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By 17 May 2021 | Categories: interviews

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What is Intelligent Automation? Why is it so important to enterprises today, and what role does it play in digital transformation? Blue Prism's GM Greg Newton unpacks all of the above and more. 

RN: For those who are not yet familiar with it, how do you define intelligent automation and Robotic Process Automation?

GN: Robotic Process Automation is the use of software to access systems in a similar way to which a human would in order to execute business processes. We refer to the software as Digital Workers. Today, irrespective of industry, work is completed using a given process which is repeated over and over again.

This process will have many touch points including internal technology systems and human interventions. In many cases the human intervention is needed due to the fact that the many different systems do not talk to each other. Much of this type of work is monotonous, moving information from one system to another. Having a Digital Worker conduct this work, improves efficiency, productivity, accuracy and allows the human employee to focus on more creative, interesting and valuable work for the organization.

Intelligent Automation is where we take the RPA element and combine the capability with other leading technology such as AI, Advanced Analytics, Cognitive Services, Optical Character Recognition and many more. This will allow Digital Workers to undertake more complex, high value tasks. Here you are effectively giving the Digital Workers skills-  they can read un-structured data (emails), work with pictures and images (photo ID) and make decisions through use of rules and algorithms.

RN: What are a few of the standout benefits that these have to offer – why should enterprises be paying attention to RPA if they aren’t already??

GN: The majority of large enterprises are aware of this capability now and have projects underway to test its capability within the organization. Some are very advanced in their rollout of the capability, others are just getting started. Leslie Wilcox from the London School of Economics has conducted several in-depth studies of RPA and Intelligent Automation. In terms of benefits, he refers to the Triple Win:

  • Shareholder Value (improved productivity, improved efficiency)
  • Customer Value (speed to serve and accuracy – an improved customer experience)
  • Employee Value (focus on more humanistic creative work, which is far more interesting and rewarding)

RN: We often hear about how data is the lifeblood of business and artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to transform businesses. What role is automation playing though to drive digital transformation forward?

GN: Intelligent Automation is the fusion of AI and other tech with RPA. The challenge with Digital Transformation in its previous mode, was that it required major technology refreshes of key systems. This is highly complex, puts immense pressure on IT and causes immense disruption to the business. These type of transformations take years and costs many billions of Rands.

Due to the time it took, 5 years later the business landscape had changed and they did not reap the expected benefits. Contrast that to Intelligent Automation, in this scenario the Digital Worker can connect to all legacy systems, they can interact with humans and they can connect to other technologies such as AI. This allows companies to sweat their assets more, they do not need to replace the legacy systems. They can re-imagine business models, not just automating ‘as-is’ processes. The Digital Workers do not require coding and are not an IT tool. IT govern the platform, however it is the business who manage and configure the Digital Workers. This allows the capability to be used where its needed most and it can be scaled quickly.

RN: Can you speak to transforming the way work is done? Why is it imperative now and what are some of the key ways that intelligent automation can assist in this?

GN: For large enterprises, especially those that have been around for many years, they are under huge pressures to improve the customer experience. We have all had the Amazon, Uber and Netflix type of experience. They have invented new business models which are simple, frictionless and shaped consumers minds for what they expect. For  older companies, be they banks, insurers, retailers as examples, with legacy complicated systems and old processes, this is a major challenge.

Businesses now need to offer the omni-channel experience. Some customers prefer to talk to someone (branch/contact centre), others may prefer self service channels (website, portals, chat bots) – or a combination of both. The big challenge here is access to data. The data is locked in many different legacy systems and very difficult to build and maintain IT integrations which make all the necessary data available as its needed. The Digital Workers can access the data from the systems, provide it to the various applications and update backend systems after the transaction. If businesses cannot re-imagine themselves and offer the frictionless experience they will lose business very quickly to new market entrants that do not have the legacy holding them back.

RN: In lieu of the pandemic, we are hearing a great deal about business continuity and the need for agility in the face of unforeseen disruption. What is your view of this?

GN: The Covid 19 pandemic had more impact on Digital Transformation than any other strategic transformation project in the past 10 years. It demonstrated the reliance on access to key systems and equipment held in company buildings or within firewalls. Adherence to data security policies made it very difficult to implement operational changes when everyone had to work from home.

Great lessons have been learned through the Covid Pandemic experience and risk planning going forwards will make much wider provisions for unforeseen disruption. The Digital Workers played a major role in keeping businesses running during lockdown. They provided the conduit between homebased employees and the companies systems in a secure manner. They also helped to clear major backlogs of important work.

For example a bank had a payment holiday initiative. If customers could not afford to pay their mortgage, credit and loan repayments due to covid related issues, they could fill in a form online. The form needed to be checked against certain qualifying criteria and then processed. Whilst the form was completed by the customer online, it need to be checked and processed by human workers based from home. To combat the challenge they created an automation where once the form was completed, it went to a Digital Worker and the digital worker checked it complied with the rules and processes accordingly. The bank was able to clear a backlog of 100k applications in under a week.

RN: Should organisations be looking beyond business continuity, and doing business as normal?

GN: We will not go back to how we operated prior to the pandemic. Employees have seen how much more life balance can be achieved from working from home. Also companies are seeing productivity gains (having gone through the pain initially) and the potential to save huge sums on buildings and maintenance. Companies are accelerating key strategic IT programs such as Cloud adoption to ensure foundations are in place for further flexibility in working environment and re-imagining business models.

RN: How can automation initiatives aid in transforming the lives of an organisation’s employees and its customers?

GN: This type of automation is most applicable to large enterprises with a large number of customers and employees and complex IT landscape. In this type of scenario, there are many tasks being asked of employees that are repetitive, boring and not fulfilling. Some tasks can have huge repercussions if a mistake is made. The purpose of this type of automation is to automate the type of tasks that do not suit a human, freeing them to focus more on more valuable work. The introduction of the capability into companies, has seen the creation of many new roles. We have Centers Excellence within the organization responsible to implementing the capability across the group. These include Developers, Subject Matter Experts, Analysts – these are all new roles to automation and is also attracting many students as they leave School or University. It is a great area to build a career.

For customers it helps to bring the level of customer service experienced via the cloud-first companies to the mainstream. You expect your bank, insurance company or healthcare provider to offer that same level of service. Improving the way they interact with you, the speed at which they interact with you and getting things right first time.

RN: What is the most important aspect of automation that you would want organisations to take cognisance of and act on?

GN: The speed at which major improvements can be made. Major transformational changes can be made in months not years. However this capability needs to be mandated and driven from the C-suite. It should be viewed as strategic asset to the business. One customer implemented this type of automation in the contact centre –  they improved  CSAT, Reduced Average Handling Times, Increased First Call Resolution stats and saved R1bn in the first year! Don’t think about what processes to automate, think about how to transform businesses.

To get the full details about intelligent automation from Blue Prism, you can register for Blue Prism World, taking place from May 18-20, 2021.

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