Automation is the next major revolution in business, but with so many opportunities to automate, capitalizing on its potential is a proven challenge. Compounding the issue is piecemeal adoption of high-maintenance solutions—including robotic process automation or RPA.
While RPA can pave the way for quick wins and improvements when an organization deploys it appropriately, it has inherent limitations that make it unsuitable for large-scale business process automation. RPA only impacts work between computer systems and user interfaces and cannot easily respond to circumstances outside of its strict rules-based programming.
Businesses today can no longer rely on an automation strategy that offers only slow, staggered rollouts of new processes and solutions. Within a digital landscape undergoing constant reinvention and refinement, it is essential to invest in automation solutions that unify platforms and enable a transition away from strict reliance on rules-based RPA.
Intelligent process automation, or IPA, lies at the heart of this emerging effort. Not merely AI or RPA but something more, IPA is the next-generation solution that could enable businesses to fully automate 50% or more of all the work that they perform. What is IPA, what does it involve and why should your business consider investing in these advanced solutions as soon as possible?
Intelligent Process Automation Explained
IPA is not a single technology—it’s the combination of multiple automation tools into a broader, coherent strategy that enables businesses to do more with less. IPA involves both fundamentally re-evaluating how your teams navigate certain processes and deploying new tools that continue to eliminate the need for human input on repetitive tasks. Rather than simply automating one or two steps of a process, IPA can transform a workflow from end to end.
More importantly, IPA incorporates learning technologies, such as machine learning and AI, that can enable some processes to become self-improving over time, making changes to their own procedures based on past work. With IPA, businesses can remove entire workflows from employee hands.
If IPA adoption seems to be a project that is both complex and large in scope, that's because it is. However, for businesses that make the appropriate investments in IPA and learn from the insights that they gain, it is an effort that can pay immense dividends over time.
Intelligent Automation vs. RPA: What's the Difference?
Particularly within businesses that have already made investments in RPA, there is confusion about the difference between intelligent process automation and robotic process automation.
RPA is a component of IPA for automating rules-based workflows. RPA stalls when an RPA solution can potentially break down and require an employee to intervene or make a decision. Such complexity would be impossible to solve with RPA alone, but IPA brings in and "marries" other technologies to RPA, enhancing and extending its functionality. The business receives the advantages of using additional technologies, such as cognitive document capture or data analysis for process insights.
As an element of IPA, robotic process automation is an essential area of focus—but it is just one contributor to a larger methodology for changing the way that you work.
What Are the Key Elements of Intelligent Process Technology?
RPA is only one component of smart process automation. There are potentially dozens of different specific applications of automation that fall into a few categories. RPA automates rules-based processes within user interfaces and businesses systems, such as modifying a database or moving information from one system to another. The other elements of automation include:
- Supervised and unsupervised machine learning. Within IPA, machine learning plays a critical role, enabling businesses to identify patterns within data that is often highly unstructured. For example, a business might use machine learning tools to improve annual and quarterly forecasting by deriving insights from historical sales data.
- Natural language processing and generation. Computers continue to improve at understanding textual input and translating it into actions without human intervention. These tools can even generate text based on gathered data. In the future, this principle could mean the automation of most key reporting functions.
- Intelligent workflow improvements. Implementing a system that unifies your automation technologies can be critical to deriving the correct insights from your work. These tools automatically coordinate work between employees and robotic processes while providing you with opportunities to oversee the process.
Understanding the Advantages of IPA
Why are many businesses quickly pivoting to IPA and process automation? The pace of change is one reason: a business that isn't prepared to embrace these technologies could experience a competitive disadvantage in the near future. Other key benefits of this adoption are:
- A reduced cost of doing business. With greater automation comes more opportunities to shift payroll to areas where it can do the most good—not tedious and rote tasks, but rather high-value work that demands human intuition.
- Better consumer-facing outcomes. IPA produces behind-the-scenes improvements, but it can also generate faster and more consistent results for customers.
- Fewer costly human errors. With fewer human inputs and advanced machine learning and RPA, you can remove many errors from the equation and save time by skipping the process of tracking down and correcting those mistakes.
- Simplified governance and oversight with clear audit trails. The interconnected nature of IPA and its robust opportunities for audit logging mean that it is easy to trace a process from start to finish.
Many industries can take advantage of these benefits, but some of the most significant areas of potential for this broad spectrum of technologies are healthcare, insurance, banking and financial services and B2B sales—as well as internal departments within virtually any business, such as accounts payable.
Because IPA comprises such a diverse set of tools, it’s broadly suitable for businesses working at scale that are pursuing opportunities for faster, more consistent and more valuable work output.
How to Embrace the Intelligent Process Automation Philosophy
Taking the next steps with IPA doesn't mean buying software off the shelf and instantly unlocking its benefits. Your business must position itself with the intent to automate and set clearly defined and achievable goals. Which processes need the most work? Which improvements would tangibly affect your bottom line? Understand your end state before you take the first steps. Develop and deploy MVPs that let you work towards these goals, then refine them and increase their complexity as your teams develop automation expertise.
Choosing the right intelligent process automation vendors is an essential step. Within an expanding marketplace, you must look carefully at what each solution offers. With the Kofax Intelligent Automation Platform, businesses gain a broad suite of tools that runs the spectrum from cognitive capture and document intelligence to the holistic unification of an automated ecosystem. Gain key intelligence into the efficiency of your processes and deploy new tools to help your teams work smarter.
With so many new technologies emerging today, getting in on the ground floor is essential for making early strides towards a competitive edge. From incorporating machine learning applications to extending the functionality of RPA with interconnections and AI enhancement, the opportunities to improve are limitless.
Evaluate how your business is approaching automation and consider where IPA should fit into your strategies and plans for future-proofing.