Three AI automation lessons to learn from pilots

By Neil Murphy
It doesn’t take a pilot’s licence to see automation success. But you will need to fuel up correctly before you fly...

One of the most overused metaphors of the business world is leaders ‘piloting’ their organisations: in the driving seat, coping with turbulence, and ensuring employees and customers reach their final destination. It’s interesting to think of this image when businesses embark on automation projects.

The pilot’s primary responsibility is the pre-flight checklist. It may seem tedious, but it’s extremely important – security and medical checks, flight data analysis, aircraft system checks, and fuel checks, every step has to be completed thoroughly. A lot depends on it.

The same goes for a business launching automation projects. Every single part must be in order before take-off. In our recent research into this, we found that almost half (47%) of UK businesses who have failed on automation found it was because of a lack of understanding of the process they wanted to improve. Only 15% said they had a “deep understanding” of their processes before automating them.

With the world and its economies in flux, no business can afford to wait for mistakes to happen and correct them after. That’s why the right technology mix is critical.

  1. No two journeys are the same

Every business’ automation journey is different. Neither the goals nor the processes themselves are the same. For this reason, every business needs to figure out their own path to success.

The first step is to think about which processes you want to automate. Automation success relies on knowing your processes inside out, and understanding which work – and crucially, which don’t. Not nailing your processes before you automate them means you’re just making bad processes faster. It’s like flying a plane with the wrong fuel in the tank.

In the current climate, this has become even more important. As staff remain furloughed and finance teams work round the clock to keep the business afloat, solid processes are absolutely vital. It’s little surprise, then, that financial planning and decision-making was where over half (52%) of business leaders thought process mining technologies would be most useful. Improving customer experience (43%) came in second, and IT service management (37%) and notoriously process-heavy HR onboarding (36%) were next in line.

  1. Don’t switch to autopilot too soon

Figuring out what processes need to be automated is one thing. Managing them from then on is a whole new ball game – and one that will require constant attention. After all, autopilot only kicks in once the plane is successfully cruising.

Process mining technologies help you analyse and discover processes using your business’ data, but process intelligence goes several steps further. This offers the deep understanding and real-time monitoring of your processes that many businesses are missing. Then, it can drill down into the granular details, explain why processes don’t work and how to fix them, and give you the tools to solve problems you didn’t even know existed. It’s vital that business leaders check in on their processes often during this phase, to see where issues lie, which processes are most problematic, and which are ripe for automation.

Once this is in good shape, you can move on to intelligent automation – combining process intelligence with automation like RPA. This is the switch to autopilot. Here, the technology can spot potential issues with processes like bottlenecks or delays before they happen, and update bots with corrective actions to fix the failing process.

This can happen hundreds of times a day, without the human touch, to avoid problems from ever happening. For process-heavy industries like financial services or logistics and transportation it could be the key to survival in such a difficult economy.

  1. Expect turbulence along the way

Even with intelligent automation in full swing, there will always be turbulent times on any automation journey. Often, the most challenging processes to automate are the ones that will have the biggest impact – the ones that everyone from the boardroom to the shop floor want to be perfect.

For the banking and FS industry, our research found improving financial decision-making was the most helpful use case for RPA. However, it is also proving the most challenging to automate. In insurance, improving customer experience is causing the same headache – it’s vital that it’s automated well, but getting there is no mean feat.

This proves that the pressure to get automation right is huge – it’s a major investment of time, money, and energy for everyone involved. That’s why relying on human workers to assess processes won’t cut it, especially not when technology can do the job for you.

This, and the goal of automating manual labour-intensive processes, means that your human workforce can spend their time doing things that matter more to the business. Right now, this is likely to be relationship-building services, like customer care, supplier management, or simply supporting colleagues and staff. We need the human touch more than ever before.

With more than £1.2 million being spent on automation by UK businesses in 2019 – and the need for clever technological fixes more pressing than ever in 2020 – ensuring you’re seeing results is paramount. Getting your processes in order before you start automating them is the crucial step to avoiding failure, and ensuring that businesses reap the rewards of their investments.

It doesn’t take a pilot’s licence to see automation success. But you will need to fuel up correctly before you fly.

By Neil Murphy, Global VP, ABBYY


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