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Driving competitive advantage with intelligent automation

automation
(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

For several years, business leaders have been hearing the promises of radical transformation that automation can deliver. However, according to the recent survey, Realizing the Human-Machine Relationship, organizations are still not using intelligent automation to drive a competitive edge. In fact, when asked to rank business opportunities to address with intelligent automation, accelerated go-to-market was lowest on the list. This means that most organizations have not reached the full potential of intelligent automation implementation.

Intelligent automation can drive competitive advantage, but not without the necessary foundation, understanding and processes in place to facilitate successful implementation. Beyond simply having the technological expertise, teams need to establish the right mindset and ways of working that enable true partnership with automation.

First, what makes automation intelligent?

Standard automation is just software that is designed to follow a set of rules. While it can save time and resources by speeding up manual tasks, it doesn’t deliver transformational benefits the way intelligent automation can. 

Intelligent automation is more complex. It describes solutions that are deployed specifically to automate tasks and decisions for more cognitive processes by using artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and other emerging technologies. Intelligent automation will significantly impact the world around us; PwC predicts that by 2030, these technologies will lead to a 26 percent increase in global GDP by increasing productivity and consumption.

Achieving this growth is not as simple as buying, configuring and maintaining off-the-shelf software, though. There is no single technology or platform that will cover all your needs. Successful use of intelligent automation requires specific skills and capabilities within the organization as well as a systemic approach to implementation. With a strategic approach to intelligent automation, businesses can fundamentally change customer and employee experiences, reduce operational costs, introduce new products and services, and gain competitive advantage. 

Here are a few of the common challenges businesses face in implementing intelligent automation, and how to overcome them.

Undefined scope

Businesses often want to hit the ground running when they embark on an automation journey and attempt to do too much, too fast. Many times, when intelligent automation initiatives fail, it is because the scope of the initiative was poorly defined from the beginning. This usually looks like organizations choosing a technology and trying to automate as many things with it as possible. When the scope is too wide or not properly planned, implementation takes longer and results are less impactful, which leads to employees feeling discouraged and disengaged.

Instead, organizations should prioritize a few specific use cases, focusing on the most relevant and impactful ones to their teams’ needs. Identifying the use cases with high potential and setting out success metrics to monitor progress will lead to better outcomes and build organizational confidence in intelligent automation. With this structured approach, employees stay more engaged and organizations are set up for long-term success because they took a strategic approach from the onset. 

Siloed approach

It is also common for organizations to implement intelligent automation in a vacuum, without considering how it is intertwined with every aspect of a business. Often, businesses will start by choosing a technology to implement, rather than considering the bigger picture and what they’re trying to achieve. For instance, how will a new automation platform interact with existing technology investments? How will automating a certain task impact workflows that are connected to that output? Automation cannot be successful if it is approached as something independent from the rest of the business.

Instead of focusing on implementing a specific technology for a specific task, organizations need to design and implement intelligent automation that will align with ongoing business objectives. For example, if you have an ongoing goal of improving customer experience, how can intelligent automation align with and support that goal? Visibility across the organization enables organizations to compare, prioritize and prove the value of different automation opportunities. This holistic view of intelligent automation allows businesses to truly embrace its transformative possibilities rather than focusing on the narrow application of implementing a single technology.

Lack of training

Insufficient education and understanding of intelligent automation is a pitfall to many organizations’ success. There is a correlation between expertise and ROI – 92 percent of respondents who self-identify as automation “experts” see high ROI from their intelligent automation implementations, compared to only half of “advanced beginners” who report moderate to low ROI from their implementations. If employees are not properly trained, they can’t use automation solutions to their full potential and therefore see less impactful results.

Establishing robust training programs in tandem with intelligent automation implementation is critical to accessing its full benefits. Well-trained employees can boost the entire project not only by properly leveraging automation themselves, but also by championing the advantages to the rest of the organization. A cohort of trained employees are the best spokespeople for intelligent automation within a team to ensure intelligent automation can continually scale and evolve. When employees are properly trained, organizations will see greater results from their implementation.

Poor communication

Similar to the lack of education organizations often provide, a poor communication strategy when implementing intelligent automation can derail the human/automation partnership. Less informed employees may be weary of automation that can do parts of their job because they fear it makes them less useful. The image of robots that come to take our jobs is as widespread as it is misinformed. 

In reality, automation helps people do their jobs more efficiently by streamlining their workflows and makes work more enjoyable by reducing repetitive tasks. In its Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated that technology will create a net 12 million new jobs across 26 countries by 2025. With intelligent automation, employees actually become more valuable to an organization, not less, since they are now focusing on higher value tasks and have time to develop more skills relevant to the company. Communicating these points to employees is an important part of establishing effective intelligent automation where employees and technologies work together.

Achieving the full potential of intelligent automation

Intelligent automation can lead to better decision-making, faster data extraction, accelerated document management, improved case management and so much more. To achieve its full potential, organizations need to first properly identify and prioritize opportunities for automation, and then design a solution that addresses those specific needs. Equally important is establishing the necessary culture and infrastructure through employee education and communication.

Whether an organization wants to free up people’s time or fundamentally transform their entire business model, intelligent automation can provide that competitive advantage when strategically implemented.

Pedro Fernandes, Automation Practice Lead, Emergn

Pedro Fernandes

Pedro Fernandes is the Automation Practice Lead at Emergn, a global professional services firm. His goal is to improve the way people and companies work. Forever. For over 10 years, Pedro has been focused on enabling digital transformations for different industries, including transportation, healthcare, and financial services. He does so by using best-of-breed solutions on several technologies - from BPM to Low Code and AI.