INTRO: The tech pages are already full of seasonal pieces, with plenty of 2021 trends highlighting Hyperautomation as a major area that businesses need to be aware of for next year and beyond. So, what is Hyperautomation? And what impact on legal and other knowledge businesses will we see, as some professionals still consider automation as the preserve of self-driving cars, drones, factory robots and other machines?

As with many technologies, automation is sneaking into the home and office. The increasing connectedness and smartness of everything should not have gone unnoticed, whatever your opinion or stance on automation. In the domestic scene, the TV is now an internet box, a phone can control the robot vacuum, get alerts from security cameras, and turn on the lightbulbs at just the right brightness and hue.

In smarter homes, clever thermostats use global AI and cloud connectivity to manage the heating for maximum efficiency. Connected cars can pre-warm for cold winter commutes, while lighting systems turn on and off as families leave, arrive and move from room to room. Even while the owner remains in control through apps and services, there is a growing level of automation with these devices, communicating among themselves and making decisions on our behalf.

What is hyperautomation?

As with many generic technology terms, Hyperautomation means different things to different people. Many firms are experimenting with automation efforts, with the Financial Times recognizing automation as a key part of growth efforts among even traditional areas of business like legal firms, but there is no universal definition of when that becomes “hyper.” Startups mentioned include BRYTER, building chatbot and decision automation tools that can form the foundation of automation efforts for any business that lead to hyperautomation.

IT researchers at Gartner describe it in their Strategic Technology Trends for 2021 under the banner of combinatorial innovation as “a disciplined approach that organizations use to rapidly identify, vet and automate as many business and IT processes as possible. Hyperautomation involves the orchestrated use of multiple technologies, tools or platforms.” takes a more technology-led approach (PDF), defining it as “Hyperautomation is the application of disruptive technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Intelligent Document Processing, process mining and more, that when combined, transform business processes and improve the overall quality of work.”

Among the elements driving hyperautomation, many are already part of an organization, but the key to success will be mixing them with new technologies that address the business needs and deliver value from existing and planned data streams. The vision for Hyperautomation has changed fast in the few years that businesses have been thinking about it.

Early automation talk focused on the growing use of RPA, but Datamatic’s recent vision of Hyperautomation place more emphasis on the role of people and process know-how, while reducing the role of RPA, as more modern automation and AI tools arrive.

Every business could take a different approach on the vendors and technologies they use to deliver their version of hyperautomation. But underlying their vision will be a series of increasingly smart and connected services delivering ROI and helping build the next generation of products and services.

In a short timeframe, robots in all their forms will deliver operational knowledge and guidance across any business. As well as strategic advice for leadership to inform their decision making. Done well, hyperautomation will drive businesses forward through greater market success. Implemented badly, a business will find itself making poor decisions based on bad information, or by mixing old and new technologies in inappropriate ways.

The building blocks of hyperautomation

A similar, faster, transformation is taking place in the office and across businesses. Services like robotic process automation (RPA) and business process management (BPM) helped speed up office tasks over the last decade. Newer technologies like robot vision, AI translation and conversion tools all help turn content into valuable data for analytics and further automated engagement. With chatbots, data extraction and automated decision-making tools fast gaining adoption and interest from professionals, the trend and scope of these tools is moving beyond being led by the IT department, seeing adoption by every area of business.

During a recent earnings call,  BPM vendor WNS’s CEO Keshav Murugesh stated “One thing that has become abundantly clearer over the past two quarters, is that the global pandemic is accelerating demand for technology-enabled process transformation or hyperautomation.”

Between departments, companies and technologies, cloud services automatically contract and expand with demand. The growing use of machine-to-machine communications (M2M) sees physical systems, bots and services talking without human input, helping take orders, make bookings, or ensure physical supplies are delivered. In smart factories, increasingly autonomous supply chains deliver components and finished goods with ever-more fidelity around the world or across the hall, while adding flexibility so that end-user customization becomes a default, not an option.

The latest step is the arrival of 5G and an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), enabling the same network and services to extend from an enterprises’ headquarters to every edge of its operations. Growing numbers of services leverage AI and analytics to make decisions delivering more efficient operations, savings, or other benefits. Investment in the IoT is growing across all areas, as Deloitte highlighted recently in its NextinTech research, which will lead to further hyperautomation.

All of these elements contribute toward the trend of hyperautomation, with the knowledge worker or professional a key part of the chain, working anywhere on a tablet or PC, taking a guiding role in concert with dashboards, analytics tools to provide those key human insights to drive fresh AI-based services and further efforts in connected business.

Benefits of hyperautomation

The benefits of hyperautomation need to be measurable for businesses to gauge the ROI, and to consider where to invest in it:

The basic benefits, as usual, are reduced costs to the business with more efficient workflows, reducing individual processes and manual tasks that take up time and resources. Other practical benefits include a reduction in error rates and the ability to better scale the business as hyperautomation drives and enables future strategies.

Knowledge workers and professionals will benefit from being able to focus on more important, high-value tasks. As a side benefit, they will be more engaged, and the fact that a business can prove it is on the cutting edge of business technologies, with collaboration between workers and technology making it more appealing to new hires.

Businesses become more flexible, able to deliver operational excellence, agile skills and making better use of internal knowledge and data. For customers, there is the benefit of improved and more

How to deliver hyperautomation

We come to hyperautomation after the arrival of practical RPA solutions in the 90s, the impact of the cloud in the 2000s, the launch of easily accessible AI services in the 2010s, and the trend of everything-as-a-service. But many businesses face the problem that IT departments are skilled at stringing a network and delivering productivity tools across an office but lack the skills to integrate and deliver complex technologies.

Even more challenging for many businesses is accessing the knowledge of their key workers and professionals and creating tools that access or replicate the vital thought processes and knowledge-based tasks across the business. While budget-rich enterprises seek digital excellence, the rest of the business world will be happy with a technology that makes their lives a little easier, and make the company run more efficiently.

Vendors will be more than willing to provide and deliver ecosystem or bespoke solutions to capture parts of the market, but the business must focus on getting the best out of its key knowledge workers and data resources. For example, while RPA is already proven technology, in most cases it is used for modernizing small-scale resources, not the giant tasks that vendors tout. Threatening to outclass and replace it is a range of new custom automation and AI tools that can link to wider data sources, take expert knowledge, and create solutions that benefit individuals, teams, departments as well as across the business. Whatever the goal, hyperautomation requires:

  1. Engagement (both digitally and shared business vision) across customers, clients, and partners.
  2. Understanding your data footprint and where processes can be automated.
  3. A focus on making business professionals, from legal to HR alike, more efficient.
  4. Understanding all points of automation and having regular sanity checks and fall back manual processes to avoid and mitigate failures.
  5. A focus on the future where further automation will continue to change how business is done.

As we approach the end of a chaotic year for all businesses, decision automation, AI and other parts of the hyperautomation ecosystem (Gartner notes it is tracking some 200 offerings) will play a major part in rationalizing what businesses do with their data and processes. Something that every business decision-maker and IT leader needs to be aware of.