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Why Adding AI to Business Process Automation Is a Game Changer

Elizabeth Bell, Appian
November 9, 2023

Is cost optimization at the top of your agenda? If so, it’s likely business process automation (BPA) has caught your attention. BPA combines a number of technologies to help organizations orchestrate, automate, and optimize their business processes. BPA delivers cost optimization by upping your efficiency and refocusing your talent on higher value work, but it also fosters the agility your organization needs to succeed in a rapidly changing world. And this already-powerful approach is becoming even more powerful with the widespread addition of artificial intelligence into BPA software, particularly generative AI. When AI is infused into business process automation, it creates a supercharged version of BPA. 

Gartner® writes this in the Market Guide for Business Process Automation Tools

As in other technology areas, [generative AI] is having a huge impact on BPA vendors. Many vendors have added, or have plans to add, GenAI to enable natural-language-based process modeling/discovery, decision modeling, form/UI design and document creation/summarization capabilities, either through integration with widely available GenAI models or development of proprietary contextual models.1

Here are two noteworthy ways the game-changing addition of AI to business process automation is coming to life.

2 major ways to use business process automation with AI.

AI builds on the existing strengths of business process automation software by improving efficiency and increasing speed. By infusing AI into BPA, you can supercharge your business results. Here are just two examples.

1. Transform any process that requires document or content processing.

AI and process automation are being used to successfully rid employees of the chore of content classification and extraction. Consider workflows where employees have to comb through immense amounts of information just to understand a status update or send a response, or where they have to sift through emails to find the one that’s relevant to the project. With the help of AI, employees can avoid all that and simply focus on the findings to improve analysis and responses to customers. 

Here’s how we bring email classification and document classification to life in Appian, our business process automation platform. A developer uses low-code building blocks to add an AI skill to a process. Then, they upload content samples to train the AI model—and review the results to ensure accuracy. Once the model has reached a satisfactory level of accuracy, the developer can push it live into the process. 

In the case that an employee needs to send an email response, they can simply feed the original email into the Azure OpenAI plugin offered by Appian and prompt it with a response, adding any preset requirements for the company’s standards, and AI has again reallocated employee time from repetitive tasks to more important customer service issues. 

For document extraction, it’s a similar story. AI pulls important information from documents and prepares it for use in an application. And when a developer connects Appian with Pinecone’s vector database via a low-code integration, employees can query any documents in their knowledge base and get back results based on their question. We’ve all experienced digging around a knowledge base trying to find that one answer, and it can feel like looking for a tiny object in the sand. Thanks to this time-saving pairing of business process automation and AI, users can instead chat with an application about their private data and get back contextually relevant information from AI. 

2. Maximize development speed.

BPA vendors are increasingly using AI to help developers work faster. And when that BPA platform is also built on low-code, already a much faster development method than traditional coding, AI and low-code work together to exponentially improve development speeds.

Think of just a few examples of how this pairing benefits your developers (and ultimately, your customers and everyone in your business, thanks to the lightning quick release of applications that automate important processes). 

In Appian, a developer can build an interface from a PDF. AI takes the information and format from that PDF and turns it into a working form that can be easily edited within a low-code design console and deployed in a wider application. This couldn’t happen without the building blocks enabled by low-code, but it also couldn’t happen without AI. 

Another example of how AI could improve speed in the future is by generating a workflow. Imagine prompting AI to build a workflow for you that does X, Y, and Z all using the business process automation technology that already exists in the platform, like robotic process automation, business rules, and data fabric. Or imagine enabling users across the company with analytics at their fingertips, just by inputting their questions into an AI assistant using natural language. Soon enough, business process automation technology will be able to do things like this, all at hyperspeed. 

Where does AI fit in your end-to-end processes?

As you make plans for using more AI in your processes, consider this guidance authored by three experts at the Harvard Business Review. They encourage companies to focus not just on task automation, but on reviewing entire processes to see how they can be improved.

As AI brings new capabilities to a business process, companies need to rethink what tasks are needed, in what frequency, and who does them. When AI is accompanied by partial automation, companies also need to decide what humans will do and what machines will do in their processes. Most AI applications to date seek to improve a given task. But this is missing the larger picture; smart companies are viewing the introduction of AI as the rationale for a new look at end-to-end processes.
Harvard Business Review

If you want to learn more about managing your processes from end to end, you’ll want to check out the Process Automation Guide. 


1Gartner, Market Guide for Business Process Automation Tools, 23 October 2023, Tim Faith et al.

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