Alistair Sergeant, ceo of digital consultancy Equantiis, highlights intelligent automation and its implications for businesses, customers, and employees.
Intelligent automation (IA) combines different technologies such as Robotic Process Automation [RPA], artificial intelligence [AI], machine learning and Optimal Character Recognition [OCR]. In an increasingly competitive business environment, companies will become increasingly reliant on IA for boosting their performance, especially in terms of generating better customer experiences, reducing manual errors, and freeing employees from boring, laborious tasks.
Many companies were already embracing digital before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has become a priority because of it, and in some cases, even a matter of survival. Unfortunately, many digital transformation projects fail, with rates ranging from 70 to 84 per cent, depending on the study you read. The causes can vary wildly, but it can be as simple as senior management teams not setting realistic goals or not having employees with the skills and experience needed to achieve success.
Industry adoption of automation
We are seeing automation being discussed and prioritised at a senior level throughout every industry, and it is the highest growth area within technology sector right now. I saw figures from McKinsey two years ago that revealed 31 per cent of companies had fully automated at least one function of their business, and this figure will only have increased in 2022. That would have been incredible and unthinkable just a few years ago.
However there’s still a long way to go in educating organisations as to what’s possible in this area and how to successfully deploy these technologies. The biggest challenge I see with automation is shifting from a technical project to a business focused transformation outcome. By that I mean a business must examine and transform its operational procedures with a mindset to ensure great customer experiences.
The role of automation in customer journeys
Automation plays two main roles for any organisation, either improving customer experience or supporting operational efficiency. If your company can utilise automation to do both, then you’re winning! Ultimately, automation provides a fantastic opportunity for organisations to really deliver a true, digital-first experience for their customers. Its ability to remove manual processes has transformed the way that companies are structuring their workflow infrastructure, in turn providing a seamless, end-to-end experience that will ultimately help grow an organisation by putting their customer first.
Today’s organisations increasingly have to operate an on-demand model. That means they must have a capacity to deliver information immediately, and in the slickest possible way. Those organisations that are crippled with technical debt legacy systems, poor integration, and ineffective data, will struggle to meet the demands of the customer. I would go as far as to say it’s a matter of life and death for a business and if senior management teams don’t place automation at the top of their agenda, they risk losing out to their more tech-savvy, customer-orientated, competitors.
Automation and employee engagement
Employee engagement is one of the reasons so many companies are investing heavily in automation. Any organisation utilising intelligent automation is making jobs more enjoyable for employees by removing mundane processes currently undertaken by humans. Instead, it’s freeing them up to focus on delivering real value, whether to the organisation they work for, the customers it serves or ultimately their own career.
The notion that automation will destroy jobs is understandable, but the reality is it’s simply not true. Personally, I’m yet to see it myself. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that 85 million jobs will be displaced, while 97 million new jobs will be created across 26 countries by 2025.
Automation will work away in the background, taking away the hard, boring tasks and freeing up employees to become a digital workforce, focused on the aspects of their work that really matter. IA can never replace the human touch that is so needed for creativity, innovation, and customer experience, and these matter because they are fundamental to any organisation’s competitive advantage.
Developments in intelligent automation
Every organisation will have a digital-first approach but it is how you take those digital channels and integrate them as part of the core fabric of a business that matters. The more seamlessly you do so, the more success you’ll enjoy. Things like chat bots play a great role in answering quick questions and providing immediate answers, but they will never replace the true, human, customer-centric culture every organisation should be striving towards.
As intelligent automation gets more widely discussed, tested, and implemented, I see it moving into a world where we have standard, off-the-shelf bots that carry out tasks that organisations can implement quickly. Ultimately, organisations will be able to drive true automation within their organisation without having to have deep technical skills or access to development teams. Rather, it will be a solo, no-code environment where we’re using technology to automatically build and automate processes straight out of the box, so to speak.
People will just have to tweak them as necessary to make sure they’re operating correctly. This will be a huge stepping point and extremely important given the current digital skills crisis that is holding back business and technological progress. It will pay dividends, especially in reversing the amount of failed digital transformation projects that occur.
Alistair Sergeant, Founder and CEO of digital consultancy Equantiis