Whatever business you’re in, it’s hard not to be impressed by how automation at a large scale is changing the world. The recent National Geographic Superstructures: Engineering Marvels documentary series visited Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant to show off German mastery of automation.
Helping to deliver close to a million cars a year (including different models and options), the massive factory sees robots, production lines and humans working in perfect harmony, overseen by the mother of all dashboards in the operations room. Yet, looking beyond the impressive scale, any business can use the small steps of automation to drive a larger effort that boosts output and helps gain better insights into production.
From helping break down information silos and identifying manual tasks that can be automated to allowing workers to focus on more value-additive, knowledge-based, tasks, or allowing them to engage with high-value customers or prospects, the benefits can drive a business forward.
Innovate by adding intelligence to existing robots
Intelligent automation in many cases doesn’t require ripping out your existing processes, IT tools and starting again. Most vendors are adding AI services to their RPA tools, chatbots, supply chain and analytics services as a new class of feature, making them accessible to all.
For businesses that have avoided automation until now, the need to remain competitive will be pressing. For them, intelligent automation can be used to replace manual or repetitive tasks and link them together with data analysis to optimize processes and production. And with the time saved with automation, workers can get creative, leading to improved performance, a better quality of new ideas and further suggestions on how automation can improve business efficiency.
Intelligent automation can be added to a business at any functional level, allowing organizations to use intelligent robotic process automation as a new level of RPA tools, helping finance or procurement professionals, or improving the customer or worker experience. While board members will soon be receiving AI-driven advice or options for next steps as the IA assistant technology comes to understand the whole business.
Intelligent RPA leverages AI technologies like natural language understanding (NLU) so that once-simple RPA robots can become smarter. They better understand the content of emails, scanned documents and invoices to highlight mistakes, issues or trends, with feedback via dashboards that allow the managers and teams to get on with more important work, and handle issues as they arise.
How to innovate with IA
Whatever the business, its leadership style or mix of departments, there are a series of simple steps to identify areas suitable for intelligent automation, and guides on how to drive best practices across the business to maximize the return on investment:
- Identify processes suitable (or unsuitable) for intelligent automation.
- Establish cross-function/department links that need to be maintained.
- Find out what data needs creating, and where to keep it so it remains accessible.
- Ensure metrics are measurable and relate to business goals.
While the business focus may have been on plain automation, the “intelligent” part allows companies to link tasks that had previously remained disconnected to deliver new intelligence, helping make future decisions.
To gain that insight, businesses should build a team to see what can be automated using IA, as well as what is too complex or unwieldy to benefit from it. Then, establish what products or technologies can be applied to deliver automation, ensuring they’re suitable for the business, meet current and future data plans, and can integrate with current or planned technology adoption.
As with any automation effort, winning over business leaders and staff is a vital effort. Explain the benefits and demystify the technology to get them on-board so they can help to find new ways to innovate, which can often deliver extra benefits. Ignore them, and people will feel threatened by automation, just as they have in previous decades.
Finding the innovation opportunity in your business
There are plenty of well-documented use cases for automation, but every business will have its own niche use case that will bring specific benefits when automated. Key indicators will be data black holes in a department or process, or tasks that have “always been done that way” for whatever reason.
To deliver automation benefits, hunt down these outliers and plan how to best automate them. Talk to workers about how they could do the key parts of the roles better as they can identify smaller tasks suitable for automation or identify areas where automated processes can share data to bring parts of the company together.
At the other end of the scale, there are processes your business may never have the budget or staffing for. Here automation can provide huge numbers of cheap, always available software bots, be it to watch camera feeds to count or measure parts, to track key statistics in production, or perform repetitive processes that add up to a useful new function.
And beyond your office walls, automation can be used with partners to speed up approvals, to introduce automated ordering or supply chain monitoring, all helping to move the business along faster. Each innovation will be unique between the partners, but can fractionally or dramatically improve efficiency and bottom lines, helping make each step in any relationship more visible and accountable.
At all steps in the process, ensure people and automation are working together toward a clearly defined goal. Measure the success and ensure that failing automation tools are rebuilt or rewritten, rather than left to struggle or be ignored.