How might automation technology help your organisation in the years to come?
Intelligent automation (or intelligent RPA) has had a turbulent time over the past 20 years. With interest in the technology exploding in the early 2000s, and the founding of vendors such as Blue Prism, UiPath, and Automation Anywhere, intelligent automation has seen peaks and troughs of expectation, hype and scepticism.
It's time to get back to basics.
The value of intelligent automation has been proven across the public and private sectors, as a way of securing efficiencies, releasing staff to complete more value-adding tasks, and improving customer service.
But what's next for the technology? With covid-19 putting pressure on services, and creating an uncertain economic outlook, will intelligent automation rise to the challenge?
In it for the long term
As Foundry4 co-MD for Automation, Ciara MacCooey, notes – the pandemic has created an operational environment that intelligent automation is ideally placed to alleviate.
“In the short-term the technology will be used tactically to help respond to immediate operational pressures such as the constraints of legacy technology, inefficient processes, efficiency targets and rising customer demand,” she says. “This is particularly apparent in the public sector, where organisations have recently had to accelerate their digital transformation efforts including the move to the cloud.”
“In the medium term I see organisations – no matter what sector - becoming more strategic about how they deploy intelligent automation more widely, integrating the technology fully across their business.”
There are a variety of different forms being strategic with automation might take. Where services were previously outsourced, organisations may want to consider if these can be brought back in house and automated. Additionally, intelligent automation could be integrated into organisational design, with the technology being considered first before recruiting for new roles, and a redesigned operation that is capable of catering to a physical and virtual workforce.
“This would result in an organisation where 'non value-added' tasks are designed out of job roles, enabling skilled workers to utilise their skill sets and focus on user needs,” Ciara says.
Barriers to adoption
Although the pandemic has accelerated most IT strategies – or at the very least, brought the conversation to the fore – there is still some wariness around intelligent automation. The industry has more educating to do around the nature of this technology and the problems it solves, particularly in the public sector. Yet in the meantime, this puts the brakes on adoption.
“Along with a lack of understanding of intelligent automation, the failure to create an integrated change programme will hinder adoption,” Ciara says. “It's really important to understand how the technology will impact on people.”
“For most organisations the goal is to use automation to create additional capacity, freeing people up to focus on value-added activities. But it is crucial to be clear on what this means... Dispel the 'Robots are going to take my job' myths early on and show people the opportunities the technology can bring to them – for example, making their work more fulfilling by removing mundane repetitive tasks, or potential new intelligent automation-focused roles.”
Do's and don'ts
As with the implementation of any new technology or organisational change programme, there may not be one single way of doing it right, but there are definitely some things to avoid. The first of these is taking on too much, too soon.
“It is so important to start small and scale,” Ciara says, “demonstrating value back to the business quickly to gain buy-in. The organisation must have a clear picture of how they intend on building up their own intelligent automation capability. We would always recommend working with an experienced partner in the first instance, and then to create a sustainable plan to transfer and build this knowledge internally.”
“Where I have seen this done badly is where organisations think it's enough to send a few staff on an intelligent automation training course...” Ciara adds. “Lack of experience results in poorly built automations which ultimately impacts the organisational perceptions of the technology and the benefits it can bring.”
What's new, and what's next
The technology industry is never one to stand still, and intelligent automation is no exception. From its origins in the 1990s where it supported human actions with basic capabilities, it then progressed to mimicking human actions, with functions such as Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. The future lies in automation that is capable of mimicking – and augmenting - human intelligence.
“New features on the vendor roadmaps are things like better OCR reading capabilities,” Ciara says. “This is really relevant where there is a high dependency on the automation software to read documents. There is a need for non technical employees using the automation to have more control over the configuration of how these documents are read. Blue Prism's Decipher Intelligent Document Processing tool is a good example of this.”
In order to reach these advanced benefits, organisations must now focus on how they scale intelligent automation technology. Critical to scaling effectively is the development of an automation strategy: a plan to take automation beyond one-off processes, and pursue it holistically across all systems, departments and operations. This also involves developing automation expertise in-house, for a truly automation-first organisation.
Research and Insights Manager
Sarah is renowned for her ability to communicate complex concepts with clarity. She plays a central role in managing the insights programme at Foundry4.