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Intelligent Automation: What It'll Take to Win the Battle for Digital Transformation (Part 2)

Roland Alston, Appian
April 30, 2020

Clay Richardson
Clay Richardson, Co-Founder
Digital FastForward

As the economy grinds to a halt and competition for customers heats up amid the coronavirus lockdown, experts say it's time to get more aggressive about process automation.

Turns out low-code automation is the fastest way to do that.

"It's a simple way to bring robotic automation in to help clients," says digital transformation expert Clay Richardson. "People tend to think of RPA (robotic process automation) as a complex implementation. But low code simplifies the automation process. Which frees developers, back office and front-end workers from doing menial, routine tasks, so they can focus on high-value tasks instead," says Richardson who was formerly with Forrester.

Combining RPA with artificial intelligence, this is where the sizzle is, says Richardson. It's how digital leaders are moving to an innovative business model that can optimize customer engagement via a variety of digital channels, says Richardson.Just doing RPA on the back end may save some money, says Richardson. But when you connect RPA with AI, and your customers can talk to digital assistants that can handle a process for them, that's a very different world.

Hope you enjoy the conversation. (By the way, you can read part one of the interviewhere.)

Appian:Earlier, you said that low-code provides a platform that allows an organization to leverage RPA to help customers. How does low-code do that, and how does it all tie back to the customer?

Richardson: I have longtalked about the convergence of low code, RPA and other digital technologies as digital automation. Low-code helps us expand opportunities for digital automation and drive digital automation throughout the organization.

It's not the traditional approach where you're trying to automate a core process," says Richardson. "It's about bringing all of these elements RPA, BPM, AI into play. But it all comes down to focusing on the customer experience andusing process automation to deliver a better digital experience that connects the front end and the back end of your organization, says Richardson."

Beyond Process Automation

Appian:What about the concept of Digital Process Automation (DPA). How does DPA fit into the big picture of digital transformation?

Richardson:It's an expansion of the concept of digital automation. When I first began talking about digital automation several years ago, people would ask: "But where's the process in it?" It's like I said before, process is not the leading piece.

You could be dealing with a front-end scenario that's very fragmented. So to me digital automation and digital process automation are synonymous. Some people prefer to stick the word process in there to make it clear that we're still talking about BPM.

The conversation about digital and automation includes BPM and RPA, and customer journey is in there too. During the (previous) economic recession, automation was a bad word there was the fear that automation would take away jobs. But fast forward to today, And you begin to see CIOs and CXOs looking at automation differently.

It's not just about process anymore. It's about how to free up workers to focus on high-value tasks.

So, automation became more of a battle cry to drive more revenue for the organization, as opposed to cutting costs.That's why it's important to focus on the concept of digital automation as a way to do automation across the entire organization, not just the back office. It's about freeing up people to focus on revenue generation. I think this is critical.

Appian:So, there's a mindset shift from efficiency and costs savings to revenue, productivity and top line growth?


The Digital Transformation Challenge

Appian:Some people argue that digital transformation has reached its expiration date. You spend lots of time talking to C-Suite executives. Is digital transformation still a priority for them?

Richardson:Honestly, I think there's a sense of fatigue. Most of the senior leaders I talk to get it they know they have to be digital. Where the frustration comes in is when the concept of digital transformation and digital innovation become conflated with just modernizing ITÖ like: "We're just going to put in a new system."

I'm seeing more executives saying that they need to define what digital transformation means for the organization, so that it just doesn't become a buzzword word for IT change.

For many organizations,digital transformation is about creating something new. Moving to a new business model that allows you to better engage customersvia a variety of channels

Or having a platform that allows them to deliver new products and services in a digital way.

Appian: What about government, are you seeing the same mindset in the public sector?

Richardson: It's the same story in government, where there's a big focus on IT modernization. But you're starting to see different agencies make the distinction by saying they are driving digital transformation by focusing on IoT, RPA, and AIÖall very specific, targeted, areas versus just IT modernization.So government agencies are also trying to make sure that digital transformation doesn't just become another buzzword in the organization.

Repurposing BPM for Digital Transformation

When you look at all of the indicators, they're saying that we've now moved beyond digital transformation as being just hype. Yes, some companies are just rubber stamping the concept. But others are getting serious about it, wrapping their minds around it. They're identifying specific new products and services that they're going to deliver in a new digital way, in a way that they couldn't do before.

Appian:Back to BPMÖYou've said that the BPM discipline as we know it will not survive, but BPM technology will. Can you elaborate on that?

Richardson:I've been in BPM for a number of years, doing business process re-engineering at various points in my career. Business process re-engineering isn't going anywhere. I think it's more about the methodologies executives see as delivering valueÖ. When I look at it, I see BPM as a methodology declining for the last several years.

At Forrester, we did an annual survey, looking at which methodologies companies were adopting or scaling back on. And BPM was a methodology that we saw going into a steady decline. What that says is thatcompanies are pulling back on focusing just on standardization, cost cutting, and efficiency.The investment levels in these activities is just not where it used to be.

But if you look at BPM software vendorsÖrevenues are growing we're still seeing growth on the software side.

The Sizzle of Combining RPA and AI

Appian: You've also said that BPM software vendors are re-purposing their platforms to support digital transformation. What did you mean by that

Richardson: They're building capability around user experience designÖaround IoTÖaround RPA. So I think we need to move away from talking about BPM platforms that we used 5, 7, 10 years ago. Today, these are digital platformsÖwith very strong UX, UI design capabilities.

Classic BPM modeling is just a small part of what these new platforms are capable of.The companies that are best positioned to compete are unlocking new innovation potential in these platforms.

Appian:How are they doing that?

Richardson: So, they're looking at new digital transformation scenarios that they can build with the platforms which goes beyond BPM.RPA is a good example of this.But what really gets me excited is when you start mixing RPA with Artificial Intelligence, that's where the sizzle is.

Just doing RPA on the back end may save some money. But when you connect RPA with AI, now you have customers that can talk to Siri or talk to Alexa, and these digital assistants can handle a process for them. That's a very different world.

And that's why we can't just call it digital process automation. Yes, there is process. But you also have an intelligent digital assistant that can drive back-end automation. You give it a command. It can use AI to come back with different recommendations.

And, on the back end, you've got Robotic Automation to execute the customer's request. We work with clients to bring that kind of innovation forward.

(Take a quick survey and see if your organization is ready for intelligent automationhere.)