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AI vs. Automation: Decoding the Differences for Business Success

Roland Alston, Appian
January 2, 2024

The business landscape is undergoing radical change across industries, driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. This article will differentiate AI and automation, debunk misconceptions, and highlight what business leaders need to know to navigate the challenges of integrating AI and automation across the value chain.

So what’s the difference between AI and automation? AI and automation have distinct purposes. Automation executes predefined tasks, reducing manual intervention and enhancing efficiency. AI, incorporating machine learning and advanced algorithms, learns from data, adapts, and makes decisions without explicit programming.

Consider a customer support system with AI enhancement. It understands and responds to queries through natural language processing, providing personalized responses, streamlining support, and enhancing the customer experience.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for strategic integration and maximizing the strengths of both AI and automation for sustainable business growth.

[ Watch the webinar and see a demonstration of how Appian AI Skill Designer simplifies implementing AI. ]

AI and automation: definitions and distinctions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) represents a broad category of technologies that enable machines to mimic human cognitive functions. At its core, AI involves the development of algorithms, machine learning models, and computational systems that allow machines to learn, reason, and make decisions without explicit programming. The overarching goal of AI is to replicate human intelligence, enabling machines to perform tasks traditionally requiring human cognition, such as language understanding, image recognition, and problem-solving.

The core components of AI: algorithms, machine learning (ML), and large language models (LLMs).

AI involves the development of sophisticated algorithms, ML models, and computational systems. This magical mix of cutting-edge technology empowers machines to learn, reason, and make decisions autonomously, eliminating the need for explicit programming. It’s a replication of human intelligence that equips AI to tackle tasks that traditionally demand human cognition, including speech and image recognition and complex problem-solving.

ML is pivotal to AI’s adaptability. It enables machines to learn from data, adapt to changing circumstances, and continuously enhance their performance. As datasets grow, ML algorithms become increasingly adept at uncovering patterns, trends, and correlations that might elude conventional programming. LLMs represent another crucial element of AI. Exemplified by ChatGPT, LLMs stand out for their ability to understand and generate content based on extensive training data, marking a new era of collaboration between humans and AI.

Read the blog: Generative AI vs. Large Language Models (LLMs): What's the Difference?

Defining automation.

Conversely, automation is a specific subset of technology focused on performing tasks without direct human intervention. It involves using systems and processes to execute repetitive and rule-based activities. Automation aims to enhance efficiency by minimizing the need for manual labor in routine tasks.

Leading process automation platforms, like Appian,  leverage generative AI, intuitive low-code capabilities, and a visual design environment to expedite application development. These platforms also integrate generative AI with robust enterprise-grade data security governance to ensure automated processes comply with established security standards and regulations.

Distinguishing AI and automation.

It comes down to decision-making vs. task execution. Fueled by machine learning, AI replicates cognitive processes, adapting and improving over time. In contrast, automation efficiently executes predefined tasks without continuous learning. While automation excels in well-defined processes, AI introduces a transformative dimension, enabling machines to autonomously think, learn, and make decisions—ushering in a new era of innovation.

[Download the Process Automation Guide: How to Achieve End-to-End Process Excellence.]

The benefits of integrating AI and automation.

Combining AI and automation creates a synergy that revolutionizes the way businesses operate. This dynamic duo delivers a host of benefits that extend across organizational processes and functions:

Enhanced efficiency:

  • AI acts as the learning intelligence, adapting to changing circumstances and predicting future trends, while automation ensures the seamless adaptation of processes in response to AI insights. It’s a powerful combination that enables businesses to quickly navigate uncertainties and adjust operational processes.

Operational resilience.

  • AI acts as the learning intelligence, adapting to changing circumstances and predicting future trends, while automation ensures the seamless adaptation of processes in response to AI insights. It’s a powerful combination that enables businesses to navigate uncertainties and adjust operational processes quickly.

Cost savings.

  • As the economy faces macroeconomic challenges, companies use AI and automation to create operational efficiencies and enhance financial stability. A 2023 survey of 500 global financial services professionals found that 36% decreased annual costs by more than 10% using A.I. applications. And almost half (46%) said it has improved customer experience. Adopting AI and automation will continue to accelerate across industries as data-rich enterprises increasingly prioritize cost savings.

Enhanced decision-making:

  • AI-driven analytics empower executives with valuable insights derived from vast datasets. These insights go beyond human capabilities, uncovering hidden patterns, trends, and correlations. With data-backed decision-making, businesses can respond swiftly to market changes, identify growth opportunities, and stay ahead of competitors. AI augments human decision-making by providing a data-driven foundation for strategic choices.

Next-gen innovation:

  • As a catalyst for innovation, integrating AI and automation is not merely streamlining research processes; it's propelling a new era of experimentation that’s contributing to the development of groundbreaking solutions across products and services. For instance, in the healthcare industry, AI-powered automation promises personalized treatment strategies, predictive forecasting of disease outbreaks, and heightened diagnostic accuracy. The synergy between AI, automation, and industry-specific applications underscores the transformative impact of these technologies on both operational processes and innovation

Personalized customer experience:

  • AI-powered automation revolutionizes customer engagement through tailored interactions. Conversational chatbots, infused with AI intelligence, provide instant and adaptive customer support, learning from real-time customer interactions. AI algorithms analyze customer behavior, preferences, and purchase history to deliver personalized product recommendations, enhancing customer engagement. Recognizing and adapting to preferred communication channels, AI systems ensure seamless and convenient interactions. Based on historical data, AI-powered predictive personalization anticipates customer needs, creating tailored customer experiences that foster loyalty and increase customer lifetime value.

[For expert advice on navigating the AI economy, Download the 2024 AI Outlook.]

What it all comes down to is this: The convergence of AI and automation is reshaping business operations and competition. Strategic adoption, guided by clear objectives and ethical considerations, empowers organizations to unlock, innovate, be resilient, and gain competitive advantage. Leveraging AI and automation isn't just about surviving; it's about thriving amidst ambiguity and change. It's about leveraging AI's predictive insights, automation's operational efficiency, and human ingenuity to navigate uncertainty and capitalize on it.

Understanding the difference between AI and automation is crucial to survive and thrive in a future where innovation knows no bounds and adaptability is the ultimate competitive advantage.

[Watch the recording: Next-Gen Enterprise Platforms: Leveraging Generative AI, Automation, and Data Fabric.]