BPM: Busting Barriers to Intelligent Automation (Part 2)
(This is the final 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. (Read Part One here).
In the previous episode, Neil Ward-Dutton dropped some historical perspective on the speedy evolution of intelligent automation (IA). In this final installment, he gives us the inside scoop on what makes IA such a powerful lever for driving competitive advantage.
He breaks down the challenge of aligning automation strategy with the different kinds of work in our organizations. On top of that, he explains the importance of mapping out the ‘sweet spots’ in our organizations for specific kinds of automation tech.
Strip away the hyperbole and organizations have more automation options than ever before. But it hasn’t always been that way. From about 2000 until 2015, says Ward-Dutton, large organizations basically had three tech choices to automate administrative work. They could implement packaged software applications, build custom applications with traditional software development tools, or use platforms focused on workflow and business rules automation.
There’s a lot on the line. Do you invest in artificial intelligence and machine learning to compete and win? Or do you wait and risk losing to highly-automated challengers? Turns out that 80% of respondents to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey see adding intelligent automation to their business processes as a critical success factor. The good news is that we now have a spectrum of automation development and integration technologies that’s broader than ever before including:
- Robotic process automation
- Artificial intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Low-code app development
- Low-code integration.
Experts anticipate massive growth in the use of AI and autonomous technologies in the next three years. And many business leaders believe that adding intelligent automation to their business processes is a critical success factor. The question is, how do you make sense of all of your options? And, if you are able to do that, how can you orchestrate the automation technologies in your organization to outmaneuver your competitors?
Hope you enjoy the conversation.
Appian: You’ve characterized IA as a lever for competitive advantage. What did you mean by that?
Ward Dutton: To compete effectively, traditional companies have to be more agile, quicker and more transparent. Automation is critical to doing that. So, if you’re slow to adopt intelligent automation, you could end up in a tricky situation. If you’re trying to build a scalable business and deliver value to a mass market, intelligent automation is really important
Debunking the “One-Tech-Fits-All” Automation Myth
Appian: As an automation expert, you’ve talked to numerous senior execs about the convergence of BPM and intelligent automation. Based on these conversations, what’s the biggest misconception senior execs have about intelligent automation?
Ward-Dutton: I think there are two, really. And I’m not sure which is bigger. One is that RPA is the lead vehicle by which AI will be delivered into their organization.
Many of the execs I talk to believe that RPA is the way that work will be automated. And that RPA will bring AI with it. And that’s how AI will be adopted by organizations. But that’s too simplistic. That’s just one route by which machine learning technology can add value.
But there are many other scenarios by which intelligent automation is being introduced into organizations.
The other misconception is that if you have RPA, you don’t need anything else. But if you step back and look at the big picture of all of the work that needs to happen in an organization, it’s hugely varied, and you need a whole toolkit to deploy smart technology across the entire landscape.
Get Smart Tech Right. Take a Strategic Approach
Appian: On that point, some experts characterize intelligent automation as a toolkit. Others call it a spectrum of technologies. How would you define intelligent automation for non-tech execs?
Ward-Dutton: You’re talking about a variety of different approaches to using automation. In some cases, you’re talking about automating tasks from end to end. In other cases, you’ll be automating specific tasks, or providing “smart assistants” that can help human workers do a specific job more effectively.
Appian: And by “smart assistants,” you mean artificial intelligence?
Ward-Dutton: Yes, the intelligence relates to the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning—technology that doesn’t need to be programmed, but can learn over time.
And the other way I think about intelligent automation is that it should be used with discretion. It shouldn’t be indiscriminately applied everywhere. You have to think strategically about how it affects your organization.
Very happy to share that the new @IDC_EMEA program @John__OBrien and I have been working on, European Intelligent Process Automation Systems, launched today: https://t.co/EbSVVDXCva – we're covering the converging #RPA, #AI, #workflow, #lowcode, #integration ecosystem in Europe
— Neil Ward-Dutton (@neilwd) October 1, 2019
Bots Replace Jobs—But Make Them Better Too
Appian: The elephant in the room when you talk about intelligent automation is workforce disruption. The flip side is that automation augments human labor and makes workers more productive. How do you see that debate playing out?
Ward-Dutton: It’s probably a bit of both. And I think the thing that will determine how it plays out is the culture of our companies. It’s absolutely possible to implement automation to reduce the size of your workforce. And for companies that are only interested in maximizing profit, they may do everything they can to do that.
Appian: But that’s pretty nearsighted, isn’t it. The value of intelligent automation goes way beyond efficiency and cost savings.
That’s right. Some companies are much more enlightened than just prioritizing efficiency. And I’ve worked with quite a few of them, where their whole approach to intelligent automation is not like “how can we take people out of this process?
These companies think more about people, and asking them how to automate the mind-numbing aspects of their job and make them more productive?
Your Next Customer Experience Could Be with an IA Bot
Appian: Talking about making people more productive, one of the areas where companies are investing heavily in intelligent automation is in improving customer experience. How does intelligent automation improve productivity from a customer experience standpoint?
Ward-Dutton: Yes, I think this is really important. Most people think of intelligent automation as a back office thing that’s about reducing costs and increasing efficiency, quality, etc. But if you’re smart about applying it in the front office, you can massively improve customer experience with intelligent automation.
Appian: Can you give an example of that?
Ward-Dutton: At Appian, you’ve got a customer called Aviva. It’s an insurance company. They’re a great example of how to use intelligent automation to improve the customer experience. Their use case deals with one of the big challenges with customer call centers and contact centers. You’ve got (call center) agents, who are trying to resolve customer problems by navigating 20 or 30 different legacy systems.
And the reason there are so many systems, is because so many companies have grown through acquisition. So, you have numerous systems that aren’t integrated.
Intelligent automation can really help to speed up the retrieval of information from all of these systems and update the information too.
Appian: Can you talk about the business benefit of that?
Ward-Dutton: One of the benefits is that intelligent automation eliminates friction between customers and back end systems of record.
The Wrong Way to Think About Intelligent Automation
Appian: On a related note, you’ve also so said that it’s important for organizations to think holistically about intelligent automation. Why is that the case, what does that mean? And what’s the wrong way to think about intelligent automation?
Ward-Dutton: Coming back to the point I made earlier, you have to think holistically, because not all work is the same. So, if you build an automation strategy on the assumption that all work is the same, it will lead you into a horrible mess. The thing is, some work is very routine—very rules-based. Simple. And it’s basically the same thing done over and over again. At the other end of the spectrum is work that’s exploratory. You need a higher level of expertise for this kind of work. You also need to apply discretion in doing this type of work. And it tends to be closer to the customer, such as investigating fraud or helping a customer with a billing problem.
Appian: So, there’s a whole spectrum of different kinds of work.
Ward-Dutton: Yes, and you have to think strategically about how you apply automation in the context of each situation.
Appian: I’ve seen research showing that many companies are slow to scale up their intelligent automation pilots. Isn’t that a risky thing to do when the tech is evolving so fast?
Ward Dutton: I think for many organizations, embracing intelligent automation is really crucial. It’s a powerful lever for driving competitiveness.
If you’re an established company trying to respond to threats from digital disruptors, you’re competing against companies with lower costs because they’re more automated, and they can deliver value to customers faster.
Appian: So, choosing to be a fast-follower, or being complacent with just piloting IA in a business unit or two could be too little too late?
Ward Dutton: To compete effectively, traditional companies have to be more agile, quicker and more transparent. And automation is critical to doing that. So, if you’re slow to adopt intelligent automation, you could end up in a tricky situation. If you’re trying to build a scalable business and deliver value to a mass market, intelligent automation is really important.
Three Takeaways for C-Suite Execs
Appian: The last thing I want to touch on is the white paper you recently wrote on intelligent automation (An IT Strategy Brief for the New Era of Intelligent Automation).
What’s the biggest takeaway for senior execs?
Ward-Dutton: There are three. The first goes back to something I said at the beginning of our conversation.
The economics of automation have changed dramatically, particularly over the last three years. And we can now apply tools to automate more parts of our businesses in more sophisticated ways, because the economics have changed hugely. The same is true of the opportunities and challenges.
So, you absolutely have to revisit your automation strategy and your old assumptions about automating work. As you’re doing that, it’s important to get a handle on the different kinds of work in your organization and map out the role it plays. Only when you do that will you be able to build a framework for intelligent automation. That’s the second takeaway.
The third takeaway is that there are going to be opportunities that you can take advantage of today. So, it’s important to get started quickly. But what’s also important is that the technology is changing rapidly. So, you have to be prepared to continually re-evaluate your technology.
Ditch the Set-it-and-Forget-it Automation Playbook
Appian: But many companies are still waiting for intelligent automation to mature. They think we’re still in the hype cycle.
It’s not like you can revisit your automation strategy in 2019, and then not think about it for five years. The technology is changing too fast for that.
So, as you start to formulate automation strategy, you have to also realize that the boundaries of what’s possible will also change every year or two. You have to be prepared to keep coming back to your strategy and revisit it. And the last thing I want to leave you with is this: Automation technology is changing quickly. But don’t use that as an excuse to put off adopting it. Some people make the mistake of thinking they can wait until the rate of tech change slows down to avoid making the wrong decision.
That’s probably the most dangerous thing you can do.
— Neil Ward-Dutton (@neilwd) April 18, 2018
BPM: What’s Old Is New Again
Appian: Which brings us back to BPM.
Ward-Dutton: Yes, you need some kind of orchestrator or conductor. Many of the technologies, services and frameworks you want to adopt to automate parts of your business are going to change. So, what you need is some kind of backbone that lots of different capabilities can be plugged into and changed over time. From a strategic standpoint, BPM provides that kind of flexible backbone for intelligent automation.
Appian: Finally, as you think about 2019 and beyond, what are some of the big trends on your radar?
Ward-Dutton: I’m not expecting to see much in terms of new technologies. But I’m expecting to see new developments in the maturing of existing technologies. So, we’re going to see more in terms of inter-operability and tech convergence in driving intelligent automation. And this includes RPA, and case management. I think we’re going to see more situations where these technologies are working together. I think we’re also going to see more focus on the packaging of technology and management tools, and reporting and analytics tools as well.
The big challenge is: How do we get an end-to-end view of how all of this automation is working together in a way that’s integrated?
We’ll see much more focus on this tech integration challenge in the years ahead.