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Hyperautomation and the need for speed in the Covid era

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee)

In 2020, lack of ambition or vision wasn’t what thwarted business. Radical times called for radical measures; to survive the Covid-19 era, companies needed to make bold choices and implement operational or product changes, fast. That pace proved to be the downfall of many, as all too often, companies were hamstrung by an inability to keep pace with their own plans. That gulf between vision and delivery at a critical time is perhaps most visible in application development.

The pandemic has radically changed the way that businesses use technology. However, what we’re actually seeing right now are trends that were already in motion. Way before the start of 2020, companies were heavily reliant on software applications that are often difficult to modify or update. In times of crisis, that lack of software agility can quickly go beyond simply being a source of internal frustration.

Digital transformation projects to improve the customer experience have long been a priority for many organizations, but now customer loyalty and sustained profits are more important than ever. Official figures show that 44 percent of UK businesses experienced a decrease in profits compared with what is normally expected for this time of year, largely due to the global pandemic. Getting back to positive financial performance is critical, and the use of new hyperautomation technologies is growing in response to a predicament affecting entire industries.

Hyperautomation unlocks new workflows

Simply put, hyperautomation is automation at speed. It’s a combination of technologies that allow faster application authorship (like low-code) and automation technologies, including Business Process Management (BPM), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Together, these technologies help developers create applications faster, automate complex and long-lived workflows, coordinate different worker types from humans and bots, enhance the customer journey, and offer insights to employees. Automation does not mean replacing people with technology but rather, augmenting human efforts with digital helpers.

Covid-19 has sparked a quiet revolution in ways of working, with the human workforce dispersed across more locations than before. Developers still hold the keys to security and governance in IT. Hyperautomation seeks to unite technology and humans, automating mundane tasks and keeping humans in informed control so they can make better, faster decisions. RPA bots are fast and inexpensive, but cannot handle exceptions or change. AI is great at evaluation, recognition, translation, and giving advice; but generally cannot make the final decision. People are best at making decisions and talking to customers. Each member of the automation workforce has a distinct role to play.

Low-code is a vital piece in the hyperautomation puzzle. Through visual drag-and-drop interfaces, business analysts and IT developers can collaborate to create enterprise applications in a few days or weeks - something that previously relied on developers writing thousands of lines of code, taking months to deploy. Low-code software and agile methodology make it far faster to build applications, as well as faster to make critical adjustments if things change.

For example, Bexley Health Neighborhood Care used Appian to create a command and control workforce tracker to monitor staff and patient safety across their network of community healthcare facilities early on in the pandemic. Designed and deployed initially in just one week, it was ready and available to protect more people as the crisis grew.

Taking the high road to low-code

According to Forrester's 2021 predictions for software development, low-code will break into the mainstream next year, with 75 percent of development firms estimated to adopt it. I’m a firm believer in low-code because there’s a real need to remove outdated practices from the application modernization process. Covid-19 has shown us this need has never been greater. In 2020, most executives appreciate the need for a digital transformation strategy, but there’s little consensus on the most effective paths to take. There is agreement, though, on the need for removing complexity and injecting speed into the application development process. Now, more than ever, speed and agility are paramount for organizations across industries.

Here’s a fact that is difficult to believe but it’s something I’ve seen in reality with many businesses. When an organization really wants to change something, it can usually do so quite quickly. A logo can be refreshed, an office location can be moved - even an entirely new business ethos can be carved out. With the right leadership, all of these can take place at speed – except technology. Tech should be leading the way, not being dragged kicking and screaming into pastures new.

The world has changed. Tomorrow’s enterprise will need agility, unification, speed, and collaboration. In a word, it will need hyperautomation. Now is the time to review existing workflows, look for improvements, and deploy hyperautomation to reach your end goals, fast. Covid-19 has placed a spotlight on inefficiencies, tensions between IT and the rest of the business, and lack of resilience. Hyperautomation - uniting your digital and human workforces at the speed of low-code - is an increasingly obvious answer. This is more than a trend. As the crisis continues - and long after - businesses will surely retain a need for speed in the face of continuous change.

Paul Maguire, Senior VP EMEA and APAC, Appian

Paul leads Appian’s European operations and has substantial experience growing enterprise software companies into market leaders.