation represents a major opportunity for organizations that are facing pressures to digitally transform and find efficiencies in today's digital-first work models, said Ted Kummert, EVP of products and engineering at New York City-based UiPath.

Needing to adapt to ever-changing environments, organizations are increasingly turning to automation platforms to streamline processes and create more efficient workflows that drive transformational outcomes, Kummert said. More than half of large enterprises have at least four simultaneous automation initiatives — with more on the way — according to data presented in UiPath's 2022 Automation Accelerates report. 

By combining the functionalities of AI and RPA, IA can unlock a massive return on investment for companies looking to transform work processes. It can also unlock a number of productivity enhancers for employees working from home or in hybrid environments.

“People are working side-by-side with their virtual robotic assistants, sharing work, handing it off and taking it back many times a day,” Kummert said. “Automation will be even more intrinsic in the future of work. With labor shortages and separations expected to continue for the foreseeable future, automation can unlock human potential by giving workers more time and mitigate the impacts of the current worker shortage.”

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