Companies generally have the ambition to automate processes and tasks. They are more than willing to invest in making complex and time-consuming processes more efficient. Therefore, they look at new forms of automation. Two upcoming terms, Hyperautomation and Intelligent Process Automation (IPA), appear to be increasingly interesting options.
Nowadays, more is possible with automation than ever before. For example, ERP software and software robots allow you to automate traditional business processes. Process automation technologies are quite mature. Organizations can use them for various purposes.
In this regard, many IT vendors discuss Hyperautomation and Intelligent Process Automation. The terms originate from analyst firms and don’t mean much by themselves. They are almost identical: both Hyperautomation and Intelligent Process Automation try to automate entire processes by combining tools and techniques. Think, for example, of Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence. The question is what it can mean for you and whether your company should get on the automation train. To find out more, we spoke with Roel Hoeks of RoboRana Netherlands, which helps companies with automation.
The automation battle primarily takes place through Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology is very proficient at task automation. With RPA, you deploy software robots to perform simple, often repetitive tasks in computer systems. Typically, robots complete tasks within an application. Software robots are less prone to errors than humans. This is because they perform the tasks according to instructions that you give them — nothing more. If a robot cannot do so because of an error or an unexpected field, the task is simply not performed, allowing an employee to take over.
Thanks to developments within the RPA market, process automation goes further and further
RPA tools offer templates to setup software robots. These allow you to instruct the robots on how to act. RPA tools offer various variables, such as ”if X, then Y’. Should a template not cover all needs, functionality can be integrated through programming.
From simple to complex RPA
RPA can involve relatively simple tasks. Think of setting up a robot to navigate to a tech website and check for news articles about a specific software application. This is a fairly easy task to create. You don’t need a lot of knowdledge about RPA to do this.
However, if you want to get the most out of RPA, automating large business processes or projects makes sense. An example is migrating data from a legacy system to a new system. Automating such processes addresses issues on which employees would typically spend hundreds or thousands of hours. Such projects often require both RPA tools and professionals RPA developers. For this type of RPA, you do need to possess specific knowledge on development, implementation and processes.
Ultimately, RPA is useful in all kinds of situations. The market has many active players. While well-known SaaS vendors such as Microsoft and SAP offer extensive possibilities, there are plenty of specialized vendors as well. In terms of market capacity, UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism are the most well-known examples. These tools go a long way in integrating with other platforms and can implement detailed automation.
With additional steps, you achieve more
Hoeks points out that RPA is very valuable. “Robots are great for automating bits of manual work. However, when considering end-to-end process automation, you can’t go all the way with just robots. You’re talking about systems on the one hand, and people on the other.” Hoeks implicates that, in practice, automating an entire process with RPA is rare. “It’s often a task or sub-process.”
According to Hoeks, it is therefore essential to take additional steps. RoboRana views Process Insights, Process Intelligence and Business Process Automation as such steps. Combined with RPA, these steps correspond to what Hyperautomation and Intelligent Process Automation are trying to achieve.
Looking at automation from RoboRana’s perspective, a large part of the automation journey starts with Process Insights. Process Insights allows you to find processes to automate, as well as monitor the performance of the automations. Tools like process mining and task mining are ideal for finding opportunities, Hoeks indicates.
“Process mining uses all kinds of log data from ERP systems to register the steps taken, and is thus mainly performed in the back-end. It is nice to see lots of variations in these steps. Then, you talk to someone about how the process runs within the organization. There’s a clear roadmap of what needs to be done. With process mining, you find hundreds of variations, with steps that can be skipped or performed in a different order”, says Hoeks.
Hoeks explains that adding task mining to the latter results in a clear picture of automation opportunities. In a way, the mining software reviews employees at the front, monitoring the tasks performed. As an example, Hoeks mentions an employee using an excel sheet to enter data into a business system. Task mining provides extensive insight into the process.
UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism also see these forms of analysis as valuable additions. Therefore, the RPA vendors are investing in mining technologies and building deep integrations with mining software.
AI expands robot capabilities
After becoming aware of the opportunities and starting automation, it becomes essential to use the software robots as efficiently as possible. This is possible thanks to the addition of artificial intelligence to the robots. In this way, the robots become smarter.
As we mentioned earlier, you provide RPA robots with instructions to complete tasks. But, if there’s an unexpected field or other error, the robot then simply doesn’t know what to do. AI can help the robot solve many traditional RPA errors itself. The robot becomes able to perform tasks that require intelligence. Consider, for example, adding intelligent optical character recognition (iOCR) to the robot to help it understand documents. The robot gains expanded capabilities to extract, interpret and process data from documents. This also increases the potential for automation, as it structures many unstructured data.
Of course, iOCR capabilities are one of the many possibilities of the AI-RPA combination. Adding computer vision capabilities is another example. Because of the extensive possibilities, many RPA vendors choose to build their own AI functions in combination with a robust ecosystem. The latter is important because you can achieve a lot with specialized AI players.
Management finishes the job
Finally, for an automation effort to be successful, it is essential to consider management and orchestration. Hoeks underscores that, in addition to robots, people and systems are vital for automation. “The work of a robot may still need to be controlled by a human. In other cases, the robot can’t process everything, requiring an employee to correct a mistake and enable a robot to continue its work. To orchestrate that process, we use Business Process Automation.”
BPA is a platform for monitoring and tracking each software robot, allowing problems to be identified and resolved quickly. You can also use a platform to deploy robots and ensure that everything is done according to safety regulations. For the latter, you can monitor logs, as everything the robot does is tracked.
Increasingly advanced, larger scale
All in all, the way companies can automate is changing. Organizations have been looking for means to automate things for a long time, but thanks to developments within the RPA market, it is possible to go further and further. Combinations achieve more. Whether you call that Hyperautomation, Intelligent Process Automation or just automation is up to you. RPA and other technologies will integrate into more and more business units and processes.