How the Age of AI Accelerated Business Process Transformation

It wasn’t that long ago when AI was still considered science fiction. But now we’ve entered the Age of AI, as the technology has become more accessible to everyone. Do you know how much it can transform your business?

The excitement surrounding AI has been especially powerful, and some organizations have been seduced by it. Like other emerging technology predecessors (think ERP, SAS, BPMS or SOA), companies have been launching projects to harness the power of AI. How many of us have been part of large enterprise implementations spanning multiple organizations and supporting the latest tech, only to find out that after 12 to 18 months the lasting result is just documentation, some sort of disbanded center of excellence, and a moderate change in performance while competitors have outpaced us?

In recent years, through the use of agile methodologies, the work has improved. Recently, clients we’ve been working with have learned that “moonshot” projects rarely provide value and have been targeting simple project with better results (no surprises here). This same approach should be considered when selecting how to leverage AI in your business. AI can be used to support many business needs, so many in fact it can be overwhelming for an organization to figure out where to start.

When considering intelligent tech solutions, it’s important to start by thinking about your key business processes — the ones that you need to get your business going everyday. From there, begin to target the processes that can be re-imagined to leverage emerging technologies with a focus on those processes that support back-office administrative and financial activities since these tend to be more mature, less variant processes (and prime for automation).

While it’s easy to recognize the benefit of intelligent technology, it’s also normal to be concerned about how it will affect your business. But our experience in the industry has taught us that there are a couple of key misconceptions or myths that businesses can have when considering intelligent technology:

Myth #1: Intelligent Technology is Too Expensive and Time-Consuming to Implement

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a great place for companies to start with emerging technology to avoid the legacy pitfalls of moonshot projects. RPA is one of the least expensive and easiest emerging technologies to implement. It typically brings a quick and high return on investment and is the least “smart” in the sense that these applications are not programmed to learn and improve, though developers are adding more intelligence and learning capability (called iRPA). RPA is a software code that runs virtual workforce of robots to execute processes. RPA processes rules-based, structured data through the user interface of the robotic software that supports the process. This technology aims at automating processes without changing, replacing, compromising or adding maintenance overhead onto existing applications. Given that these software robots have similar capabilities as existing users, there is no real requirement for additional system testing. It’s a great starting point for businesses of all sizes since you can use RPA to continue operations while focusing on a larger business process transformation that may require more time and support to implement.

Myth #2: A Virtual Workforce Reduces the Human Workforce

Yes, we said it, intelligent technology can provide a virtual workforce (robots), which many often assume translates to a reduction in the human workforce (job loss). This concern, while understandable, is unfounded. History has shown that as technological advances are made, jobs that are changed are replaced by new work. Since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, technology advancements (electricity, automobiles, personal computer) have been changing the work that people do, and throughout this time, the unemployment rate has stayed pretty stable. Humans have always adapted: we’ve shifted away from work suitable for machines and into other jobs. This was true in the 1930s when we shifted away from agriculture, and even through the 1990s and early 2000s when we shifted out of manufacturing. A study from the University of Virginia shows that in 1920 25% of jobs in the US were in agriculture and 40% were in manufacturing and other blue collar fields. Today, fewer than 1% jobs are agricultural and only about 20% are blue collar, and we have had historically low unemployment levels in the last 10 years.

It’s easier to see existing jobs being disrupted by new technology than to envision what new work the technology will enable. Upton Sinclair said it best: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” That is why we believe a human-centered approach is critical in the success of any technology implementation in the age of AI. Reskilling and training of the workforce will be needed to support automated processes, and if organizations are able to align newly structured processes to new roles and responsibilities for their people, they will greatly increase the success of achieving strategic priorities enabled by AI. And most importantly, it will make the workplace a happier and more productive place to be!

Ultimately, we believe that business process automation statistics will continue to prove its value. Data from a McKinsey study shows that 30-100% of repetitive processes can be automated with intelligent technology. Combined with a human-centric approach, it becomes a major force for future economic growth, making it a no-brainer and a must-have for every modern business.