Predictions on Intelligent Automation in 2021

Predictions on Intelligent Automation in 2021

December 7, 2021

Kofax Senior Vice President and GM APJ Zakir Ahmed discusses the year that was and the year to come and argues that we’ll say bye-bye to open floorplans, latte machines and bean bags and hello to automation and collab tools in 2021.

By Zakir Ahmed

What’s the next place for RPA to go? The Business Workflow! RPA has caught on like wildfire, because it made automating routine, mundane tasks fast, easy and dare I say, fun. It made motivation-killing work like monotonous, cut-and-paste data entry – a drudgery of the past. Where does RPA go from here? It’s all about workflow. The new normal is accelerating the call for digital transformation – creating streamlined, frictionless experiences that delight customers and employees.

To do this, organizations increasingly are bridging their RPA expertise to higher-value initiatives – business workflow transformation. Workflows are organizations’ ‘secret sauce’ – the end-to-end processes encoding how they do things smarter, faster, better, cheaper. For savvy companies, 2021 is about harnessing their RPA automation expertise – and leveraging it with complementary technologies like process orchestration and document intelligence to automate their mission-critical business workflows.

Organizations run on workflows – sequential tasks like onboarding, invoice processing or approving documents through e-signature – that are part of a complex business process. Workflows are organizations’ intellectual property – the DNA encoding how they do things smarter, faster, better, cheaper. But not all workflows are created equally. In 2021 organizations will need to prioritize automations that will yield the most value, the soonest.

These workflows have the following characteristics:

Document Intelligence. Workflows that apply cognitive capture and artificial intelligence to unstructured data in order to automate and extract information and unlock data insights;

Process Orchestration. Workflows involving orchestration of digital workflows in collaboration with users, systems and data; and

Connected Systems. Workflows involving multiple critical business systems – enterprise applications, legacy systems, mobile, chatbots and more – across internal and external business processes.

In 2021, we can also say goodbye to open floorplans, latte machines and bean bags, and hello to collaboration tools and automation platforms. Pre-COVID, organizations were obsessed with driving efficiency, collaboration and innovation through analog strategies like smart office equipment and innovative office design. Open floorplans, bean bag chairs, latte machines and electronic whiteboards were just some of the tools that supported employees in generating more agile and competitive ways of working and thinking.

Fast forward to 2021 when employees and customers are virtual. There’s now a premium on digital transformation as the vehicle for driving employee productivity and customer experience. Organizations mastering the digital landscape – from collaboration tools (Zoom, MS Teams) to automation tools (intelligent automation, financial process automation and enterprise output management) are thriving.

Companies stuck in analog business models are falling further behind. This trend will accelerate in 2021 and will continue even after offices open up again. Digital workflow transformation is here to stay.

Digital workers may also save humanity too! In the drive to become more efficient and productive organizations have been driving employees to the breaking point. People are working faster, harder and more efficiently than ever before, and it’s still not enough in rapidly changing markets. Enter the bots – long feared as replacing human workers.

In 2021 digital workers may become more fully understood as the savior of work-life balance. As human productive capacity reaches its limit, increasingly employees will be provided with digital workforce support – increasing productive capacity while relieving humans of the dull, repetitive work keeping them in the office late and on weekends. Harnessing digital capacity at scale will drive the agility needed for competitive advantage in 2021. Digital capacity becomes the new differentiator.

We can also expect Business Line Leaders – ‘Citizen Developers’ – to accelerate digital transformation momentum. Past automation efforts were driven largely by IT as technology initiatives. As more intuitive intelligent automation platforms emerge, business line leaders are becoming empowered to focus automation efforts to drive specific strategic business outcomes.

These ‘citizen developers’ increasingly will partner with IT in a federated model, harnessing intelligent automation to transform information-intensive business workflows. Many companies excelling in the new normal are doing so through automations inspired by Citizen Developers in partnership with IT. This new model creates agility, reduces technical debt and accelerates time-to-value. Other organizations seeking to accelerate their digital transformation efforts will emulate this model.

In 2021, companies may buy business outcomes through ecosystems.  This year, integrated intelligent automation platforms emerged as the preferred method of driving digital workflow transformation results. These one-stop-shop platforms with pre-integrated, complementary automation technologies, provide all the capabilities and AI needed to automate quickly, drive rapid results and reduce technical debt.

However, the 80/20 rule still applies, meaning organizations’ will always have unique requirements that would require customizations. Ecosystems will emerge in 2021 as the go-to resource for filling that gap. Platform providers have developed vast networks of technologies, applications and services operating within their open, dynamic and integrated architectures – providing access to a network of services, pre-built connectors, templates and solutions.

Companies in 2021 will increasingly rely on these ecosystems to buy the outcomes they desire – accelerating their ability to achieve desired automation results.

As for 5G, we can expect it will enable companies to transmit, collect and analyze exponentially more data than ever before to fuel business strategy and decision-making in 2021. Organizations with the capacity and ability to ingest this surge of data, digitize and transform it into business insights will be riding high. It all starts with having document and data intelligence technology necessary to convert unstructured data locked in 5G transmissions into structured data assets.

AI and Cognitive Capture will be key to achieve document/data classification, sentiment analysis and content extraction from key documents such as financial records. Organizations with data intelligence capabilities will be able to surf the 5G data wave and attain new heights of performance. Those unprepared will be inundated by a tsunami of unusable information.

Lastly, embedded AI may accelerate automation success and reduce technical debt in the year to come. AI finds its winning use case – embedded in intelligent automation platforms and leveraged as a key accelerator to achieving digital workflow transformation.

No longer the sole domain of data scientists within large organizations, AI use in 2021 will spread to the masses. Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Intelligent Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and Image Recognition imbedded in intelligent automation platforms will empower citizen developers to achieve digital workflow transformation – dramatically elevating productivity levels and accelerating work throughout the enterprise.

(Ed. Featured image by Photographer Jopwell.)


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