Intelligent Automation: Everything you Need to Know in 2021

Intelligent automation (IA) is changing the way that businesses operate in nearly every sector of the economy. These intelligent automation technologies can capture, analyse and make use of huge amounts of information and they can automate entire workflows and processes. 

These tools range from routine to revolutionary, with many learning and adapting as they go. And one thing is for sure; intelligent automation is helping businesses to transcend traditional performance and achieve levels of quality and efficiency like we have never seen before. 

The problem is large numbers of organisations are underestimating the importance of this type of digital transformation. In fact, a study from McKinsey found that only eight percent of companies said their current business model would remain economically viable if their industry continued to digitise at its current course and speed.

Often, one of the key challenges many companies face is the fact that ‘digital transformation’ is a broad and confusing term, leaving them unsure where to even begin. 

In order to achieve effective digital transformation, businesses will require more than one technology. This is where intelligent automation comes in.

We have created this guide to take a look at what intelligent automation actually is, why it matters and how your business can leverage its true transformative power. In order to do this, we’re going to answer the following six questions: 

  1. What is intelligent automation?
  2. How does intelligent automation work?
  3. What’s the difference between intelligent automation and robotic process automation?
  4. What other technologies are involved in intelligent automation?
  5. What are the benefits of intelligent automation?
  6. How can intelligent automation be applied in the real world?

So let’s get started. 

What is intelligent automation? 

First and foremost, it’s important to really get to grips with what intelligent automation (IA) actually is. Which is why we’ve pulled together a comprehensive definition below. 

In its simplest form, intelligent automation (sometimes referred to as cognitive automation) is the use of automation technologies to streamline and scale processes and workflows across a business.

It is a combination of technologies used to manage and automate relevant digital processes. These technologies include artificial intelligence (AI), business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA). 

Intelligent automation is used to simplify processes, free up resources, reduce manual labour, increase operational efficiency and more. It is perhaps summed up best by Innodata, who said:

Intelligent automation is a holistic solution for the digital transformation of the operational business processes through a collaborative convergence of technologies and strategies.

You may also see the term intelligent process automation (IPA) being used when discussing the subject. This is often used interchangeably with intelligent automation, as again, it is the combination of technologies listed above being used to manage and automate digital processes. 

That being said, intelligent process automation (IPA) is more frequently used to describe the tools which have been designed to assist human workers by taking on labour-intensive manual and repetitive tasks.

We will continue to expand our understanding of intelligent automation as we move through the guide by looking at how it works and some intelligent automation examples and use cases.

How does intelligent automation work?

Intelligent automation works because it is comprised of three important cognitive technologies, these are artificial intelligence (AI), business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA).

It’s the integration of these three components that creates a solution which powers business processes and digital transformation. We’re now going to take a look at these three technologies and how they work together to make intelligent automation possible. 

1. Artificial intelligence (AI)

Arguably the most critical component for intelligent automation is artificial intelligence. This is because these are the computer systems that simulate human intelligence. These tools analyse structured and unstructured data quickly and can develop a knowledge base to formulate predictions and learn from past behaviours. This is absolutely crucial for intelligent automation to work. 

2. Business process management (BPM)

The next component is business process management (BPM), which is sometimes referred to as business workflow automation. BPM technologies are used to automate workflows and to create agility and consistency within the chosen business processes. 

Business process management is used across almost every industry as a way of streamlining processes and improving interactions.

3. Robotic process automation (RPA)

The third and final component is robotic process automation (RPA), which uses software robots to complete back-office tasks. For example, RPA tools could extract data and automatically fill out forms or databases.

RPA tools complement artificial intelligence because they can leverage AI insights to handle even more complex tasks. 

Combing these three technologies 

It is these three key technologies working together that make intelligent automation possible. And together, they can create transformative digital solutions that streamline processes and simplify workflows to make these more efficient.

However, there are some other technologies that can be involved in intelligent automation, and we’re going to look at these in more detail in the next section. 

The difference between intelligent automation and robotic process automation

It’s worth pointing out at this stage because there is often a lot of confusion that intelligent automation and RPA are different things. Often people use these two terms to mean the same thing or believe them to be the same thing, and that is not the case. 

In a nutshell, intelligent automation is an upgraded version of robotic process automation. And as we’ve seen above, RPA is involved in making intelligent automation work but is not, therefore, the same thing. 

Some of the key differences between the two technologies are: 

  • Intelligent automation can understand context and learn from past actions, where RPA cannot 
  • IA can also handle unstructured and structured data, where RPA cannot
  • RPA tools mimic human actions by automating manual, structured and repetitive tasks, whereas intelligent automation has the ability to apply cognitive intelligence by using elements such as artificial intelligence

So essentially, though robotic process automation can take on tedious, repetitive tasks, intelligent automation builds on this, giving these systems the ability to learn from the tasks they are doing. 

For organisations that are new to automation, it is often best to start off with RPA technologies and then move up to intelligent automation systems once automation has already been introduced into one or more processes. 

What other technologies are involved in intelligent automation?

As well as the key components: artificial intelligence (AI), business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA), which we’ve mentioned above, there are also some other technologies that are involved in intelligent automation. These include: 

  • Optical character recognition (OCR) – These tools have the ability to convert an image into text data, for example, scanning PDFs and inputting the information into a document or database
  • Machine learning (ML) – Machine learning technologies are able to learn from previous actions in order to produce reliable, repeatable decisions and results
  • Natural language processing (NLP) – Finally, natural language processing is the automatic translation of natural language, like speech and text, by software to create data that can be collected, stored and used

These technologies are used across a variety of industries, and we will touch on some of these again when we begin looking at intelligent automation examples later in the guide. 

What are the benefits of intelligent automation?

So far, we’ve talked a lot about what intelligent automation is and what it does, but we haven’t really touched on why you should implement this in your business. Intelligent automation technology provides a huge number of benefits, and these vary across different industries. That said, there are some key benefits that all companies will achieve by using these tools. These include: 

Reducing costs and improving productivity 

Using intelligent automation to automate time-consuming and labour-intensive processes can have a huge impact on your bottom line. 

These tools work by augmenting the workforce and improving productivity. They make lots of business functions a lot more efficient, and best of all, most tools have the ability to scale up quickly without putting strain on the workforce or compromising on the quality of results. 

This, in turn, leads to a bigger ROI, a more productive workforce and a reduction in costs. All of which increases the overall profitability of the company. 

Improving accuracy and reliability 

Let’s face it, we are only human, and when we take on repetitive tasks for long periods of time, this can cause problems. It increases the likelihood of an error occurring and can become extremely mundane for the workforce. 

This is why another key benefit of intelligent automation is that it uses artificial intelligence to drive decision-making and take on repetitive tasks. This increases the level of accuracy and drastically reduces the risk of an error, which in turn makes your results more reliable. 

Improving both the customer and employee experience

Intelligent automation is not just beneficial for businesses, it can also improve the customer and employee experience. 

After all, being able to deliver more accurate and reliable results in a much quicker time is going to provide a better customer experience. What’s more, being able to answer their queries faster and give them results in real-time is almost expected by today’s consumers. 

And not only this, but by automating mundane, repetitive processes, you free up the time of your employees to focus on more important tasks. This will help to empower employees and also benefit the business, as it leads to more creativity and innovation. 

Keeping up with compliance and regulations 

Finally, having intelligent automation systems in place allows you to address data compliance and regulations with confidence. This is because most industries, especially those that handle huge amounts of data, will have to adhere to specific regulatory policies. For example, General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). 

Many intelligent automation tools will offer features that create a more consistent approach to compliance. And, as we said earlier, these tools reduce the risk of human error, which can often be the cause behind data breaches or security issues. 

How intelligent automation is applied to the real world 

One of the simplest ways to understand intelligent automation and its benefits is to look at how these tools are applied in real-world scenarios. 

As we have mentioned already, intelligent automation companies work hard to provide tools that streamline processes, save businesses money, boost productivity and take on repetitive tasks. Ultimately, they’re designed to make business processes more efficient and cost-effective. 

This is why these technologies can be found across almost every industry out there, with more and more companies beginning to embrace intelligent automation. Below, we’ve pulled together just some examples of how IA is applied to different industries and some of the roles and processes these tools take on. These include: 

The finance and accounting industry 

In the finance and accounting industry,  intelligent automation is a life-saver. This because professionals will be dealing with vast amounts of data and important figures. Rather than having to manually read, scan, copy and enter data from invoices, receipts, etc., IA tools can pull data and update records quickly and easily. They can also input formulas and work out financial equations more quickly and accurately than a human can. 

Some ways in which intelligent automation is applied to accounting and finance businesses include: 

  • Expense management
  • Automating accounts payable processes 
  • Robotic accounting
  • Indexing incoming communications 
  • Pre-filling lengthy web forms with one-click onboarding 

And these are just a few examples; there are plenty more processes that accountants or financial professionals might choose to automate to increase efficiency. These automated processes also free up their time to build stronger relationships with their clients and give them their very best advice.

The insurance industry 

Intelligent automation can essentially eliminate the need to manually process claims, calculate rates or make payments. It also helps insurance companies to adhere to compliance regulations, something which is crucial in the industry when handling so much sensitive data. IA technologies are also used for other processes such as:

  • Calculating risks provide the appropriate insurance rates
  • Indexing and classifying incoming communications such as emails or scanned documents 
  • Handling information-intensive claims
  • Pre-filling lengthy online application forms
  • Uploading unstructured or semi-structured documents
  • Data labelling

The shipping and logistics industry 

When it comes to the shipping and logistics industry, there is a lot to take into account, and therefore, there are a lot of different processes in place. Once a time-consuming operation for employees and one which was often subject to errors, everything has changed thanks to intelligent automation. 

In many businesses in the sector, IA tools will be used for analysing shipping data, optimising shipping routes and scheduling orders and deliveries to reduce bottlenecks. These tools are so important for reducing repetitive tasks, preventing delays and optimising all available resources.

The healthcare and life sciences industry 

As we said, pretty much every industry now relies on intelligent automation in one way or another, and this includes the healthcare industry and lots of scientific bodies. In the healthcare industry, in particular, some examples of how IA technologies are used include: 

  • Updating patient records quickly and efficiently 
  • Managing repeat prescriptions 
  • Online systems for booking appointments, managing medication and more
  • Natural language processing (NLP) is also used for gathering data, accessing records and taking bookings over the phone
  • Chatbots or online queries are used for remote healthcare appointments and diagnosis 

And again, these are just a few examples, the industry relies heavily on automation, and there are a lot of other ways these tools are used. 

In terms of both the healthcare industry and life sciences, there are a lot of regulations around data and privacy. Therefore, these tools are used to ensure accurate results and the safety of sensitive information. 

The life science industry also requires a huge amount of data collection, entry, collation, analysing and processing. This was once very time consuming, but thanks to intelligent automation systems, this can now be handled quickly and more effectively by machines. 

The automotive industry 

The automotive industry has benefited greatly from intelligent automation, with manufacturers able to make some game-changing improvements to their processes. 

Using IA technologies, manufacturers can more effectively predict and adjust production processes to meet demand. They can also scale their production up or down when supply and demand fluctuates. What’s more, they can streamline their workflows to make their systems more efficient and to reduce the risk of production errors. 

This introduction of robots is able to reduce the need for manual labour and therefore reduce the cost of production whilst still providing a higher quality end product. This can then be delivered to customers quicker and at a lower cost to the business. 

An example of how intelligent automation is used in the automotive industry is on assembly lines. Car manufacturers can implement these tools as a way of taking on the more physically demanding steps in the assembly process. This can then help to prevent injury, speed up the process, ensure better accuracy and take on the labour-intensive jobs that would otherwise fall to employees.

In conclusion 

So there you have it, everything you need to know to get started with intelligent automation.

And if you’re hoping to increase productivity, boost efficiency and cut costs across your company this year, it might be time to embrace digital transformation and choose the best IA tools for your business. 

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