Everyone knows that automation takes productivity to the next level. It's also apparent there are plenty of options of automation technology available. What is not so obvious is identifying which technology to use to get the maximum benefit from automation, especially for knowledge workers.
When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913, he defined the car manufacturing process as a sequence of specific tasks. The automation helped move the process forward at a consistent pace between 45 steps with no delays, and the assembly of a model T car took 93 minutes. Today, processes move forward in the modern office environment, with the driver being preset workflows within business solutions (ERP, CRM, HRMS, and others) and workflow automation systems instead of a conveyor belt.
Automation for the knowledge worker
Back in 1913, even though the assembly line automatically moved cars between stations, the work was still done manually. Later, task-specific industrial robots allowed automating particular operations and gradually accelerated and improved the manufacturing process to achieve predictable and consistent quality for the end products.
The robotic automation that works well in the factory is not so easy to apply in the office. When Austrian management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker defined the concept of a knowledge worker, he also explained the challenges of this work. In contrast to a factory worker who follows the prescribed procedure, a knowledge worker usually receives the task in the form of the required result and has to find the way to achieve it. That makes the automation of the knowledge workers' jobs extremely difficult.
Automating simple routine vs. intelligent work
To tackle the knowledge workers’ challenge, the worker's tasks need to be classified, separating predictable, repetitive well-defined operations from more flexible work that requires human judgment and decision-making. An example of the first task would be creating an invoice from the purchase order. If a purchase order is registered in the ERP/accounting system and approved, invoice creation requires an employee to strictly follow the defined procedure for creating and sending invoices.
Yet, one step before—receiving and processing a purchase order—requires human intelligence since purchase orders often come in the form of a document. Hence, they need to be read and understood, and information needs to be extracted before moving to the next step.
This may sound simple, but considering the variety of different formats of purchase orders, pulling the correct data becomes rather complex. You can’t simply assume that the PO number is on the top and the total amount is at the bottom; automation technology needs to find, read the data, and then validate it accurately.
Enter intelligent automation
A variety of solutions, incorporating intelligent automation (IA), have been introduced to help knowledge workers with their tasks by augmenting human judgment. Consider three.
Intelligent document processing
Utilizing optical character recognition (OCR) technology and machine learning, an intelligent automation solution can process documents, including purchase orders with all its numbers, quickly and accurately. In case of uncertainty, it can request human validation. Automation Anywhere Document Automation , processing documents and handling the critical processes that were not considered automation candidates not so long ago.
Communicating with bots
Natural language processing (NLP) makes it possible for machines to understand human communications and transform those communications into structured requests that automation robots, or bots, can fulfill. This is how Siri and Alexa work in the home. Similar technologies have come to the work environment, helping knowledge workers communicate with bots. The Automation Anywhere digital assistant AARI is one example that streamlines human–bot collaboration across applications and environments, for the back office, front office—any office.
Technology can also help automate automation. The first step of every automation project is to document the process “as-is” and design the optimal automated “to-be” process. Process discovery technology can help analyze how knowledge workers in the team perform similar tasks and identify the optimal path, which could be taught to the entire team. The expert or automated review of repetitive steps also helps find the opportunities for automation within the process.
With these intelligent solutions and more, work can work better so that users can increase their productivity and focus more on higher-value tasks. Learn what can they do for your business.