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Intelligent Automation: Rising to the Top of the Workforce Stack

Roland Alston, Appian
June 26, 2018

Here's the thing.

Automation is everywhere.

And research reveals that the automation of knowledge work is rapidly moving to the top of the automation stack, with a staggering $5 to $7 trillion impact expected to hit a wide range of industries by 2025.

It's a super trend that could disrupt as much as 50% of the global workforce.

And jobs in automotive, oil & gas, utilities, banking and financial services, and food retail are at the epicenter of the potential disruption.

On top of that, automation is playing a major role in driving down the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 from about 60 years in the 1950s to less than 20 years today.

So says a recent study by the analysts at Credit Suisse.

Dynamic Duo: Automation and Artificial Intelligence

On the flip side, some of the most successful organizations on the planet digital leaders like Apple, Amazon, Ocado, Alphabet and Netflix are combining automation and artificial intelligence to boost profits, create customer value, and stand out from the crowd. For example:

    • Apple is mainstreaming machine learning, facial recognition and other AI capabilities into its latest iPhones

    • Google machine-learning technology is running in services used by billions of users everyday

    • Amazon plans to automate the picking and packing of billions of items in its fulfillment centers

    • Ocado, a British online-only supermarket, is using intelligent automation in the form of bots to process 3.5 million items or around 65,000 orders every week

    • Netflix uses machine learning to provide curated movie recommendations for millions of digital subscribers

Getting Ahead of the Automation Curve

Meanwhile, organizations like yours are under enormous pressure to get ahead of the automation curve, to automate anything that can be automated in today's fiercely competitive digital economy.

All you have to do is Google "automation" to see numerous news reports about organizations experimenting with robotic process automation (RPA), or thinking hard about doing it.

    • By 2020, 40% of very large global organizations will have adopted an RPA software tool, according to Gartner.

    • Demand for robotic process automation (RPA) tools, for example, is growing quickly at 20-30% each quarter, according to Gartner.

But don't be fooled into thinking of RPA as a hammer looking for a nail. Better to think of RPA as a 24x7x365 digital workforce that can deliver 25 to 40% cost savings over the 5 to 10% cost save of a traditional outsourcing business model.

"Think about it," says Frank Casale, CEO, Institute for RPA and Artificial Intelligence (IRPAAI) " companies transition to robotic process automation, they will aggressively re-engineer themselves with intelligent automation to reduce the need for remote labor pools, and execute business processes with faster, more accurate and more scalability than ever before."

What Does Intelligent Automation Mean for Your Workforce?

A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute underscores the pervasiveness of the intelligent automation opportunity. The study reveals that about 50% of work activities and 30% of the tasks in most jobs today can be automated by existing technology.

The key question, though, is what does automation mean for your workforce? And if you're a CXO what are your obligations as a senior executive to prepare your workers for potential workforce disruption?

And if you do that, how can you leverage technology not just to automate low-value work, but to free up capacity for your workers to create more value for your organization instead?

Intelligent automation is a key part of this existential equation.

Figuring out how to use it isn't easy. But the stakes are too high not to try.

The secret, say experts, is to take a strategic approach. Step back and think of RPA, for example, as a powerful tool in your intelligent automation tool box.

Think of it as complementing your capabilities in business process management, artificial intelligence, machine learning, low-code development and the like.

It's also essential to think of preparing for the human impact of RPA and intelligent automation.

If you look at your workforce today, what do you see?Do you have the right combination of skill and talent to compete and win in the next 5 to 10 years when intelligent automation is expected to rise to the top of the workforce stack?

If all you're focusing on is the top layer of process automation, you're missing the big picture.

Getting the Most Out of Intelligent Automation

The hype machine is particularly good at blowing smoke. But the truth comes from the experience of companies that are actually using intelligent automation to:

    • Quickly deploy software robots to manage customer records across multiple back office systems

    • Instantly scale a 24x7x365 digital workforce, with the capability to link systems, processes and activities across your entire organization on demand

    • Harness software robots to automate "return" authorizations for customers

    • Accelerate resolution of customer complaints, and automatically escalate cases to customer care specialists, based on the specific prioritization and business rules of your company?

These are the kinds of pragmatic use cases that demonstrate the relevance of intelligent automation.

The following Aviva story is a case in point.

As the largest insurance company in the United Kingdom (UK), Aviva has operations in 16 countries and over 36 million customers.

But with disconnected processes and customer data in multiple departments, resolving a single customer service issue could mean accessing up to 22 different systems. To bridge the disconnect and provide better service, Aviva turned to intelligent automation and the enterprise data unification functionality of Appian Records.

"When a customer calls," says Paula Whitwell-Lumsden, UK Customer Operations Strategy & Transformation Director, "our front-line advisors can launch a screen in Appian that surfaces every policy that a customer has with Aviva."

"In the past," says Whitwell-Lumsden, "our advisors would have to access and navigate anywhere from 12 to 22 systems on a daily basis. Now, they're down to one system, which is Appian."

With the Records functionality of Appian, Aviva was able to integrate data spanning multiple legacy systems.

Better, Faster Customer Service

Here's a quick look at what Aviva was able to accomplish by combining Appian with robotic process automation:

    • Reduce operational service costs by more than 40%

    • Consolidate 22 systems into just 4 Appian applications

    • Accelerate customer service response times by 9X

The best intelligent automation use cases involve easy integration with existing legacy systems. They can reside on premises, in the cloud or a combination of both.

So, what should a CXO be thinking about when it comes to evaluating her options for intelligent automation?

Imagine: Technology that Builds Technology to Automate Work

The big challenge is to understand the technologies that are available to you right now and manage them as a portfolio.

In other words, think about your portfolio of technologies, and consider how they would impact your business and operating model.

Think about your strategic goals over different time horizons.

For example: "Here's what I'm doing to manage disruption in the short time. And here's what I'm doing to manage it over the next three years."

What it all comes down to is this.

It's time to make a fundamental shift in how we think about intelligent automation.

We're pivoting from a period of people building technology to automate work, to an age where people are building technologies that build technologies to automate work.

So, the role of technologist will be to build the technology. And the technology's role will be to build the automation.

This, say true-believers, is the super trend that will accelerate intelligent automation to the top of the workforce stack.

The question is, is your workforce prepared?