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What is intelligent process automation?

Not all automation initiatives are created equal. For businesses looking to move beyond tactical improvement and reach strategic-level results, intelligent process automation is the next frontier.


Intelligent process automation (IPA) is comprised of five core technologies. As is often the case in tech, the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. The real value of IPA is unlocked when all of these technologies are integrated together and working side-by-side seamlessly with each other, employees, and an organization’s various systems.

 

How is Intelligent Process Automation different from Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

RPA bots have hit mainstream, helping businesses streamline their operations and create better experiences for their over-extended employees.

RPA might be the most well-known type of automation technology in business today, used for automating computer screen-based tasks though. RPA bots imitate clicks and keyboard strokes to complete tedious, routine, and mundane tasks that are better suited to technology than employees. Using an RPA tool can speed up processes and improve the experience of employees by taking away the busywork that keeps them from higher-value activities. 

While the positive impact of that should not be discounted, companies looking to truly digitize their businesses need to gain more than process efficiency—they need a way to differentiate through technology.  Enter intelligent process automation, or IPA.

It’s already begun for early adopters. In a recent Deloitte survey, researchers found that of the respondents who had implemented or scaled RPA, 28% are already implementing intelligent automation. RPA isn’t the only type of automation technology. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Workflow automation

Workflow automation technology orchestrates the entire process, creating a seamless connection between the work done by employees and across digital platforms, including RPA. This technology helps you coordinate people, digital workers and integrate existing systems, allowing you to monitor workflow efficiency in real time and foresee future needs with dashboards and proactive alerts.

 

Machine learning and advanced analytics

Machine learning intelligence uses algorithms to identify patterns that emerge within structured data. With these insights, it can make predictions that lead to better proactive decision-making in real time. And the more it’s used and the more data it collects, the smarter it becomes. Access to this level of advanced analytics enables leaders to make more informed business decisions. 

 

Natural-language generation (NLG)

NLG is a software process where structured data can be automatically transformed into written narrative. The software engine follows rules to translate data into prose, eliminating the need for an employee to do this tedious work. Common use cases for NLG include generating reports, personalized customer communications and e-commerce product descriptions. 

 

Cognitive agents

Cognitive agents combine machine learning and natural language processing/generation (NLP/G) to become a completely virtual worker, or “agent.” Unlike RPA bots that can only complete tasks, cognitive agents have human-like abilities that allow them to communicate, make decisions, and even teach themselves new information. With these capabilities, these agents can take customer support responsibilities via phone or chat.

 

Tying it all together: IPA

McKinsey sums up the use of these five core technologies this way: “With IPA, robots can replace manual clicks (RPA), interpret text-heavy communications (NLG), make rule-based decisions that don’t have to be preprogrammed (machine learning), offer customers suggestions (cognitive agents), and provide real-time tracking of handoffs between systems and people (smart workflows).”

What are the benefits of Intelligent Process Automation?

Why implement IPA at your organization?

  • Agility: No-code makes automations fast to set up and easy to maintain, allowing for rapid response to a rapidly changing world.
  • Operational Excellence: Standardizing operational processes with intelligent workflows and data-driven insights will drive continuous improvement and excellence.
  • Productivity & Speed: Intelligent processes reduce communication and handoff delays, while automation increases the speed of performing common tasks, so you can recapture lost time to get more done.
  • Quality & Compliance: Reduce errors from data entry, decentralized spreadsheets, and other manual activity. Make it easier to ensure adherence to process, evidence collection, and proper authorizations.
  • Experience: Improved speed, quality and digitization can make a significant impact on customer, employee, and supplier satisfaction and experience.
  • Revenue: Faster turnaround times and the ability to scale up or down quickly can allow for more revenue capture. Digitization of existing services and processes may offer brand new revenue opportunities.

Taking advantage of IPA is investing in your company’s future success. Many different automation tools can alleviate your process challenges right now, but IPA turns your processes into your competitive advantage for years to come. 

Here are some best practices when it comes to implementing an IPA strategy at your organization.

Think long-term agility

If there’s one constant when it comes to both your own business and the state of automation technology, it’s that nothing stays the same for long. To remain competitive, your organization must continuously adapt to the ever-changing needs of your customers. Your business strategy and goals will change, and your specific processes will, too. The same can be said for automation technology vendors themselves. As the state of innovation accelerates and the needs of businesses change, providers will evolve their offerings accordingly. 

Choosing an automation provider and flexible, cloud-based apps that can easily integrate across your tech stack will put you in the best position to adapt as your automation needs change—and likely grow. But it’s not just about what technology you’re using, it’s also about who needs to implement it. Your automation apps should have a strong UX, require little to no coding, and be easy enough for a business user to build automations, regardless of their tech acumen.

 

Set lofty goals beyond efficiency

Various automation tools and combinations thereof can streamline your operations and make your processes more efficient and employees more productive. But that’s not what IPA is about. Your IPA strategy should leverage technology for these purposes, but only in an effort to prepare you for bigger results down the line.

Avoid simply applying automation to bad processes to make them better. To get the most out of automation, think of creating efficiency as just the beginning. When mapping a process for automation, consider how it's done today and ask, “Is there a better way it should be done?” The true value of these next-generation tools is how they use AI, machine learning, and other new technologies to actually tell you more about your processes than you could learn by yourself. 

What you do with that information is how you create truly differentiating experiences for your employees and your customers.

 

Taking the next step with IPA

Early adopters of automation technology will likely have some of these five core elements in place already. If your company is in this position, look for the missing pieces of your IPA strategy and evaluate vendors based on their ability to plug and play with your existing solutions. Also, some automation platforms have numerous apps that can fill more than one of these holes. Consider if it’s time to make a switch to a new technology provider if your existing software is outdated or not innovative enough for your needs.

For those who are brand new to automation, the concept of IPA might feel years away from the current state. It’s not. The reality is that once you have a few key fundamentals in place, you’ll be able to scale quickly. What’s most important for you when choosing your technology providers is to look for those who offer the right level of support, balanced with self-service tools that allow you to grow quickly and make up lost ground.

 

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Written by Catalytic