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Human in the loop – Overcoming barriers to processing

(Image credit: Image Credit: MNBB Studio / Shutterstock)

The Business Process Automation (BPA) market is growing exponentially with a wide variety of solutions and services available to organisations. Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is increasingly becoming the solution of choice for many organisations because of its ability to streamline and deliver efficiencies to end-to-end processes such as accounts, sales, customer correspondence and claims. In fact, many publications and analysts have noted 2020 as the breakthrough year for IPA. A recent report conducted by advisory firm KPMG found that half of organisations have deployed or are piloting some form of IPA  and only 20 – 30 per cent of businesses were not considering IPA to be a crucial part of their strategy in the coming years.

IPA is defined as an evolution of Digital Process Automation (DPA) and is more widely used for Intelligent Document Processing (IDP).  Instead of simply using rules-based decision making as per a DPA application, which relies upon structured data, IPA solutions implement approaches such as Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and Intelligent OCR to additionally eliminate tasks within a process that normally rely upon a human’s intelligence. In the world of document processing these tasks include understanding meaning and intent, validation, verification, performing further actions such as customer email responses and handling exceptions.

Many technology applications included within traditional DPA solutions, for example, RPA and OCR, are often encompassed within IPA platforms, however, as standalone applications, have been subject to a certain amount of hype leading to misunderstanding, misaligned expectations and disappointment as a result of limitations of initial automation projects. For example, within an Accounts Payable process, an organisation might receive 10,000’s of invoices from a wide variety of suppliers that need processing for payment. As defined previously, traditional DPA solutions apply a pre-set of business rules to locate, extract and transfer the key data into Finance systems. This solution works effectively when the invoices are structured and follow the same template.  However, when an exception is received for example a poor scan, a handwritten note or a new supplier invoice, the preprogramed rules cannot be applied and a barrier to processing is presented. In these instances, the software would either need to be re-coded every time a new invoice type is received or require manual data entry into the Finance system in order to process, at time and cost to the organisation.

Significant advancement in BPA

It is virtually impossible for organisations to avoid these document exceptions as they are generally not in control of how suppliers provide their invoices which can become a real stumbling block for some automation technologies. The challenges presented by using traditional DPA solutions can be overcome, however, with the use of IPA technologies such as Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. Through embracing IPA, document exceptions can be effectively handled because of the essential role that operators perform in a process called ‘Human in the Loop’.

In ‘Human in the Loop’, document exceptions are handled within the end-to-end process as there is no requirement to recode or create new templates with every new document received. With ‘Human in the Loop’ there is no code and no-fuss for organisations. For example, Celaton’s IDP platform inSTREAM™ utilises Machine Learning algorithms to learn through the natural consequence of processing and through collaborating with operators who teach it about each document exception.  This removes the need for reprogramming and ensures the process is constantly optimised and scalable, saving organisations valuable time, resource and most significantly increasing efficiency.

The inclusion of ‘Human in the Loop’ in IPA solutions is a significant advancement in BPA, as it enables organisations to continually optimise and scale with business growth. Scalability has been cited as a major barrier to DPA projects transitioning from pilots to full-scale projects and in fact, a recent report conducted by Forrester Consulting, found that 45 per cent of firms using RPA software were dealing with a bot breakage as a result of document or processing anomalies on a weekly basis.  ‘Human in the Loop’ enables organisations to scale on-demand and handle anomalies because of its ability to learn through the natural consequence of processing, driving even greater efficiencies and in many cases providing competitive advantage. For example, the ability for a logistics firm to process orders quickly during surge periods such as over the holidays or during promotional sales would enable faster deliveries and improved customer experience – a crucial advantage in a highly competitive and consumer-led industry.

Breakthrough year

In addition, industry analysts IDC has reported that over 23 per cent of organisations they surveyed cite a lack of skills to implement and manage projects as a major barrier to DPA adoption. With ‘Human in the Loop’, there is no requirement for additional technical skill recode software, meaning there is no need for additional recruitment or retraining to support automation projects. This approach means employees are able to focus on their roles and even more rewarding tasks such as problem-solving or relationship-building delivering greater productivity and further value to their organisations whilst helping improve employee morale.

Finally, it is impossible to write about a topic such as IPA and automation without acknowledging the age-old ‘job losses’ argument. Back in 2017 industry analysts, Gartner predicted that automation and AI would wipe out 1.8 million jobs, but more recently reported that job creation will reach two million net-new jobs in 2025. This illustrates the changing tide of opinion as more and more positive use cases come to light. ‘Human in the Loop’ contributes to this more positive outlook through its collaboration with human operators to enhance and enrich document processing through teaching the software. It is only through deploying this ‘loop’ that continual process optimisation and scalability can be achieved, meaning that there will always be a role for people in the future of work. 

In conclusion, 2020 will be a breakthrough year for an IPA, with organisations looking to move beyond traditional technology applications in order to overcome processing barriers to maximise efficiencies. Intelligent Process Automation platforms such as Celaton’s inSTREAM, which enable a no-code, no-fuss approach to technology, will far extend the possibilities of automation technologies and the value achievable to organisations due to the inclusion of Machine Learning technologies such as ‘Human in the Loop’.

Gina Gray, Commercial Director, Celaton