By Amyn Jaffer, Head of Intelligent Automation, Ultima
Most businesses now recognise they will need to embrace intelligent automation to gain competitive advantage. From improving business processes and customer experience, to using ‘cobots’ to work alongside their workforce, AI offers companies huge scope to improve their business efficiency and drive innovation.
Yet, while many companies are excited about the potential of this new technology, the very concept of AI often evokes fear of the unknown for others – especially for businesses that, understandably, don’t know where to start on their Intelligent Automation journey. As with most daunting tasks, the best approach is to take incremental steps.
RPA: a good place to start
An ideal first step on the road to digital transformation is the introduction of RPA (robotic process automation), which uses robots to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform them. These tasks can include queries, calculations and maintenance of records and transactions.
As well as being relatively simple to implement, using software robots is both affordable and effective; and the potential benefits are impressive.
As an example, RPA can be used by HR teams to ensure each company department has the same information about every employee without the typical challenges of running multiple system records and repetitive re-entry of information. It can also be used for absence management and for processing applications, saving time for your employees to focus on more strategic work. As a second phase, organisations can then make HR information more accessible by implementing chatbots.
Any large-scale activities or groups of repetitive tasks that draw on or feed information into multiple systems are also candidates for intelligent automation. In practice, this could mean using cognitive services such as text and sentiment analysis to process and respond to natural language text within formats such as emails, documents and live webchats. The aim is to extract data from these sources without the need for human intervention.
One training provider which takes up to 400,000 first line calls annually is using speechbots to answer calls and leverage RPA to verify the caller. This has resulted in reduced operational expenditure in the call centre by 50% and increased efficiency.
Similarly, cognitive services can also be used to improve business efficiency through visual recognition. One company is using this technology to tag information in photographs – a task that would take hundreds of man-hours to do, but just seconds with cognitive services.
At Ultima, we have been using RPA technology to automate our own back-end operations and we’ve seen productivity rise by a factor of two since implementing the technology across five processes. For example, we automated our forecasting and planning tasks. Software robots collate real-time sales and marketing information and process all the information they collect during the day to produce detailed forecasts and business intelligence for the next morning. Usually this took eight to ten hours per day of staff time. As a result, the business has improved business intelligence to plan with, and staff have more time to spend on customer service and strategic thinking.
The next level
Taking care of mundane tasks, RPA frees companies to explore more complex AI-based automation – using visual and cognitive intelligence that draws information from multiple sources and interprets it to deliver improved business intelligence.
By automatically collecting and sifting through vast amounts of data and then training robots to make sense of the data by asking the data pertinent questions, businesses can start to solve the problems that have been keeping them up at night. For example, analysing customer data to establish insights into how different things affect their purchasing decisions can give real business benefits and drive innovations in how a business might supply and market its goods.
However, before taking this next step, it’s important for any organisation to look practically at their infrastructure, workforce and security, and consider what might need to change to enable their businesses to be set on a positive path to digital transformation.
Ready for the future
Ultimately, we’re all likely to have a ‘virtual worker’ by our sides helping us to do our jobs, cutting out mundane, repetitive tasks and freeing us up to be more creative and focus on business goals and innovation. To reach this stage the right foundations need to be in place, and the adoption of RPA is the best place to start.
Automated machines will collate vast amounts of data and AI systems will understand it. By coupling two different systems – one capable of automatically collecting vast amounts of data, the other that can intelligently make sense of that information – individuals and businesses will become more powerful. Take a deep breath, jump in and get ready to realis