BPM: Busting Barriers to Intelligent Automation (Part 1)

Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director, MWD Advisors
Neil Ward-Dutton, Author and VP, AI and Intelligent Process Automation European Practices, IDC

(This is the first installment of our two-part series on intelligent automation, featuring Neil Ward-Dutton (@neilwd), VP, AI and Intelligent Process Automation European Practices, IDC. Ward-Dutton is one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile strategic technology advisors and industry analysts.)

Type “intelligent automation” (IA) into your search bar, and you’ll see a butt-load of predictions about the explosive growth of IA over the next few years. Large companies are already spending about $12.4 billion per year on IA tech—robotic process, artificial intelligence, machine learning and more.

And this spending is expected to skyrocket to $232 billion by 2025 (KPMG). Meanwhile, the most successful companies are already leveraging IA to change their business models to provide better, faster customer service. Others are adopting IA tech to gain more visibility into their sales channels, operating models, and day-to-day business operations.

In other words, if you’re still waiting to scale up that IA pilot in one of your business units, it’s time to make dust or eat dust. The truth is, smart tech is changing work and the workplace faster than ever before. So, it’s essential to continually revisit your automation strategy, and keep it aligned with how specific kinds of work gets done in your organization. In this thought-provoking interview, Neil Ward-Dutton takes us to school on:

  • Why it’s important to take advantage of IA NOW
  • How and why the economics of smart automation have changed
  • Why BPM is more relevant than ever

Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Why Intelligent Automation Matters

Appian: You’ve written extensively about the evolution of BPM and intelligent automation. What are the business impacts of intelligent automation, and why should C-suite execs care about it?

Ward-Dutton: Fundamentally, intelligent automation is about two things. It’s about cost and reach. And they’re very closely related. Automation isn’t new. It’s been a feature of business for about 200 years. It’s been around since the introduction of manufacturing processes in the industrial revolution. What’s happened, though, over the last three years, is that automation technologies are now more widely available to help improve efficiency, quality, regulatory compliance, and all kinds of administrative work throughout the organization.

“The opportunity to automate this kind of work has increased dramatically, because the economics have changed.”

Busting Barriers to Enterprise Automation

Appian: In what way?

Ward-Dutton: If we look back just 5 or 10 years, there was some very sophisticated BPM software and integration technology available to automate things like financial processing in banks, or provisioning of service in telecom networks, for example. These were big, hairy, challenges with lots of value associated with them. But what’s happened more recently is that new tactics and technologies have become available that enable us to automate more kinds of work. That’s fundamentally what intelligent automation is about—without getting too specific.

It’s basically about barriers to entry coming down, because it’s cheaper to automate things.

Appian: And how does BPM fit into that narrative. Is BPM still relevant now that we’re in the age of digital transformation?

Ward-Dutton: Yes, I think it’s hugely relevant. There’s been a lot of talk about how “BPM is dead.” There was a big hype wave around BPM about 10 years ago. And that hype wave has passed. But like I said, much of what we did with early BPM was focused on big, hairy, problems.

But when you look at the technology that powered much of that BPM wave of innovation, it’s still there. And it’s now easier to use and it’s also much cheaper, with the rise of cloud-based technology. So, what we’re seeing now is that even if you just consider BPM by itself—the ability to design a workflow system, deploy it, and have analytics drive improvements in interactions with people and coordinate work—has never been more important than it is today.”

Appian: We’re also seeing BPM being applied to a wider variety of business problems as well.

Ward-Dutton: Yes, we’re finding that instead of being applied just to very complex back office situations, we’re seeing BPM also being applied on a much smaller scale, at the departmental level to solve less strategic issues. That’s the first point to make about why BPM is still important. This technology enables work to be coordinated effectively across teams and departments or the whole supply chain.

“And when you start to look at all of the other automation-related technologies that are trending—such as RPA, AI, machine learning, and decision management—BPM plays an important role as the conductor of all of these capabilities.”

Appian: You’ve also referred to BPM as a kind of backbone. What did you mean by that?

Ward-Dutton: Think about all of the bots that are being mainstreamed by companies everywhere. If you think of these bots as a digital workforce, you need a conductor to orchestrate this workforce. But you also need a backbone piece of technology that can coordinate all of that. And that’s where BPM plays a huge role.

(Read Part Two)