Digital process automation is real; With a rapidly evolving market and technological changes local businesses have to adopt future-ready operating models to remain relevant and sustainable. And business process automation is one important tool which offers that. Kiwi businesses need to consider how they’re going to embrace it to remain competitive.
Here’s our view on the top 5 digital process automation trends that will shape 2020 – and ways which Kiwi businesses can capitalise on them.
1. Automation and smart technologies are converging
Used in isolation, individual technologies can provide benefits, but the real opportunity lies in the use of multiple technologies in tandem.
One of the latest ‘hot’ terms is hyperautomation – otherwise known as cognitive automation. It’s the use of a combination of tools, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), AI and intelligent business management software, to enable some form of skill that previously required user involvement like understanding the text on a page, making a probability-based decisions or understanding voice conversations.
While most New Zealand businesses are still in extended pilots or using point solutions, we’re seeing some forward-thinking Kiwi businesses, particularly in the banking sector, reaching a level of maturity with their Centre of Excellence (Coe). That’s enabling them to extend their capability through the aggregation of smart technologies to drive the breadth and depth of automation across the total business.
They’re aided by the growing number of technology providers embedding technologies such as machine vision, machine learning and natural language processing into their core offerings, and the increased ease of integration between providers.
2. The democratisation of automation to citizen users
Just as many other areas of technology have been democratised, so too has automation, with access to software robots, the ability to control them and automate low complexity processes becoming more accessible to citizen users (non-technical, functional users).
The ability to automate processes and execute tasks will be democratised across businesses allowing granular processes and tasks that directly support individuals to be automated.
We flagged this as a trend back in 2019, and it will continue to be a major theme in 2020 and the coming years.
It’s something we attributed in large part to vendor UiPath, which has attended automation – the ability to place a software robot on a desktop and give the user the power to initiate processes on demand – as a core part of its offering.
UiPath holds a market leadership position strong enough for it to define and lead trends. The company has a stated objective of ‘a robot for every person’ and its StudioX, released in public preview, is designed to bring automation to the masses and allow citizen developers and regular business users to build and run their own automations.
We expect other automation technology platforms to follow a similar path, addressing this trend in their own way, and we’re also seeing low-code offerings and drag-and-drop capabilities becoming the new norm.
3. The shuffle from targeted solutioning to scaled programmes
The adoption of RPA and other cognitive automation technologies has rapidly taken hold in New Zealand leading to a large number of extended pilots and targeted solutions.
But now companies are seeking to scale the breadth and depth of their automation programmes across the total business. They’ve laid the foundations, and matured their internal skills, capabilities and resources to a point where future growth is obtainable and can see other in-market examples.
Many businesses started small and didn’t ‘think big’, something which is now hindering their progress. The barriers to scaling are heavily linked to governance, operating processes and practices and change management.
Businesses that are successfully scaling their programmes are implementing robust automation or digital operating models based on the total automation lifecycle.
4. Transparency, traceability and ethics even more in the spotlight
Digital ethics and privacy are a growing concern for individuals, businesses and governments.
In 2019 James Shaw, New Zealand’s Minister for Statistics, released a draft charter on government use of algorithms and initiated a public consultation on the issue. His action followed a warning from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission (HRC) in 2018 that the use of algorithms for predictive purposes could lead to unfair treatment of individuals or groups. The HRC called for steps to be taken to ensure such practices conform with human rights and ethical standards.
But, with the exception of heavily regulated industries such as finance, it’s not uncommon for businesses to invest heavily in technology before investing in control frameworks.
Discussions around privacy, transparency, access, bias and control are large and complex with significant implications. These are not new issues. Ethics and privacy have always been concerns. What is new is how we deal with these issues at vast scale in the context of automation and artificial intelligence technology.
The challenge we have is that the technological capability and the adoption and application of the technologies are moving faster than society can be educated and have the necessary conversations.
5. The rise of ‘AI’ as a service
Increasingly technology vendors are developing cloud-based ‘AI-as-a- service’ offerings that will give businesses more options for accessing automation and smart technologies and providing control through modularity and flexibility.
The global market has reached a scale where it is viable for vendors to offer on-demand cloud-based services, with increasing integrations into targeted capabilities such as machine learning or natural language and playing to a market which is increasingly seeking modularity and flexibility.
Last year Blue Prism completed the major acquisition of a cloud provider to enable their offering and we are expecting to see UiPath’s cloud offering released to the market in the first half of 2020. This comes alongside growing cloud offerings from major vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
While we expect to see businesses continue to own, control and manage foundational capabilities in-house, the as-a-service market provides a greater level of flexibility to access targeted capability and scale on-demand.
To benefit from business automation - 3 key aspects For business leaders to consider
Business leaders who consider three critical aspects – change management, the digital operating model and governance - will position their businesses to gleam the benefit of this years’ business process automation trends. Each need to be cohesively worked into the business’s wider framework.
1. Before you do anything, focus on the people, focus on change management, what you want to achieve and your vision, then figure out how you are going to share that with the business.
- Defining your vision is critically important. Why do you want to automate, what you want to do, what you want to achieve, and what are the benefits you’re looking for? These are key questions you need to have clear answers for.
- If you can’t define a vision for your automation to take to the entire business and evangelise to them, they won’t be fully on-board and doing it with you. You then increase the chances of failure or failing to deliver benefits and run the risk of being viewed as forcing a technology on them.
- If you gain buy-in, you’re going to succeed and open the scope for future automation and digital transformation opportunities rather than the business pushing back and rejecting it because you haven’t brought them on the journey.
2. Build the digital operating model around automation, not a single technology stack.
- The real opportunity is not a single technology, it will be multiple technologies used in aggregation.
- Consolidate or co-ordinate the various CoEs which fall under the category of automation to form a holistic operating model that addresses the total lifecycle. These could include AI, RPA, chatbots and workflow.
3. Ensure strong governance is embedded into your business with the correct management and IT
- Appropriate governance is critical to the success of an automation programme. Automation programmes deployed without governance and strategy are more likely to be ineffective and more costly, and can become counterproductive.
- The governance requirements for an automation programme are also holistic in nature covering vision, organisational factors, process selection and pipeline management, service and engagement models, people requirements and impacts and the technologies themselves.
To help you shape your thinking further on digital operating models and creating strong foundations to grow your programme from see 5 Steps to transform your business through automation and When an automation programme fails, this is usually why..., both by Adam Taylor.