Intelligent automation is many things to many people. It is a term widely being used to include things like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, machine learning, optical character recognition, and many other tools. Suddenly, vendors that we’ve historically used for one thing are now calling themselves intelligent automation vendors. Are they really?
One thing is for certain. Businesses across all types of industries are beginning to realize that intelligent automation tools are a key factor in reducing costs, improving customer service, becoming more agile, and reducing risk. These tools are no longer a competitive advantage but are quickly becoming a competitive necessity. Companies choosing not to explore these technologies will quickly find themselves left behind by competitors that have achieved lower costs and have redeployed their human labor to more valuable tasks. The technology is not new. It has existed in various forms for well over 20 years. In the last 10 to 15 years it has been used extensively in the financial sector—primarily in Europe. Within the last 3 to 5 years it has started to make inroads into the United States.
While many of these technologies are still in development, such as true artificial intelligence, plenty are ready to be deployed by businesses today. One of the most common tools that can be deployed is robotic process automation or RPA. The market is full of vendors providing an RPA product. Some of the key ones are Blue Prism, Kofax, UiPath, and Automation Anywhere. But which one is right for your business? Each one of these have key strengths that may make it a better fit depending on what you are trying to automate. Before we get product specific, it is more important to highlight a few key facts. Possibly the most important thing is that this technology is attainable in both cost and time to ROI. Generally, a robot costs about $15,000 to $20,000 for a license. Many of the vendors will tell you that the business users can configure the robot. I believe, while possible, that is probably not the best approach. A robot is essentially given tasks to complete in a GUI type program. The issue with users configuring these is they typically don’t address things like error handling when the robot is unable to complete the program. So, I generally recommend that companies hire a partner to initially help them configure their robots, train their people, and help them develop their own intelligent automation program. But for a relatively low cost and rapid time to deploy, you can quickly begin freeing up your human labor to work on more important strategic tasks.
In almost any company, I can guarantee there are processes to which we can apply RPA. Some of the easiest areas are Finance, Payroll, Human Resources and Supply Chain. Why? Because everyone has them. You may say, “but Unicorn, we have already revised these processes with technology.” My question to you is, did you do it in the last 1-2 years? Because this technology has evolved since then. Then, the opportunity simply expands beyond that and covers every aspect of every business. The concept really is simple; where there are rules-based processes done by humans, a robot can more than likely also do it. That doesn’t mean you don’t need humans. They simply can do more valuable tasks, like work with your customers. It does mean that the processes that are automated, however, will be done quickly and with little chance for error. Now robots essentially become your digital workforce and require maintenance and governance.
There is heated debate in the IA space about whether you should plan it out first or simply get robots out there. There are definite pros and cons to each and how getting limited robots in production can help prove the concept and value. There is also a lot of misinformation about how easy the technology is to deploy. One vendor recently said after a few hours of training a subject matter expert was deploying robots into production. I call BS on this. I do think users can learn the basic components of simple intelligent automation tools like RPA, but complex uses of IA will still require IT so why not involve them from the start. If you simply download software and start using robots, eventually bad things will happen. You will lose track of what robots are doing what each is doing with what systems…. Yep, a lot of what’s in there. IT will catch you and “react” by shutting you down, making your effort all for nothing. Having a plan, which doesn’t have to take years to develop, is a key.
The space is now evolving as well with new acronyms (in case you were bored with the ones before) like robotic desktop automation (RDA), automated intelligent automation (AIA) and more. And it just keeps going to create market niches where businesses can claim to be first. Let me tell you, a lot of it is just hype and nonsense. From a business perspective, just focus on automating repetitive processes. Is that simple enough? Don’t buy into the hype, how you automate and what tool you use is less important. Do something for free and to get yourself started. RPI will offer a 1-day visioning workshop and 1 free RPA process (very basic) for free. Yep, just call me and I will get it going. Did I mention it’s free? I am that confident that you will then see the value and get moving. So, what is intelligent automation? It’s a set of tools to help you drive costs down, improve employee work quality and be faster at key processes.