In 2020, Augmenting Humans is not about Cyborgs and Sci-Fi

By Mark Strefford AI/ML Leader | Architect | Intelligent Automation | Experienced Hands-On Technology Practitioner

I’ve always been involved in leading-edge technology projects that have delivered real business change. Many of these have been what’s called “Digital Transformation” projects, taking a company from a legacy online presence to a flexible, adaptable web presence that enables them to service their customers with a better experience and more tailored products.

But there’s a new shift coming. This is not so much about the experience for customers, but about the experience for staff. Many, many organisations run extensively manual processes, even where there are back-end IT systems that should do much of the work.

These manually intensive, often repetitive processes are low value, and because they need to happen for the business to survive, often take priority over high-value tasks that would help the business and staff to thrive. Yet there’s a catch-22 here: transforming these “legacy” IT systems that automate these manual processes can be expensive in terms of both money time (which also effectively equates to money!).

This for me is where automation can free up business resources to make a measurable impact on productivity, efficiencies and, if done correctly profit.

So what does automation, intelligent automation, and augmenting humans really means?

Robotic Process Automation:

Automation, also known as robotic process automation (RPA) is an approach to automate consistent, non-subjective processes using technology called robots (not the kind that you see in sci-fi, these are typically desktop agents that use back-end systems in the same way a user would). Here are some examples of where RPA is often used:

– The same data is inputted into several back end systems manually each time, for example changes of address.

– Where part of a process is always the same (if X happens, do A and B and then C or D). An example of this is customer or staff onboarding and off boarding where the same process is handled each time across different systems (payroll, HR, accounts, etc.)

– Where a contact centre agent spends a period of time at the start of each call retrieving a customer’s history and details of the products they’ve bought from multiple systems before they can deal with the inbound query properly.

Intelligent Automation:

Intelligent Automation takes this a step further. This is where the process has some subjectivity or requires large data sets or information stored in free text or images. Examples of this are:

– A chatbot could be used to handle basic, low-value customer queries and redirect more complex or high-value requests to an contact centre agent.

– Using data to understanding whether a customer is high-value based on disparate data sets and recommending an appropriate offer or up-sell

– Redirecting inbound emails to the relevant team by understanding the content and context of the request. This is more than just looking for specific words.

– Augmenting humans, or Human-in-the-Loop (HITL), is where historic organisational data and intelligent automation come together to provide a suggested outcome to staff. They can agree or disagree, and the algorithm learns over time. This is where the real power of these technologies kicks in. Did this up-sell work? Did this email get routed to the right team? Did our insights about this customer mean they stayed with us or left to a competitor? The big question in this is does our staff trust the algorithm and understand its limitations.

So what’s different now?

Delivering Intelligent Automation requires a very different mindset than purchasing the latest software package, there are often no guarantees and therefore a fail-quickly approach needs to be adopted. Following the steps below means the chances of delivering successful automations is greatly increased, and those opportunities that don’t make the cut are identified quickly.

– A clear view of how automation can deliver in line with the business strategy

– A clear and prioritised understanding of the relevant business processes to automate

– An ability to understand the value in the relevant data quickly and how to leverage it

– A defined technology and delivery roadmap aligning with the business vision and risk appetite

– An ability to test, learn, and iterate over time with both business and technology teams

– This is the work I do with my clients. It gives them the business outcomes they want, it means that time and money isn’t wasted chasing cutting edge ideas that don’t work in their context, and it means that over time confidence is built in automating and improving lower-value essential activities and staff morale improves as their work is more meaningful.

If you want to explore how Intelligent Automation can help you deliver your business strategy, then please reach out to me and let me know where you are on your journey to automation and where you think I can help.

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