This article explores the problem-solution model of process automation and addresses the most common roadblocks professionals encounter when taking the plunge into the realms of AI. Regardless of the industry, if you aim to optimise the workflow, improve the life-work balance for yourself and your staff, and create space for innovation, then this is for you.
RPA, IPA or AI?
Before diving into process automation, let’s define three acronyms you’ll see a lot while reading this piece. And even if you’ve ended up here by chance, rest assured this is still valuable information to take home.
And this is why.
With a forecast of over $12.1 billion spent on intelligent process automation in 2022 and a total of $21.1 billion in robot process automation and artificial intelligence by 2023, these three prongs of automation will heavily impact the workforce – meaning, rather sooner than later, professionals worldwide will experience at least one of the three in their day-to-day work. The common element is the use of robots; however, their functionalities within the three prongs are fundamentally different.
Let’s quickly explore the textbook functions of bots in RPA, IPA and AI.
What is RPA?
RPA automates software processes by analysing large volumes of data and converting them into new actions and communications with other systems. RPA, as the name suggests, involves robots that perform repetitive tasks for us.
Example of RPA: Email automatic replies
What is IPA?
A business function such as automating tasks across a company, for example, can be handled by intelligent process automation (IPA), which means the robot is enabled with the capability of learning as it performs its tasks, making it more innovative and more flexible as a result.
Example of IPA: Any data collection platform.
What about AI?
Unlike the RPA and IPA, artificial intelligence is a little more independent when relying on constant human intervention. In this case, bots simulate the human thought process across various platforms thanks to a Continuous Learning experience between AI and humans.
Example of AI: The chatterbox, also called a conversational AI, simulates a human-like conversation. See Alexa and Siri.
Here’s a trip down memory lane. Does anybody here remember ELIZA?
Should I trust process automation?
As professionals, we have been trained to rely on manual labour heavily. There’s still a school of thought, if you’d like, which sees automation as untrustable, a mere reminiscence of having the sense of control taken away from you by “robots” instilled by overzealous sci-fi writing.
And nothing wrong with a bit of imagination. However, while we believe that every experience and opinion matters, we understand where the real anxiety comes from regarding intelligent automation.
The answer is quite simple – it’s beyond murderous T1000 robots and blowing death stars with a push of a button, and more in the heavy rains of, “what if my email was sent to spam?” or “did my online payment go through?”.
Such insecurities come from the “not knowing” element, which can easily deter us from fully trusting automation with our day-to-day processes. And this is a mere example of how quickly we are likely to doubt automation.
We can’t help it. It’s only human.
The anxiety of using different tools can be easily counteracted by offering users options of how they interact with the said process by making it user-friendly and intuitive. If we take the online payment example, banks often provide all information and use two or even three-factor authentication for safety purposes. This stage is doing an intelligent transfer of control from bots to humans, where the user is engaged and in control each step of the way.
In the same realm, banking apps contain all the information on practical tools and make sure they offer an all-around active onboarding via their platform, websites, newsletters, and of course, staff consultation.
Is process automation right for me?
From a basic Amazon parcel delivery notice to a more complex flexible process such as OCR, process automation is simply making our lives easier.
Automating processes is always beneficial when done right because it brings out the full potential of a business and sets it up for improvement and growth. It’s not always easy, so start with reviewing all areas within your company that could benefit from automation and get expert advice on the required tools; the beauty of it is that once you start, you can’t ever go back to manual work. The results will show shortly with productivity improvements, cost and time reductions, and an overall upgrade in the workflow and employee satisfaction.
Some argue that the trust and use of process automation are generational. The analogy with human generations is not aleatory, automation has its own generational similarities and gaps, and each update comes with its particularities united under the same scope: to evolve.
In today’s business world, process automation is not an option anymore but a necessity. As McKinsey stated:
Process automation or AI?
Another heavy blocker that currently circulates the Googleverse comes from the following question “Is automation ethical?” And you guessed it – the robots stealing our jobs paradigm.
Simply put, automation only becomes unethical if you use it for unethical purposes.
As justifiable as this fear may be, it stems from a different area often confused with process automation – Artificial Intelligence.
We need to know that the similarities between PA and AI begin and end at business automation; these two notions are inherently different. Both ethical and not here to erase but help humankind.
Process automatisation is an entire ecosystem of processes and integrations, both hardware and software entirely relying on human operations, whereas AI operations rely on bots.
“Process automation is not created to steal your job, but to make it easier.”
7 benefits of implementing process automation
Even though all three prongs are still in their early stage, automation has become ubiquitous across almost every industry. Let’s explore why and how is process automation saving your budget.
1. It’s an infallible work-flow on all fronts
In today’s world, great-scale operations that are impractical to perform manually rely on robotic process automation. From warehouse integrated systems (i.e. machinery packing and sorting goods in a warehouse) to digital automatisation (i.e. an online check-out operation), automation ensures a steady and error-free wok-flow on all fronts.
Imagine you’re overseeing an online transaction and having to separately rely on not one, but several departments manually inputting their workflows to process one simple sale. Such clusters of separate operations are just impractical to perform manually for the obvious reasons – they’re not time-efficient, and the errors that could occur are high-risk.
“By employing automation, you simply remove all the unpredictable variables and create a smooth path with built-in processes easily monitored by trained staff.”
2. There’s an available tool for almost every business need
From something as mundane as filtering this text through Grammarly for missing commas to business integrated solutions such as skip tracing automation, there’s a tool for everything to make our lives easier. And while a second pair of eyes could easily identify the missing commas in this text, for the latter, the amount of text and paperwork that goes into putting together an error-free solid case is overwhelming.
Debt collection is a long and detailed process in which process automation should be imperative, not just optional. Here we come in with an AI-based debt collection tool that deploys AI-based OCR and data extraction for documents to achieve up to 70% of process optimization.
3. It’s more than just cost-saving
Cost reduction is one of the most attractive benefits of process automation. A case study on the process automatisation of a paper mill in 2019 reported a reduction in costs of 59%, which allowed them to increase their income, reinvest in their business and expand. The breakdown is here.
On a more global scale, Deloitte Global stated that almost 75% of organisations profiled reported them on RPA implementation, they had already realised cost-saving targets by leveraging labour arbitrage in 2016.
A misconception of cost-saving via process automation is the dismissal of staff due to losing the human element relevancy.
It’s quite the opposite; automation does not imply that poof, you’re letting go of 10 employees in customer service because you now have a “chatterbox”, as Alan Turing described the first conversational AI.
By removing the repetitive task for your employees, you relieve them of the mundane and set them up for progression. This takes us to the next point of view, with a pinch of humanism sprinkled on top.
4. It’s people driven
Process automation is more of a people-driven system than we give it credit for, and it’s constant learning, developing and assigning workers to tasks of higher value. Let’s take Robotic Proces Automation.
According to a report published by Automation Anywhere, RPA can reduce labour-intensive tasks by 80%. More so, it protects the individual both mentally and physically, allowing workers to be deployed to more value-adding duties.
In industries such as retail, where warehouse workers are using daily raw physical workforce, deploying mobile robots minimises or removes the risk of injury. Thanks to automation, intense and repetitive manual activities such as inventory movement, packaging, sorting, returns, etc., require minimal human handling, freeing staff to provide more excellent knowledge on other areas of interest.
Motivated staff = healthy business.
A valued, protected and healthy staff will improve the business outcome.
5. Minimises/removes the errors
To error is human, but luckily we have automation.
Process automation removes the human error element concerning both internal and external bodies. From incorrect data entry to missing vital steps in a process, employing automation in favour of manual work where possible is the step forward.
Let’s take data entry, for example. In this “Automation in the workplace” survey-based report published by Smartsheet in 2017, it was estimated that employees spend a quarter of their time doing data entry, such as collecting, duplicating, copying, and cleaning data.
66% of the subjects stated that automation would remove the errors and agreed they would adopt a new process when available. Nobody likes to be told they’re wrong, and with automation, you won’t have to experience the fallback of a missing number or a typo.
Plus, by relieving employers of daunting, repetitive, high-risk tasks, you will never again have to tell someone they made a mistake.
In the case of data entry, we have an intuitive IDP solution that can be implemented almost instantly with minimal training required. Intelligent document processing (IDP) automates data entry at scale by using machine learning and optical character recognition (OCR), where each character on a page is scanned individually, distinguishing any curves and pixel-sized details for an error-free result.
The recently developed technology of AI-based OCR further improves this experience of document processing. Even when the printed text is blurry or covered with stains, AI OCR manages to handle this kind of background noise.
This way, you’re not missing numbers when drawing an invoice, for example, or risk duplicating the wrong data.
6. Improves productivity
According to the 2022 Robotic Process Automation Report released by Flobotics, this year only, workers spend 4 hours and 38 minutes per week on average performing duplicate tasks that could be automated. Cutting even a tiny percentage of that time would significantly increase productivity, whilst redistributing repetitive tasks to robots will increase the processing speed.
7. Improves business processes across the company
In 2018, IBM released a report stating that more than 90% of C-level executives using intelligent automation said their organisations performed above average in managing organisational change in response to emerging business trends. After a global economical crisis and a full-on pandemic, we can see why.
Process automation gives the necessary respite to follow workflows for maximum optimisation of time, resources, and staff. The valuable insights provided by active systems that never tire. Have you got a clear scope of your business, and would you like to implement new ideas? Are you set for product or service innovation? Three words: Intelligent Process Automation.
We can help you with a substantial volume of work with our Intelligent Document Processing platform, from providing a solid AI-based OCR for data processing to offering business-tailored solutions. We make it easy for you to work faster and make agile changes to processes and the technology supporting them.
Disclaimer: These benefits are drawn in a general approach in a one-size-fits-all manner; the beauty of process automation is its multitude of solutions on different fronts—each solution with its own set of benefits.
As with everything else in life, process automation is not entirely error-free, and it’s essential to see the challenges beforehand and plan accordingly. Nevertheless, companies must adopt it rather sooner than later if they don’t want to be left behind.
You can start with reviewing all the activities that could use a revamp in the company, such as completely removing heavy amounts of paperwork for your accounting team. It’s such an easy and safe bet to go with Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) in this case – not only do you relieve others from daunting, repetitive work, but you remove all the manual errors that occur during the process. Of course, you have to consider staff training and plan accordingly, but with a user-friendly platform that offers 121 support, change will feel good.
Process automation can be challenging to scale, and implementation can take more time than desired, but with our guidance, you’ll get to the moon in less than twelve parsecs.