Over the past three years, I have witnessed the rise and rise of Intelligent Automation - with each year building gradually on the past.
2016, however, will be heralded as the year that Intelligent Automation burst into the mainstream and moved from a vague concept to a real strategic imperative for businesses around the world.
Reflections on 2016: moving from hype to reality
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has dominated the headlines of mainstream press over the past 12 months, with stories seemingly lifted from a variety of Stephen Spielberg films. However, the reality is that many businesses are still a long way off implementing any level of neural / cognitive system-type automation without first getting their back-office in order.
This is primarily driven by:
- A lack of internal awareness around the practicalities of intelligent automation technologies and the risks / benefits they can bring;
- A lack of internal ownership around the end-to-end automation capabilities and deliverables;
- A lack of real-world success stories that offer insight into running Automation at scale; and
- A relatively small market of people who have the right skills to effectively guide businesses through the Intelligent Automation landscape.
While we’ve had many exciting conversations around the concept of AI in business, the truth is many are still seeking to move from ‘Proof of Concept’ to ‘Proof of Value’ with more practical automation technologies such as RPA.
Recent conversations have indicated that many adopters of automation over the past 12 months have successfully run two or three Proof of Concept projects and are now starting to think about how to industrialise these automated activities to deliver value back to the wider business.
Questions being asked include:
- Have I invested enough in ensuring I continue to automate the right process, those that will continue to deliver rapid, significant ROI?
- What are all the automation technology options in the market today? Have I chosen the right one / mix?
- How will I know this is the right technology in 12 - 18 month’s?
- Is my business culturally ready to work in this new way - across the board?
- Can I effectively manage and maintain all automated processes once we are running at scale?
- Can I effectively scale my automated operations up / down in line with business demand?
- How can I ensure compliance with information security regulations such as ISO AND avoid any compromise from external attacks (e.g. DDOS);
- What does good look like?
Many of our clients are approaching these questions in different ways - from the creation of their own Centre of Excellence to leveraging our tools, techniques and the Genfour Intelligent Operations Centre.
I am proud to say that through helping companies in the UK and the US answer these questions, we have seen a surge in demand for our assessment, training, implementation and run services - helping our clients rapidly deliver value through automation. In light of this heightened demand, over the next 12 months we are expecting to double the size of our workforce to further help clients manage the increasingly complex landscape of automation and AI.
Predictions for 2017: year of Automation Thinking
The next 12 months will see business leaders’ thinking around Intelligent Automation evolve as many realise that "unlike with the internet, where latecomers often bested those who were first to market, the companies that get started immediately with machine intelligence [AKA Intelligent Automation] could enjoy a lasting advantage." HBR, Nov 2016
Working alongside leaders in FTSE100 and Fortune 500 clients, it is clear that global businesses are on a journey to better understand the true role and impact of intelligent automation. And that, to unlock the benefits that Intelligent Automation promises to deliver, requires going beyond the technology and to attain a holistic view of how work is fundamentally done end-to-end across the business.
By understanding how key business events - such as new employer onboarding, reconciling accounts or paying an invoice – shape your workforce, define mission critical decisions and impact your competitiveness, can you move from proving a concept to proving value.
There is an appreciation of the pivotal role that automation will play over the next 12 months as Intelligent Automation spreads wider into the mainstream.
Our predictions for 2017 are:
- Moving beyond the pilot
We expect to see automation projects moving from the proof of concept phase and into scaled operations – involving much larger roll outs, with bigger teams and greater volumes. In light of this shift, there will be a wider adoption of ‘smart bots’ (automation software that is capable of autonomously directing rules-based software), workflow / BPM type tools to co-ordinate ‘virtual’ and human workers and sophistical analytic platforms to enable the management of automated activities in real-time.
The combination of these new tools / technologies will offer leaders a new way to look across functions and divisions to understand how automation can shape business operations, not just run processes faster, better.
- Taking ownership of automation
As the adoption of automation becomes more widespread, businesses will be more organised, identifying roles where automation technologies fit within various operations with a view toward continuous improvement.
New roles will emerge to accommodate individuals’ who have overall ownership of automation, a ‘Chief Automation Officer’, for example. There needs to be a specific appointment in order to have the clout to move automation through the business.
- A heating up of the automation arms race
We expect that three or four automation tools will emerge as strong frontrunners, while others will struggle to compete in an increasingly busy market.
This arms race will be ongoing as people build out capability, with some consolidation in terms of people pulling together investment in capabilities, not just in investment but in services as well. Consolidation will stem from a number of firms who have made it into the investment level in private equity, which will begin shaping the market.
I believe 2017 will be another exciting year for everyone in the Intelligent Automation space, and in global business for that matter. Political and economic forces have already started to define how and where work is done, resulting in the growing trend to bring work back near-shore, increase investment into social skills and higher-cognitive (human) activities and a repatriation of ‘transactional’ work.
I believe 2017 will be about people, empowered by technology, challenging business rules of old and pushing the limits of what is possible.
I am excited to see what 2017 will bring and thank you for your ongoing support over the past 12 months.