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Intelligent automation (IA) – everyone’s talking about it. But don’t worry. You’re not at risk of falling prey to the poisonous spell of industry jargon. Intelligent automation – the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – is a hot topic. When done right, the business and workforce benefits are enormous: dramatic cost and time savings, efficiency and productivity gains, and, most notably, increased workforce job satisfaction.

How do you get started with intelligent automation? Let’s start at the beginning and take a look at incremental, achievable steps you can take today that will go a long way to ensuring your intelligent automation journey sets out on the right foot. 

Look before you automate

Before jumping into automation, make sure you have people and culture at the center of your vision. Deloitte points out that “a move to RPA will likely require a shift in working norms to enable the effective use of virtual teams, increase trust in technology, and embrace innovation and analytics.” In other words, automation will transform how processes are being done. This might require organizational change, specifically, change to the way people get work done. 

Preparing for IA: Take a people-first approach

While an intelligent automation strategy starts with leadership, support and ideas have to come from the frontlines. Identify functional leaders and champions/influencers right at the beginning.

Engage with your operations teams on how they can participate and what to expect. For example, they can start by working on the list of process candidates for automation. The bottom line: RPA-led transformation requires strong sponsorship and support from your workforce. Preparing your people to embrace change will prove invaluable as you forge ahead. 

Forging your IA path

The speed of your IA journey will largely be determined by how purposeful you can be at the outset. If you have a clear shared vision in place and have selected the right RPA partner, making choices along the way will be much faster.

Intelligent automation is an RPA-led transformation. And there’s no shortage of advice available on how to shape your initial RPA strategy. But beware, amid the wealth of information, there is also a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what RPA bots can and can’t do for an organization, and that can lead to disappointment and missed goals. An EY study found 30 to 50 percent of initial RPA projects fail. This can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding of the capabilities and realistic benefits of RPA. The right partner can help you define and execute the right expectations. 

Intelligent automation phase 1: attended RPA for automating tasks

So, where do you begin? Start with automating tasks that are part of a larger process. RPA applied in this way is referred to as attended automation where bots work alongside people to increase productivity.

With attended automation, your workforce becomes familiar with the ins and outs of bots firsthand. Attended bots are simple to implement because they are taking on a repetitive segment of a pre-existing workflow and remain closely supervised. 
RPA executes work with human in the loop

Intelligent automation phase 2: business process automation

With your RPA toolset firmly in place from phase 1, moving to fully automated business processes is the next step in the intelligent automation journey. To automate business processes end to end, you’ll implement multiple bots to execute different parts of the process, creating touchless automation to optimize entire workflows of business processes. 

Consider a few process examples: 
Processes primed for end-to-end automation

In phase 2 of the intelligent automation journey, the aim is to democratize automating and introduce the business to the potential of RPA as full-time end-to-end process execution support. This is a pivot point. Automation can now be seen for its potential to shift human work toward value addition through insight, creativity, and innovation.

Back to people for a moment, successful transformation is going to require flexibility and adaptability from your team. Hiring for these attributes, and for more breadth and diversity of skills and experience, will set up your journey for success. 

Intelligent automation phase 3: adding AI

Intelligent automation is a combination of techniques that digitize and structure data, process information, and enable decision-making to drive business outcomes. That’s a fancy way of saying that intelligent automation can perform more complex work, typically out of reach for traditional RPA, to get you further along the path to achieving business goals faster.

It doesn’t just sound good – it’s quickly becoming an imperative for business. As EY points out: “To automate or not to automate is no longer a question anymore. Enterprises will have to integrate IA for their own benefit and survival.”

After adopting attended RPA and automating business processes end to end with multiple bots, adding AI-powered RPA to automate where unstructured information is at play won’t be a giant leap into the unknown. In fact, the evolution of phase 2 is likely to push your forward on your journey to intelligent automation of its own momentum. 

Think of it like this: You’ve created a culture where people view their work as augmented and improved by automation. You’ve created unprecedented efficiency gains while at the same time delivering time back to teams for value-added work by fully automating repetitive processes. But what about all the other processes and work to be done? That question is raised as the logical outcome of successful RPA implementation since fragmented processes that rely on non-standard information are often the most painful for the organization.

With a fully AI-enabled RPA platform, there is no barrier to adopting intelligent tools since native AI-powered bots work seamlessly with all other RPA tools and analytics. Intelligent automation is simply the next step in automation evolution.

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