In fact, Forrester predicts that this year, 10% of startups will have more digital workers than human workers – a figure set to rise.
Today we take a look through the history of automation, from robotic process automation (RPA), to digital process automation (or Business Process Automation), to Cognitive Automation – and how they are helping businesses.
“From workforce improvements, like identifying better candidates faster or attrition prediction and management, through smart procurement through improved spend strategies and optimised processing, to next generation customer insights that provide guidance to for customer engagement and intelligent call planning.”
What is traditional robotic process automation?
Process automation isn’t exactly a new technology. In fact, it’s been around in assembly plants (such as car manufacturers) since the 1980s.
This is robotic process automation (RPA) in action. Robots are stealing our jobs!
Actually, it’s just technology advances cutting down on the cost of manual labour when a machine can do things far more efficiently, at a lower cost, once the price of the technology itself has been paid off.
So, robotic process automation is old tech, although it’s come along in leaps and bounds since the 1980s. Traditional RPA is preprogrammed to do a specific task or series of tasks, without making “human-like” decisions – such as if a human gets in the way of a robot doing its task, it will continue doing its task, potentially harming the human that’s accidentally stepped in the way.
What is business process automation (BPA)?
Instead of programming physical robots to do repetitive manual tasks, business process automation (the new RPA) is the automation of tasks using software to do computer tasks that would previously by accomplished by humans.
This might be something such as creating and sending an invoice for billable hours for the month to a client. In the past, automating this type of process would involve a dedicated developer and be expensive, or involve a costly software product, but now it can easily be built in-house with solutions like Microsoft Flow.
What is cognitive automation?
Let’s take that same robot we mentioned, doing its task, and a human getting in its way. A robot programmed with cognitive abilities can identify the human, and then stop doing its task until the human is safely out of the way.
Cognitive automation recognises semi-unpredictable events and can adapt for the circumstances – much like a human would.
Take the case of self-driving cars vs. humans. In the event of a large box falling off a truck driving in front of the car, both a self-driving car and a human would swerve to avoid a collision.
It’s machines that act much like humans would in the given circumstances; circumstances that mimic the real world in that they’re not like a laboratory environment.
As Priyanka Tailor, Senior Manager at EY puts it, “The processes that humans do require us to do rules-based steps, interpret things that we see, analyse and predict based on our understanding and learn as humans, adapting to changing environments.”
“Cognitive automation allows software to do all of the above; optical character recognition enables software to interpret data from images, machine learning enables algorithms to learn as new patterns emerge.”
And then there’s business intelligence and business analytics….
Business intelligence (BI) is another form of automation that sits over the top of your existing systems, providing insights into business operations and how they are currently performing.
Business analytics (BA), on the other hand, takes process automation and cognitive automation and sits over the top of systems to analyse data, make predictions, and come up with new strategies for optimisation.
To read more about BI and BA, head over to our article Empower Your Data with RPA & BI Solutions.
Cognitive technologies & the future of business
“Nearly half of corporations intend to use cognitive automation (“cognitive”) technologies at scale over the next three years.” – Forbes, The Intelligent Automation Revolution: From robotic process automation To Cognitive Automation
It’s clear that the future of business is entwined with cognitive technologies.
Christina Larkin, Director at EY explains the power of cognitive AI: “Cognitive technologies empower us to deal with complex, unstructured data in ways that were perhaps not previously possible. The power of this technology to drive more informed, accurate decision making can set you apart and give you a competitive advantage.”
Likewise, Olson sees automation as AI as being a key focus for the most forward-thinking businesses.
“AI is becoming a fundamental capability for organisations,” she says. “Businesses are learning to use everything, from neural networks to chatbots, to create personalised experiences, intelligence products and smarter business processes.”
“If businesses can continue to develop the mindset that embeds AI with the workforce, embracing experimentation, and learning to evaluate the opportunities for AI in an organisation, then the boundaries on achievement are limitless.”
However, Larkin makes a point of noting that patience is a virtue when it comes to seeing measurable results: “Patience is key with cognitive automation – ROI may not be realised immediately as it involves training the algorithm to interpret the data.”
Tailor’s advice to businesses? Make automation-driven efficiency a priority now or face being left behind by the competition.
“If corporations are not able to drive efficiency and innovation across all aspects, then they face the risk of being disrupted in the market by their competitors, or worse, an organisation they never knew was a competitor. Convergence is the new black.”
In other words, it’s imperative that automation-led strategies and technologies are built into businesses now to remain competitive in the future.
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