Byline: Scott Dodds, CEO, Ultima
Advances in machine learning mean that the cloud can now power greater efficiencies and return on investment than ever before. 2019 will see Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation capabilities extend from the early adopters to a broader enterprise audience, giving more companies access to cutting edge technology. This change is set to revolutionise the way we do business, putting huge oceans between those that modernise, automate and innovate and those that do not. So how can you embrace new digital technologies to avoid being swept away by the digital tsunami?
A sound approach is to build your Intelligent Automation capability in incremental steps. RPA (robotic process automation) is continuing to gather pace in UK businesses, and recent industry successes make this a good place to start your journey to fully embrace AI. RPA is the process of using software robots to automate mundane, repetitive tasks. Once these are automated, companies can look at moving to more complex AI-based automation, for example, using visual and cognitive intelligence to deliver more advanced automation that draws information from multiple sources and interprets it to provide improved business intelligence.
But how do we get from here to there? Enterprises need to look practically at their infrastructure, workforce and security, and consider what they need to change to enable their business to be set on a positive path to digital transformation.
Take infrastructure to start with. In an ideal world, your employees would have secure access and data sharing wherever they are located, as this offers enormous benefits to performance and productivity. There are a whole host of technologies available from leading companies like Microsoft, VMWare and Citrix that allow secure and easy access to your business applications and data irrespective of location and device. Working with a managed services partner to ensure you have the right combination of technology to allow you to create a successful modern workspace will allow you to operate on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model. Here you pay, per user, per month and can scale up as appropriate and take advantage of software upgrades without spending vast amounts of capital.
Part of your digital transformation is likely to involve moving your data from on-premise servers to the cloud. By engaging with a cloud services provider, you remove the burden on IT and improve business agility by allowing you to provision apps and desktops faster. And, you will benefit from the latest security features and management functionality of a modern operating system like Windows 10 that won’t go out of support.
Once your infrastructure and security is sorted, enterprises can begin to automate many of their key business processes using RPA. Combined with Artificial Intelligence-based technologies, the use cases for process automation are even wider, and provide greater returns:
• 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.
• A large car dealership is automating new and used car ordering from the manufacturer PoV in seven dealerships to improve operational productivity and customer experience, saving £210k per year for that one process alone.
• Organising legal documents around correspondence, evidence, witness statements, case precedent and indexing using RPA has resulted in a monthly saving of £16,500 for one law firm. Their payback on the initial investment was achieved in just over six months.
At Ultima, we have been using RPA technology to automate our back-end operations, and we’ve seen productivity rise by a factor of two since implementing the technology across five processes. We’re using RPA to aggregate sales pipeline data from 32 individual spreadsheets and systems and presenting the data in PowerBI. This has saved eight hours of people-hours per day, saving one full-time admin head at £20k per year. Not only that, but the information can be run at 100% accuracy multiple times per day.
We’ve also automated our first-line helpdesk for our managed services clients. They can now self-serve using chatbots and RPA which means our costs are reduced so we can serve more customers with the same headcount. It’s also improved customer satisfaction as they like to solve their own problems in a short space of time which automation allows.
The next level of digital transformation will be to move from intelligent automation to artificial intelligence. Paul Daugherty, CTO Accenture and co-author of Human+Machine said we need to “initially focus on developing the full potential of your employees by applying automation to routine work; then you can proceed to concentrate on human-machine collaboration.”
In terms of outcomes for business, intelligent automation is going to lead to increased productivity through better business intelligence and collaboration, and improved workforce engagement – staff will work on more valuable and interesting projects. Efficiency will improve through process automation, reduced building estate, more intelligent workplaces and automated services. Compliance will improve with automated controls and digital rights management. All this will be driven by RPA, analytics, chatbots, cognitive services and IoT. The result will be improved quality of service for customers and repeat business leading to better profitability.
It’s a certainty that automation and AI in business will become all pervasive. Cloud computing is the catalyst for accelerating this speed of change. It makes the hyper-connectivity that AI and the IoT deliver affordable and means businesses can scale as and when they like. Companies will be able to sift through huge data pools and analyse them to provide a level of insight and knowledge about their businesses that humans alone couldn’t do. Automated machines will collate vast amounts of data, and AI systems will understand it. By coupling two different systems – one capable of automatically collecting incredible amounts of data, the other that can intelligently make sense of that information - individuals and businesses will become more powerful. Right now, we are just at the beginning of the intelligent transformation journey.