Intelligent Process automation: The definitive guide

Over the last decade or so, tough financial times have meant lots of companies have been looking for ways to simultaneously cut costs, boost customer satisfaction and increase employee engagement. With these increasing pressures on profit margins and productivity, many were left asking, what can be done?

That’s where intelligent automation comes in. 

The need to drive productivity and increase sales, coupled with a surge in digital technologies, has paved the way for the next generation of operating models. Organizations across a range of industries have begun experimenting with and implementing intelligent process automation (IPA). Often with impressive results. 

Interestingly, most of us will have experienced intelligent process automation in some way, whether we realize it or not. 

Yet despite this, many are still left unsure of what this is and what it means for the future of the workforce. 

That’s why we’ve put together this definitive guide. Below, we’re going to answer the following five questions: 

  1. What is intelligent process automation (IPA)?
  2. What core technologies are involved? 
  3. What are some examples of IPA?
  4. What are the key benefits of intelligent process automation?
  5. Why is IPA so valuable to businesses? 

In answering these questions, we will help to build on your understanding of intelligent process automation and give you a better insight as to why you need to be implementing these systems in your business.

What is intelligent process automation (IPA)?

Let’s start by looking at an in-depth definition of intelligent process automation (IPA). 

It’s important to know that intelligent process automation is not just one thing. Instead, it is a combination of newer technologies, including robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, and natural language processing (NLP). Together, these make-up IPA. 

However, we’ll look at these different technologies in more detail in the next section. 

But in a nutshell, this combination of technologies creates automation capabilities that can assist humans with repetitive, replicable, and routine tasks. This is known as intelligent process automation. 

More technically, IPA involves augmenting rule-based automation with decision-making capabilities. This allows these technologies to mimic tasks or activities that were once carried out by humans. But more than this, it allows them to learn to do these tasks better and quicker. 

In many ways, IPA is an upgraded version of robotic process automation (RPA) in that these tools can understand context, learn, and then perform the desired action. This means it operates with a level of informed decision-making.

Not only this, but unlike RPA, intelligent process automation can handle both unstructured and structured data. 

What core technologies are involved?

As we said above, intelligent process automation is not just one tool or technology. Instead, it is a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), related technologies, and RPA. When these technologies converge, automation possibilities increase and can unlock even more value for businesses. 

In this section, we’ve pulled together a list of the core technologies involved in IPA. These include: 

  • Robots: These are the most basic tools. These are unattended or server-based robots that can automate processes without the need for human judgment or intervention. 
  • Robotic process automation (RPA): This software allows businesses to automate routine tasks such as data extraction or processing claims. 
  • Computer vision tools: Vision tools such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR) are required to convert scanned documents or photos into digital data/text. 
  • Machine learning: Through machine learning algorithms, these tools can find patterns in structured data through both supervised and unsupervised learning.
  • Natural language processing (NLP): These tools enable a computer to understand and interpret spoken or written language.
  • Cognitive agents: By combining machine learning and NLP, a virtual workforce (or cognitive agent) is created. These are capable of doing tasks, communicating, learning, and making decisions based on emotion detection.

The right combination of these technologies makes intelligent process automation possible. These technologies can add huge value to an organization, as you’ll learn later in this guide. 

What are some examples of intelligent process automation?

We’ve already mentioned that IPA tools can automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks. This allows employees to work on more cognitive activities. The result of this is that intelligent process automation is important across a range of industries. 

Although we won’t go over all of the different ways IPA is used, we thought it would be helpful to pull together some common examples. Below are some examples of IPA, many of which you will likely have experienced in life or business. These include:

  • Customer support professionals using IPA to gather customer information while speaking on the phone, email, or via online chat
  • These tools can also be used to quickly update customer records, particularly financial records 
  • IPA tools can also be used to make processing insurance claims or credit applications much quicker 
  • In retail and shipping, intelligent process automation can be used to analyze shipping data, choose the optimal shipping routes, reduce bottlenecks and prevent delays 
  • Companies can use chatbots to answer customer queries or offer support outside office hours or during busy periods 
  • Sales teams rely heavily on IPA to update customer relationship management (CRM) systems, set up new client accounts, and pull data for sales reports
  • Comparison sites use scraping tools to pull data from multiple websites at once to offer visitors the best prices and deals 

What are the key benefits of intelligent process automation?

As we’ve moved through the article, we’ve briefly touched on some of the ways that intelligent process automation can help businesses. However, in this dedicated section, we’re now going to look at six of the key benefits in more detail. These benefits include: 

1. Automating business functions 

One of the most obvious benefits of IPA is already in the name. Automation was created to reduce the need for human intervention. Therefore, making life easier for humans and giving them back their time to focus on other more important tasks. 

Plus, automation will mean something different for every employee, department, industry, etc. For example, in recruitment, this can mean helping you find the right candidates, whereas in a financial institution, IPA tools are useful for updating client records and quickly accessing data. 

However, one thing that all these tools have in common is that IPA is the process of improving your business through automation and technology. 

2. Reducing the risk of human error 

Unfortunately, we are only human, and this can, on occasion, lead to a mistake. For example, sending documents to the wrong person, inputting incorrect data, or associating a record with the wrong customer. 

However, by largely removing humans from the process and relying on robots instead, you can reduce the risk of a manual error like this. 

3. Decreasing processing times and cutting operational costs

At the core of intelligent process automation is improved productivity and efficiency. This is because these technologies eliminate the need for humans to do repetitive or mundane tasks manually, something which was once very time-consuming (and boring) for employees. 

By optimizing back-office operations and optimizing your workforce productivity using these tools, you can speed up your key processes. This, in turn, cuts operational costs. 

4. Boosting innovation 

As employees no longer have to take on time-consuming activities, they have more time to focus on cognitive tasks. This gives them time to focus on building relationships with customers, being creative, and coming up with innovative new ways of thinking and doing things. 

This can be such an important part of a company’s success. Innovation is crucial for driving a business forward and staying competitive and IPA frees up the time to do this.

5. Increasing compliance

Data privacy and cybersecurity are hot topics right now, with more and more people concerned about how much personal information they’re sharing with businesses. Especially online! 

For example, think about how much information is shared when applying for a loan, online banking, searching for the best insurance policy, or even just shopping. 

The good news is, intelligent process automation plays a big role in ensuring that this data is being handled carefully and is kept safe at all times, without error or deviation. 

This is particularly important in the time of General Data Protection Regulations. GDPR means that businesses of all sizes must comply with these laws and legislations. They must ensure that all sensitive data is digitally secured through encryption and other important security measures. 

Thankfully, intelligent process automation makes this much easier to do, and like we said, reduces the risk of human error. 

6. Improving customer experience and satisfaction rates 

Last but not least, intelligent process automation can improve customer experience and satisfaction.


Well, automated systems mean that those submitting information online, for example, a credit card application or insurance claim, will get an answer much quicker. 

Not only this, but chatbots and automated online systems mean that customers can get help and support outside of usual office hours. Something which has become very important in today’s always-on culture. 

Finally, in terms of shipping and retail, IPA makes shipping and logistics quicker and easier. This means consumers can get their goods much quicker when shopping online. 

Why is intelligent process automation so valuable to businesses?

Now that we’ve looked at the benefits of IPA, we thought it was time to back this up with some facts. That’s because the simplest way to understand the real value of intelligent process automation on any business is to look at some statistics and figures. 

While we know that IPA can increase productivity, delight customers, and boost profit margins, data from McKinsey Digital based on the Financial Times 500 can help us to understand exactly how valuable these tools can be. Some of the most telling figures include:

  • A study of FT 500 businesses found that one company was able to achieve an 80% reduction in processing costs using IPA 
  • Another was able to unlock a £175 million annual reduction in costs using these technologies 
  • Finally, in just two weeks, a large insurance company was able to reduce their policy conversion times by as much as 50%, which is great news for customers and employees

As you can see, intelligent process automation has had a massively positive impact on these businesses. Of course, these are large companies with bigger budgets, workforces, and tech stacks, but there is no reason why you can’t see excellent results like these in your business too.

Now, as we said, this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, this has given you a better insight into some of the ways IPA is transforming business functions and making the experience better for both workers and customers.

Intelligent process automation: A summary 

Intelligent process automation may not be a hugely complex topic, but there is certainly a lot of information to take in. As such, we’ve pulled together a round-up of the key takeaways and some suggested reading for you to end the guide. 

So, remember, intelligent process automation is: 

  • A combination of technologies that, when converged, create automation capabilities that can assist humans with repetitive, replicable, and routine activities
  • These technologies include robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and optical character recognition (OCR), amongst others
  • Some examples of common uses for IPA are online chatbots, analyzing data, planning shipping routes, updating customer records, and processing data
  • In terms of the benefits of intelligent process automation, businesses can benefit from an increase in customer experience, productivity, and compliance 
  • They can also benefit from a decrease in processing times, operational costs, and human error 

So, as you can see, there are a number of ways in which intelligent process automation can be beneficial for businesses. You should keep these in mind when deciding which IPA systems, you should implement in your company. 

And if you’ve not yet started considering how you can utilize IPA, then why not?

There’s no time like the present!

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