Intelligent Robotic Process Automation: Not Your Average Top 2020 Trend

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Hidden behind the tsunami of expert predictions on the rise of intelligent robotic process automation (RPA) are sweeping changes for the customer and employee experiences in every industry.

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Gartner analysts included RPA as a key component of “hyperautomation,” a major theme woven into the firm’s top strategic technology trends for 2020. In a recent Gartner survey, respondents said the top two reasons they were investing in artificial intelligence (AI) were to automate repetitive or manual tasks (66 percent) and improve the customer experience (63 percent).

By 2022, IDC predicted that 75 percent of enterprises will embed intelligent automation into technology and process development, using AI-based software to discover operational and experiential insights that will guide innovation. Over the next few years, IDC researchers expected spend on AI-enabled RPA will outpace that of non-AI-enabled RPA. While IDC analysts found most RPA vendors were not using AI and machine learning in big ways yet, I discovered how SAP helped developers inject intelligence into software applications across SAP S/4HANA Cloud in this video interview at the SAP TechEd event.

“Machine learning, intelligent robotic process automation, and embedded analytics are core to becoming an intelligent enterprise,” said Sven Denecken, head of Product Success and Customer Co-Innovation for SAP S/4HANA. “With preconfigured bots, machine learning models, templates, and reports, we’ve made it easy for developers to bring these capabilities into SAP S/4HANA Cloud, innovating how people work and business operates for growth.”

Intelligence Delivers Business Results

Unlike historical RPA that only automated disparate, manual data processing tasks, the intelligent version offers employees and their companies unique opportunities ─ provided it is pervasive across a business process like finance, procurement, sales, or the supply chain. When I caught up with Denecken after SAP TechEd, he urged companies to focus on business results in order to gain the greatest value from intelligent technologies.

“Embedding intelligent bots into the invoice-to-cash process dramatically improves not only the efficiency of accountants and their ability to speed up payment management, but equally important, customer satisfaction,” Denecken explained. “The same applies to the order-to-cash process. AI can automate routine tasks and find new opportunities. Sales managers can spend more time on upselling the right products, at the right prices, to the right customers. Every business process becomes more streamlined, improving sales forecast accuracy, on-time customer deliveries, and cashflow.”

Different Kind of Employee Experience

This next level of intelligence does not cancel out the value of people. Gartner analysts saw RPA tools augmenting knowledge workers and taking on tedious, mundane, and repetitive tasks. Forrester analysts characterized employees in this new intelligent-driven era as “the critical cultural glue and internal force in the future of work. With fewer employees, they are self-initiating, adaptable brand and culture ambassadors. They keep the core organization whole and maintain the soul of the company’s front-and-center gig economy workers, who come and go while robots make more and more decisions.”

In some industries, intelligent RPA just might become essential to survival. IDC predicted that by 2023, 60 percent of G2000 manufacturers will address growing industry talent shortages with significant investments in intelligent RPA. These analysts wrote that “the integration of optical character recognition (OCR), natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning in AI-infused RPA opens up opportunities for data collection, workflow, and operational/tactical decision making.” IDC aligned intelligent RPA with Industry 4.0 aspirations, helping manufacturers move beyond greater efficiency and productivity to new business models such as dynamic sales models and hyper-personalization.

Courtesy of traditional RPA, business entered the first phase of automation. With advanced intelligence that helps connect all organizational information and activities, intelligent RPA trends promise to be much more than a blip on 2020 lists. It is certain to reinvent business and industries as never before.

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