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The Robot and I: Working – and Thriving – with Intelligent Automation

May 26, 2015 No Comments

Featured article by Robert H. Brown Associate Vice-President, Cognizant

Think “robot,” and what comes to mind? Optimus Prime? C-3PO? Well, think again. In today’s digital age, robots will be valued more for their knowledge work than their physical labor. And rather than robots replacing human workers, a new paradigm of complementary collaboration it taking shape: making smart people smarter by augmenting uniquely human capabilities (like creativity, teamwork, inventiveness, empathy and drive) and acting as an interface between humans and digital smart machines.

More sophisticated than simple “automation,” robotic process automation – or RPA – mimics human actions at the user interface (that is, desktops and workstations) and interacts with multiple applications, just as a human would. Moreover, given the massive volumes of data generated in their wake, these smart robots can substantially improve the accuracy of data and insights into how processes are running. In this way, they act as a force-multiplier to the people involved, delivering greater value by capitalizing on their uniquely human talents, as opposed to rote tasks.

While RPA as a term is technically accurate, it can fall short in describing the powerful interplay of smart robots and smart data (including artificial intelligence and machine learning). We use the term “intelligent process automation” (IPA), and it’s about to be adopted on a massive scale. The impact of IPA will be felt in many different types of process work, across multiple industries – in customer support, mortgage approvals, personal finance, workplace safety, insurance claims management, smart drug trials, human resources, product development, finance and supply chain.

To understand what the future holds for intelligent process automation, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work surveyed 537 North American and European organizations. Our findings reveal significant new trends, as well as opportunities for businesses who can quickly prepare for them. For example:

- Intelligent process automation is already saving businesses substantial amounts of money. Nearly one-fifth of respondents saw greater than 15% cost savings through IPA in the past year. More savings are expected, as fewer employees are needed for process delivery, especially in banking.

- Reported five-year increases in IPA seem low (10% to 20%); this may signal a lack of understanding by business leaders about the “long tail” of manual process steps that haven’t been automated by core systems: process workarounds that require people to toggle between multiple systems and screens to achieve “last-mile” integration of data. The value of this type of “swivel-chair” work can be pretty limited.

- About half of respondents think IPA will significantly improve processes in the next three to five years. However, most are focused on streamlining processes rather than rethinking the process itself. The game-changing benefits will accrue when data generated by automation is analyzed and fed back into the process, and machine learning and artificial intelligence are applied. Examples include real-time fleet management and dynamic auto policy pricing.

- Respondents who are furthest along with IPA (who we call “progressives”) are seeing higher cost reductions and revenue growth. They are also about three times more likely to feed analytics into their innovation process, and are leveraging process analytics for top- and bottom-line benefits.

These progressive adopters should serve as a wake-up call for what lies ahead when IPA takes hold. And because process change won’t happen overnight, businesses should begin now to assess their readiness by asking questions like, “How do I eliminate paper-based process inputs, such as invoices or claims, and get my processes truly ‘digital’ from the outset?” “Do the people delivering my processes today add value or inject risk?” “What are we learning about our business or industry value chain as process data is analyzed, and does it help smart people to make better judgments?”

Further, businesses can begin now to scan their process topography and target processes (or sub-processes) that might lend themselves to IPA (like claims adjudication in claims management). Here are a few checklist items to begin the assessment:

- Perform an automation readiness assessment. Map out your current processes in terms of inputs, outputs and workflows. Consider technologies that would enable efficiency gains without incurring a lot of disruption, keeping an eye out for where transformation could be enabled in the future.

- Analyze your business at the process level. Review processes such as new product/service development, sales and customer relationship management, etc., and then re-imagine how key moments of customer engagement might work differently, using digital technologies. Target tangible process metrics: cost-per-claim, clinical trial yield, healthcare unit cost, fraud prevention rates, etc.

- Help your workforce evolve toward the work of tomorrow. Give employees access to digital technologies that help them do their jobs better, smarter and with more meaningful impact to the business. Emphasize human-specific capabilities that cannot be replicated by automation, such as collaboration, creativity, curiosity, problem-solving and empathy.

It’s clear that IPA and digitization will be potent disruptors of the “old way of doing things.” IPA will streamline and straighten process workflows, and the resulting data — ripe for analytics — will reshape how companies do business.

This isn’t science fiction – it’s here today and quickly disrupting the status quo. Think of IPA as an evolutionary step for humans, freeing them from humdrum tasks and harnessing the talents that make them uniquely human. Smart automation, working in conjunction with smart people, will refocus us on what we do best: working smarter by amplifying human grit, creativity, determination, decision-making, adaptability and the will to succeed. It’s time now to plan for a future in which humans will accomplish more than they imagined, and the use of IPA is the catalyst.

Rob Brown Headshot 200x300 The Robot and I: Working – and Thriving – with Intelligent Automation

Robert Hoyle Brown is an Associate Vice-President in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, and drives strategy and market outreach for the Business Process Services Practice. He is also a regular contributor to futureofwork.com, “Signals from the Future of Work.” Prior to joining Cognizant, he was Managing Vice-President of the Business and Applications Services team at Gartner, and as a research analyst, he was a recognized subject matter expert in BPO, cloud services/ BPaaS and HR services. He also held roles at Hewlett-Packard and G2 Research, a boutique outsourcing research firm in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley and, prior to his graduation, attended the London School of Economics as a Hansard Scholar. He can be reached at Robert.H.Brown@cognizant.com | LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/robertbrown/1/855/a47.

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