Digital transformation and intelligent automation: a match made in heaven

Photo by Shubham Dhage

Digital transformation means different things to different industries. For many people, it's about turning paper-based processes into computer-based. For others, it involves transforming business operations from top to bottom, with emphasis on being as “digital” as possible. However you look at it, digital transformation is essentially modernising how your business runs, using technology to enable change. I heard it described recently as being “the anti-hero of business operations”. It's the hero every business needs, but it's complex, needy and hard work!

Despite looking like an insurmountable task, company bosses are paying more attention to what being a digital organisation means. Gartner research shows a consistent rise in how CEOs view the importance of digital, with 20% seeing it as “a primary concern” (compared to 17% in 2020 and 15% in 2019). That it's still a small number of CEOs is concerning in itself, but that's a problem for another blog post.

For the 20% that are taking digital transformation seriously, intelligent automation (IA) has become a familiar phrase. As regular readers will know by now, IA is the next logical step in the automation process, following RPA, implementing predictive analysis in how data affects outcomes. This is why decision makers worth their salt have decided that workflow automation is “essential to digital transformation” (83% according to McKinsey figures). They go hand in hand, with automation being the driver in a successful outcome for digital transformation managers.

Why has it become a driver at all? The simple answer is that we're all lazy! As it turns out, this isn't a bad thing because laziness can help you find the easy way to do things. If you pair creative thinking with laziness, you'll find all sorts of new ways to quickly complete tasks or projects. (This is how no-code has become a global superstar.) But let's focus on the pairing of digital transformation with automation to get a proper sense of the big things you can achieve.

The benefits of the marriage of DT and IA

To fairly judge how well this pairing works, let's take a step back and look at the efficacy of robotic process automation (RPA). As a task-based (or rules-based) proposition, RPA lays the groundwork for enabling scalability and accelerating change. Market growth for RPA use is promising, with research that reveals 53% of enterprises having already started their RPA journey. This is because it's easier to get the project under way. You can recognise pockets of inefficiencies and make simple changes to the way a process runs. This could be a local process that only involves a couple of people, such as stock inventory data input, or the filing of invoices.

What's important is that companies that have adopted RPA practices have already kick-started their digital transformation, and have laid strong foundations for using intelligent automation as a logical next step. RPA brings scalability and the promise of more efficient processes and common business behaviours. Plus, employees that have embraced RPA as being an enabler rather than a threat to their jobs are more likely to accept a large-scale digital transformation initiative. The realisation that automation augments rather than replaces people is a key factor. And when a workforce is onboard, with everyone pulling together for the success of the DT plan, the company can grow quickly and with less investment.

These are valid concerns that have to be addressed. Don't hide from them. People need to know that tasks and activities will be replaced, not necessarily job roles. Statistics show that 31% of organisations are worried about labour displacement and job loss that could come from automation. Allay their fears as part of your digital transformation, or run the risk of not getting the project off the ground at all. Integrating digital technology into business operations is a tough task made even tougher if there's significant resistance from within. And you can only thoroughly automate and reimagine processes if process owners are a part of the plan.

Will some people lose their jobs? Yes. It's a sad fact that people may lose their jobs because of a digital transformation project. On the other hand, many employees will be presented with new opportunities. No-code platforms and apps have made it easy for anyone to play their part in the transformation process. Imagine being a spreadsheet jockey one day and a software developer the next. New opportunities to become part of a successful digital transformation are the new reality thanks to no-code and automation.

Why less investment?

This blog post is always going to make things sound simpler than they may appear. We are automation specialists after all! Yet, when you look at how we arrive at conclusions for how we see automation being used, the journeys are actually simple. Let's take a look at some Aito-specific examples.

Intelligent accounts payable automation. To be able to automatically file purchase invoices in the accounting system, you need to be able to decide things that are not always available on the incoming invoice. These are contextual to every company, and could be (for example):

  • GL account
  • cost centre
  • approver
  • tax code.

Aito predicts them using past invoices and accounting data. Accounts Payable process owners would love this! We worked with Finnish postal service operator Posti to overhaul its manual processes, saving hours of mechanical work, as well as costs.

Help first-level support agents to close more tickets. Customer support efficiency is highly dependent on resolving tickets quickly and effectively. Using Aito, companies can triage tickets, assigning them directly to the right teams, with the right categories and the right priorities. This helps each agent by showing how similar tickets have been resolved in the past. We helped WordPress hosting specialist GridPane do exactly this, saving time, money and effort by enabling senior support staff to focus on new and more difficult cases while the first-level can use the previous solutions as a reference to solve more tickets quicker.

Cutting costs is high on the agenda for many companies, especially during tough times for the global economy. Yet, it takes time and money to get digital transformation started. As these case studies exemplify, increasing efficiencies and helping employees manage tasks better helps to reduce costs. We've seen studies that say budget isn't always the reason for not getting DT and IA projects up and running, but they are for at least 21% of businesses (according to this article). Whatever amount is invested in a transformation/automation project, an increased business valuation is a good offset!

And back to those employee opportunities we discussed earlier: Who needs to hire an expensive software consultant when your stock control manager has already mastered no-code processing automation and has applied their new knowledge to a formerly complex supply chain scenario.

The future of automation

Of course, applying the predictive power of intelligent automation to your business processes is dependent on recognising the need to transform. If your bottom line is suffering, or your business is running inefficiently, these are indicators that something needs to change. The concept of going digital means studying your processes, with IA being the solution to many inefficiencies. This is why DT and IA play well together. But you have to accept that you need to change. And you also need to embrace cloud computing, because if you haven't already done that as a business, you need to get on today! There's going to be a swathe of data that needs to be stored, sorted and processed to help you grow and succeed, and your answer is in the cloud.

Once you've recognised how going digital will help, and once everyone is onboard with what needs to happen and what the outcomes will be, you're on your way. The truly exciting part about making operational changes to create a more successful business is that technology is changing day by day. What we can do now to increase processes will be magnified over the next few years. In which case, getting your ducks in order today will help you make smoother changes tomorrow, as automation tech moves on in leaps and bounds.

Alongside advances in automation technology is how people and businesses are using it. Training practices, for instance, are being overhauled by automation. The next generation of industrial workers are trained and recruited using cutting-edge IA, with the provision of knowledge at the heart of business success. Health and safety practices will also improve because of more adaptable, accessible systems empowered by automated technologies. Communications will become more streamlined as servers become more efficient.

These are just a handful of things to look forward to in what will be an era of intelligent automation. Place IA at the heart of your digital transformation to ensure the future looks bright for you and your business, and think much, much bigger than simply replacing paper with computers.

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