20 Apr, 2020· read

The intelligent automation cheat sheet

Learn everything you need to know in 5 minutes

We know how complicated the subject of automation can be, and with so much AI hype flying around it can be hard to know what to believe, so we’ve pulled together a cheat sheet that tells you everything you need to know about it.

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What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation – which can also be referred to as cognitive automation – is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) within an automated process to replicate human thinking. It is capable of undertaking automated thinking tasks like analysis, decision-making, adaptation, recognition and learning, in line with a clear directive.

What intelligent automation isn’t

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a simple form of automation where software is used to mimic the movements and clicks of a computer mouse that a human worker would make- for example, copying and pasting text from one system into another.

RPA can be combined with AI components to create intelligent automation, and consequently some confusion has arisen in thinking that intelligent automation is another name for RPA. However, there is a clear distinction between the two types of technology.

The grey area

Intelligent automation is evolving quickly and new subsections of the technology are constantly emerging and bringing with them new terminology. Examples include intelligent process automation, digital process automation, and hyper-automation – all of which which fit within the definition of intelligent automation, but have a specific emphasis (e.g. workflow, functionality).

What are ‘use cases’?

A ‘use case’ is a techie term that refers to the specific situation you are going to apply software to. Put simply, it is the problem that you are looking to solve using the software.

Platform

A software platform is the place where applications are built, managed and run.

Framework

This is a term used by some automation software companies to refer to the mapped out process being automated and the rules attached to it. Frameworks are created within a software platform.

Intelligent automation pros

Scalability

Intelligent automation can undertake an individual task (called a transaction) much faster than a human is able to – for example, the Viabl platform can carry out hundreds of transactions in less than a minute. It is, therefore, able to deliver work on a much greater scale than humans, at a fraction of the cost, and easily copes with spikes in demand.

Increases profitability

Intelligent automation can increase the scale of what an organisation can achieve without having to increase staffing, in turn, substantially increasing a business’ capacity for growth. 

Many businesses also experience indirect, incremental increases in profitability after implementing intelligent automation because their staff have more time to spend on business development and the progression of ideas for business improvement and revenue creation.

Improves staff satisfaction

Because automation frees up staff from the repetitive, time-consuming and unrewarding elements of their job, they have more capacity. This reduces the requirement for staff to work overtime, giving them a better work-life balance. It also eases pressure on staff, reducing the stress levels they experience.

Improves consistency

Intelligent automation runs non-stop, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It doesn’t suffer from distractions, off-days, go on sick leave or suffer from human error.  Because intelligent automation works to clear and specific rules, it delivers consistency, so an automated task will always be done to the same high quality and with the same accuracy.

By improving the consistency and speed that businesses can deliver at, intelligent automation invariably improves customer service and satisfaction levels, which in turn increases customer retention rates.

More insight from data

Businesses have more data than ever before but aren’t always able to use it productively. Many intelligent automation platforms can access data from lots of different sources and use it to learn from, identifying patterns and trends as they emerge and acting upon them immediately.

Intelligent automation cons

Expensive

For those automating for the first time, it can seem like a significant investment.

Configuration of an automation software platform is rarely an overnight process and usually requires specialist skills, which can be expensive, especially when the process being automated is complicated.

However, some automation consultancies or software providers (like Viabl) provide pre-built automation applications to reduce the amount of initial configuration required, which lowers these costs.

Like any software, intelligent automation will involve an ongoing licensing cost which, depending on how many platforms you are using for your automated process, can mount up. However, some intelligent automation software platforms (like Viabl) have multiple AI capabilities built into them to reduce the requirement for having numerous platforms to create an end-to-end automated process.

Requires initial modification

Just like a new human employee, intelligent automation is unlikely to be perfect on day one. Whilst your software platform will have been configured for most eventualities, there will inevitably be exceptions to the rules it has been given. As such, some initial modification will be required to enable the system to cope with anomalies.

Rigidity

Some automated processes can be difficult to modify because they are configured using standard business processes. Depending on the software you choose, your organisation may need to adapt existing internal processes to work around the limitations of the software, rather than it working around you. However, some intelligent automation software platforms, like Viabl, are more flexible and can be configured to suit an organisation’s specific requirements.

Requirement for automation skills

Whilst it is not always necessary to have a team of data scientists on site 24/7, intelligent automation requires initial configuration and ongoing maintenance.  Many businesses need to utilise external consultancies for the configuration/implementation of an intelligent automation system, and whilst most intelligent automation platforms are low code, staff may be required to learn additional skills for maintenance.

Potential for redundancies

On the whole, most businesses use intelligent automation to undertake the most repetitive elements of a person’s job, not their entire job. Although intelligent automation can be used to cut costs, sometimes resulting in redundancies, job losses are not necessarily inevitable. Job roles are often ‘evolved’, rather than eliminated entirely, with staff taking on different responsibilities.

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