Automation 101

Automation promises to free employees from mundane,
repetitive tasks and refocus them on tasks that require
human cognition, while improving speed and efficiency.
Find out about the wide spectrum of automation available
today.

6 articles




24 min

Automation 101: Learn how automation will fundamentally change the future of work

By Gene Chao

Automation 101 is a series where we’ll breakdown wonky, technical automation topics at the 8th grade level

As machines are quickly learning to complete the repetitive and time-consuming tasks that take up much of our workdays, workers are being freed up to think more creatively and ambitiously about their jobs. Instead of being tied down to tedious responsibilities, new worlds are opening up.

How is this going to transform and influence the future of work?

Changes in technology inevitably create a ripple effect across an entire organization. A South American insurance company, for example, recently upgraded its clunky manual process for reconciling claims by creating an intelligent processing system using natural language processing.

The system, capable of synthesizing thousands of pages of documents and spreadsheets, resulted in more than 90% reduction in time required to process. The employees previously charged with that responsibility were freed up to focus on more stimulating tasks that have the potential to scale the business.

Another example of how automation frees workers up to new possibilities comes from a German financial services company.

This organization saw a 60% increase in time efficiency by automating just 10 planned processes. After realizing a return on its investment in less than 12 months, the company plans to automate more back-office processes such as form creation, name changes, prefilling data, updating statuses and triggering investigations. Now teams can be redeployed into new parts of the business, exposed to new challenges and growth opportunities.

This is automation in action today. And just a few examples of how automation is impacting the labor force’s daily lives.

For more examples of how automation is transforming businesses today, read our recent study The Evolution of Process Automation.

In it, we survey over 3,000 C-suite executives to deepen our understanding of automation across markets and provide three easy steps to get started on your automation journey:

• Think big and create an automation foundation. • Start small and streamline expansion with an automation command center. • Work differently and optimize digital processes to rebalance the workload.

Interested in learning how your level of automation stacks up against the organizations we surveyed? Take our assessment.

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Automation 101: Automation teams — Should you build your own or hire the experts?

By Gene Chao

Automation 101 is a series where we’ll breakdown wonky, technical automation topics at the 8th grade level

 

Business process automation (BPA), the technology-enabled automation of activities and services that accomplish a specific function or workflow, is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity for executives. Industry leaders are adopting crucial automation tech at a rapid pace, forcing the hand of c-suite members to consider the value of intelligent automation in their workforce. 

The problem? AI is a crucial enabler of automation. And if you can’t adopt AI into your business, you’ll only achieve the most basic of automation outcomes. With IBM automation services, you get a combination of process automation, data science and AI experts who can unite disparate technologies into powerful solutions.

A staggering 90% of executives admit that they don’t have the necessary tools to build even basic, let alone advanced, process automation into their companies. Although this figure may be surprising, lack of automation experience in an executive team makes plenty of sense. These specialized skills have historically been kept inside niche firms.

This divergence leads many executives to a fork in the road: Do I purchase automation software, or build my own automation team to accomplish these goals in-house? Here’s why I recommend a third option, hiring automation experts.

Building an automation team in-house will surely be the first instinct of many executives. “How can outside companies automate our custom processes?” many c-suite commonly ask. But an even more important question might be, “How do we go about automating our own processes, and what does it take to get the job done efficiently?”

Building an automation team is no small endeavor and it requires significant investment into new personnel. The average cost of a Machine Learning Engineer and a Data Scientist is around USD 120,000 per year each (according to Glassdoor), and automation teams might need multiple hires in each position. Software Developers are also not cheap, yet necessary for the completion of an automation project, with salaries starting at over USD 100,000 per year.

The recruiting investment to build an automation team is also quite substantial. Executives must ask themselves “Is my recruiting team ready to identify the right technical talent to build the product that is best for my organization?” Another pressing question is whether or not to hire a recruiter to help get the right talent and find the right Team Lead to manage the project — one who has achieved measurable results in another organization. Is this something your recruiting team is prepared to undertake?

Even more significant is the time investment an organization makes when deciding to do in-house automation. An in-house team might take over a year just to code the right custom interfaces, workflows and machine learning techniques into your organization. Is your executive team prepared to wait that long for results? And will they have the patience to iterate on the initial product your in-house team builds?

Clearly, implementing an in-house automation strategy comes with risks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, plug-in automation solutions tend to lack the flexibility needed to accommodate the custom processes and workflows of unique organizations. This is why executive teams need process automation that's not only adaptable to their companies, but also creates solutions with short implementation times and fewer hassles.

Automation services from IBM strike a balance for almost any executive looking to mitigate the risk of transitioning to automation while still maintaining all the benefits. Adaptable to the most rigorous custom processes, IBM process automation takes an entire team of engineers, data scientists, and machine learning specialists, and puts them to work for your business. No recruiting, no new additions to management, no lengthy projects — just superior automation software and services your executive team can implement without the headaches of creating or maintaining an in-house team. Take the next step in your automation journey with IBM Automation. To find out how your organization can partner with us, click below.

Learn more about our automation services

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Automation 101: Our five element design framework

By Ivan Sean Pulley

Learn the five elements of designing and deploying successful enterprise automation 

Robotics and process automation technologies are empowering organizations to approach operations in entirely new ways. You could even call it a revolution. Executives are asking fundamental questions about business transformation, such as:

  • What should our operating model look like in the next three to five years?
  • What is achievable with these technologies?
  • What is the future of work within our organization?

While few firms have progressed beyond narrow implementations, that’s changing. Now, companies are seriously looking at larger-scale paybacks through value levers that have tremendous potential to shift enterprise value, realign the workforce and achieve economies of operational scale.

Executives need to create appropriate strategy and governance models for automation decisions—and to evolve into a cognitive-oriented enterprise. Automation benefits extend beyond cost reduction to encompass greater control and sophistication in service operations. Yet few organizations understand the upfront and ongoing cost drivers. To work towards automation delivery methodology and benefits realization, companies need to understand those cost drivers, including:

  • Automation management
  • Technology environments
  • Skills development
  • Analysis and controls

As organizations release labor capacity, they should run operational scenarios based on new, automated operating models and a dramatically altered future of work. Assessing new skill set requirements is critical. For example, analytics, automation management and service management are quickly emerging as high-value skills.

Where to begin? Start with this five-element framework. Developed by IBM, it addresses a plethora of management questions concerning the evolution, adoption and benefits of automation.

1. Create a holistic automation strategy with client-centric goals

This holistic automation strategy should focus on articulating the optimal client and stakeholder experience. Goals should include exploiting the economies of operational scale, with increased firm-wide adoption and deployment. Clearly articulated automation goals are more effectively orchestrated across the service delivery organization.

2. Always put data at the core of your strategy

Large-scale data integration across structured and unstructured data sets is also necessary. This involves intelligent data capture, data governance and an understanding of data journeys as the foundation for process transformation. From extraction to processing and generation of data, quality and lineage are integral to an operating model powered by robotics, autonomics and cognitive capabilities.

3. Think broadly with end-to-end process leadership and design

Process owners should develop automation strategies that extend beyond task automation within functional silos. This requires using:

  • Key principals of design thinking
  • End-to-end business process management
  • Cross-functional use cases
  • Change management
  • Communication strategies

4. Transform the knowledge work in your organization

Robotic and cognitive processes drive value in knowledge work, augmenting the current workforce by reducing “generic” activities, lowering requirements for additional full-time equivalents (FTEs), achieving otherwise impossible monitoring functions and enabling the extension of customer services to generate new revenue.

5. Ensure consistency with innovation governance

You’ll need to align business cases for automation programs to strategic imperatives, as well as risk and regulatory demands. This helps ensure consistency in how the organization will optimize value and adapt to increasing analytical and automation skill sets.

In defining an enterprise process automation strategy and governance model, you’ll require a full spectrum of capabilities to execute and define end-to-end processes. Business process management techniques can determine critical steps to help avoid automating inefficiencies—and to enable new agilities. You can then effectively create end-to-end process automation with consistent approaches to redesigning operations combining robotics, autonomics and cognitive.

While autonomics represents the self-managing aspects of process automation, cognitive robotics is much broader. It involves artificial intelligence disciplines such as perception, attention, anticipation, planning, memory, learning and reasoning. To develop cognitive capabilities, organizations will need to acquire, build and partner. They’ll also need to interact with new applications, application programming interfaces (APIs), process data mining, process orchestration and expert systems.

Business-driven virtual workforces must align to and be supported by dedicated technology functions, maturing through narrow implementations toward centralized teams, managed centers and fully embedded enterprise capabilities. In other words, a vast array of processes can be automated within an organization. But what functions and process should be automated? How should they be automated, and how should their adaptive capacity be created?

Automation is revolutionizing work and operations, but few organizations are adopting automation technologies. These five elements can help your organization make real progress in your automation journey

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Automation 101: How does robotic process automation differ from business process management?

By Doug Williams

RPA uses cognitive/AI robots for performing process operations while BPM is an approach to re-engineering processes to drive efficiency

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to meet with the C-Suite team from one of the largest insurance companies in the US. We engaged in a vigorous discussion around when to use enterprise automation tools such as business process management (BPM) versus robotic process automation (RPA)—a topic that is frequently on the minds of business leaders. Many organizations have a similar question if they have either deployed BPM or are considering deploying BPM and RPA.

By definition, RPA is a software code that runs virtual workforce (robots) for process operation. RPA processes rules- based, structured data through the user interface of the robotic software that supports the process. Examples would include repetitive data entry functions and enterprise resource planning (ERP) downloads and uploads. This technology aims at automating processes without changing, replacing, compromising or adding maintenance overhead onto existing applications, reducing costs and enabling the long tail of change. Given that these software robots have similar capabilities as existing users, there is no real requirement for additional system testing.

On the other hand, BPM and IBM Operational Decision Manager (ODM) are established as an overall approach to streamline business processes for optimized efficiency and value. The BPM platform has been an integral part of process workflow automation solutions. It involves re-engineering of the underlying process to drive efficiency and create a more consistent customer experience. Data from the underlying system of record is passed between the new application and back-end systems, bypassing the established user interfaces. BPM requires extensive additional testing as data layer integration creates brittle interfaces between applications. This chart delves deeper into the differences between the two approaches.

    This table compares Robotic Process Automation (RPA) with Business Process Aanagement (BPM). RPA uses software robots or cognitive/Al robots for performing process operations instead of human operators. BPM is an approach to process operations management which focuses on improving process performance by streamlining business processes, removing bottlenecks and adding value.

    Learn how RPA and intelligent automation can help your organization re-imagine how work gets done.

     

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    Automation 101: Getting started with cognitive enterprise automation

    By Elli Hurst

    Automation doesn’t threaten jobs; it enhances job satisfaction

    While 98%(1) of companies are already engaged in some form of automation, their staff needn’t be concerned that robots will soon take over their work. It’s estimated that fewer than 5%(2) of jobs are fully automatable. Rather than fear automation, many employees are elated when it relieves them of mundane, repetitive tasks, and frees them up to concentrate their efforts on more rewarding endeavors – more challenging activities that more fully utilize their intelligence, spark their imagination and perhaps instill a bit of pride of ownership.

    One area that is gaining momentum is that of cognitive enterprise automation (CEA), in which business and IT operations are automated to speed up the process, ensure consistency, and provide scalability, flexibility and reliability. When you consider a myriad of repeatable IT tasks, for example, and the time it takes to perform them, it’s little wonder that automation can perform these 5X faster execution and up to 50 percent in cost savings.(3)

    Lower cost, higher quality, better consistency, and improved process performance have compelled many organizations to explore automation.

    Humans pursuing human excellence

    IBM was approached to assist in an automation effort by an organization with almost 20,000 employees in 150 offices in 50 countries. Obviously, an enterprise of this size and scope has massive integration and accessibility requirements, and a lot of processes to keep running efficiently. Working with IBM, they implemented a CEA solution that monitors multiple levels of infrastructure and business processes, and generates prioritized alerts for issues, according to their potential impact.

    The solution we developed with this company automated manual processes to enable early detection and remediation for over 500 potential problems with minimal false alerts.

    So now the organization’s systems run to optimal capability and, more importantly, thousands upon thousands of work hours have been freed up for more productive activities. Rather than devoting their valuable skills to merely running the system, talented professionals are now able to build and develop project design skills that serve a far more strategic purpose.

    How can you benefit from cognitive enterprise automation?

    Remarkably, it doesn’t take a huge investment or a lot of time to get moving in the right direction. We advise that you start small, achieve some quick gains, and then expand into more areas that will benefit your organization.

    We have been working with clients to automate their processes for a number of years now, and have developed a experiential point of view of what it takes to be successful with an automation initiative. If you’d like to learn more about doing it the right way, right away, we’re offering a learning event you won’t want to miss.

    Start here

    Some colleagues and I put together a webinar that discusses this topic, and provides an intriguing account of how one large organization successfully transformed their organization using automation with cognitive capabilities. I invite you to view this informative webinar that features Timothy Wetzel of AmerisourceBergen presenting how his organization started off small with application management automation, and then expanded their initiative to achieve better performance. Additionally, Tom Reuner of analyst group HfS, discusses the findings from the HfS report on Intelligent Automation in our webinar the Keys to Success for Cognitive Automation of Application Management.

    After you’ve viewed the webinar, you’ll no doubt want to learn even more from IBM’s automation experts. Visit our site for information about our services and our clients’ automation journeys.

     

    Automation 101: Five tools for orchestrated workforce and enterprise automation

    By Robert Broughton

    Learn about five tools to help jump-start your automation journey

     

    What is process automation and what value can it bring to your business enterprise? What are the tools used to attain process automation? And what exactly is workforce transformation? It’s important to explore these foundational questions as you develop your process automation strategy.

    Process automation uses a collection of tools to digitize processes and automate business activities traditionally performed by humans. In some cases, process automation performance surpasses human abilities.

    Process automation tools encompass both mature and developing toolsets.

    Let’s take a look:

    1. Document digitization tools. These extend beyond basic optical character recognition (OCR) and incorporate cognitive capabilities. They can turn unstructured paper documents, electronic documents, and emails into usable data sets. This can enable an automated business process that understands specific document types and their relevant business processes.
    2. Desktop automation. Basic automation such as Microsoft Excel macros would fall under this category.
    3. Robotic process management software. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a combination of user interface (UI) recognition technologies and workflow execution. Together, they emulate how a human agent uses a screen and keyboard to drive applications and execute system-based work.
    4. Business process management software. These tools enable coordination across all the toolsets above, as well as supporting simpler UIs that combine—behind the scenes—multiple legacy systems. In my experience, depending on the business process, anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of tedious human intervention can be eliminated and supplanted with more efficient, orchestrated enterprise automation. This can significantly reduce cycle times, improve process quality, reduce cost and enable workforce reallocation to more specialized value-add activities.
    5. True cognitive capabilities, including machine learning and natural language processingCognitive tools take many forms and can interact in human-like ways such as speaking, chatting, web form-based dialogue and so on. Once cognitive tools are trained to interpret large information sources, they can enable better decision making. This is a key distinction between previously available toolsets.

    Cognitive tools can help humans identify the best solution to a given business situation. Taken further, cognitive tools can perform much of the lower-level decision making (like call center activities) previously performed by humans. These capabilities can use vast structured and unstructured knowledge bases to enable banks and other financial services firms to achieve their strategic priorities in ways previously unimaginable. The entire organization can benefit across three dimensions:

    • Improved engagement
    • Improved analytical insight
    • Enterprise transformation

    On their own, each tool set is limited in its ability to produce significant enterprise value. The key is to take an orchestrated approach to automation that aligns the strength of each tool to the right job. How does this create workforce transformation? In effect, you switch from humans performing most activity to orchestrated software robots performing those activities. The value to the enterprise? Nothing short of transformational.

    Learn more about workforce transformation through intelligent process automation.

    I also encourage you to set up some time with one of our automation experts. Get answers to your questions and advice on how to get started.

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