Hyper Automation Comes of Age

Be it our digital assistants like Siri and Alexa or automatic reminders from our calendars, we are getting increasingly addicted to automation. However, efficiency in our personal life has clearly improved with increasing automation.

Similar trends exist in enterprise life. Gartner expects the enterprise automation software market to reach nearly $2 billion this year and expand at double-digit rates through 2024. Nearly 50% of organizations aim to implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA) over the next year to combat COVID challenges, according to Forrester. By 2022, Gartner predicts RPA adoption across 90% of large organizations worldwide.

To illustrate how it impacts you and me, consider the following two examples of applications that are industry and geography agnostic and where emerging technologies and automation can have a real impact:

Scenario 1: You have over 5000 suppliers and your accounting department has to deal with upwards of 10,000 invoices per month. They all need to be processed, verified and routed to the correct person for approval and recorded in systems of record and then paid via complex and labor-intensive workflows.This could take anywhere from 11 to 15 days and cost on average $10-15 to process a single invoice, depending on number of human touchpoints and location of the organization.

Scenario 2: You launched a product last month and customers have been inundating the call centers with inquiries, feedback calls, and emails. This requires a lot of repetitive work and is overloading the contact center staff, increasing call handling and resolution times, and reducing the operational efficiency. You realize a lot of these could have been handled via an interactive voice response system or better still, an intelligent automated chatbot.

The 2020 pandemic caused a major shift and disruption in how business and IT teams operate. Digital transformation initiatives that used to languish for budgetary or executive priority reasons were accelerated overnight during lockdown, leapfrogging organizations into a digital-first world. Due to the crisis, organizations have had to re-envision traditional processes for the virtual realm. Businesses that rely on physical experiences, including amusement parks, sports venues, and museums, are moving toward virtual experiences that provide new business value and additional revenue streams. Industry analysts such as Gartner and Forrester predict:

  • This disruption will cause a permanent shift in technology over the next few years, impacting IT automation strategies.
  • An increase in overall data and data diversity will drive organizations toward new compute and storage technologies.
  • The pace of automation is accelerating, with more organizations creating fully automated value chains.

For the uninitiated, the idea of automation is not new. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendors have been making noise for over two decades now. However screen-scraping and manual process-mimicking focus of RPA has given way to Hyper Automation now. Let’s try to grasp the fundamental distinction by defining these terms first. Robotic Process Automation is a technology for automating high volume, rules-based, mundane tasks performed by people, or for connecting systems that don’t have modern application programming interfaces (APIs). RPA software robots work with systems and data exactly like people do, but with higher accuracy and much faster. They don’t take any sick days or vacation breaks either.

In Gartner’s Strategic Technology Trends report for 2020, the term “Hyper Automation” was first introduced. According to them, “hyper automation deals with the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment humans. Hyper automation extends across a range of tools that can be automated, but also refers to the sophistication of the automation (i.e., discover, analyze, design, automate, measure, monitor, reassess.)”

While bots can work 24×7 all year long, boosting productivity, freeing employees to work on high value activities, breaking down data silos, and driving more value from legacy systems, hyper automation takes it a notch up further. Hyper automation is an expansion of RPA; it adds a layer of advanced technology to automation, which makes it possible to do more with less.

There have been some interesting developments in the automation market recently. The RPA unicorns have become hyperactive with M&A activities and partnerships are blooming. Here’s a sampling from the past few weeks:

  • Automation Anywhere announced a partnership with Google Cloud with which they will bring RPA capabilities to multiple Google Cloud products, including Apigee, AppSheet, and AI Platform.
  • UiPath acquired Cloud Elements making enterprise-grade user interface (UI) and API-based automation capabilities readily available in a single platform which means UiPath customers will get flexibility to automate processes using an optimal mix of UI and API-based automation.
  • ServiceNow’s acquisition of Intellibot extending and complementing its existing AI and ML, integrations, low‑code development, process mining, process automation, NLX, chatbot, and virtual agent capabilities.
  • Microsoft is making its desktop RPA PowerAutomate free in order to democratize technology to business users via low-code business application development thereby promising greater productivity benefits to its customers.

As for the illustrative scenarios outlined in the beginning of this article, unless organizations rapidly adopt automation and infuse advanced technology, they will be left far behind the competition. Achieving automation at scale is no easy feat and is not a one-and-done thing, but the right platform can set you up for success.

Today for instance, invoice processing solutions that blend artificial intelligence and machine learning and Natural Language Processing are being rapidly developed and deployed enabling organizations to cut costs, speed up processing times as well as draw actionable workflow insights to further fine tune their businesses. I’ve deployed a variety of such AI/ML data solutions for clients, including intelligent document processing and have reviewed a range of innovative solutions in the industry — automatic service ticket generation and routing (e.g. one using cognitive AI from Jiffy. Ai ) and integrating voice-enabled bots and AI driven process workflow improvement for IT service management experience enhancement (e.g. using AISERA) to name a couple of startups in this solution space.

Banking Financial Services, Insurance, Healthcare and CPG/Retail industries lead the investment in Hyper Automation today accounting for over 60% spend per a recent analyst report. As enterprises speed up and scale out their automation initiatives, they’re finding piecemeal point solutions fall short, causing this current wave of market consolidation. This will continue as high volume payers claw for margins – and high margin players defend them by growing volumes.

Hyper automation has rapidly emerged as an exponential technology, and is at the top of the boardroom agenda today. It’s shaping up to become increasingly intense and very interesting for the market. The rubber meets the road when customers start demanding more automation as hyper automation comes of age and delivers.

A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.