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Automation technologies can offer considerable value to organizations, but only if they are implemented strategically, on a large scale, and in support of business goals. They also require the businesses using them to actively monitor performance and make adjustments over time.
Because of the complexity of the technologies and the need to think broadly about their capabilities, sophisticated users of automation — whether financial services firms, data management companies, or hospitals — are creating automation (or sometimes “intelligent automation”) centers of excellence (COEs). A COE is a dedicated team of individuals who set standards, provide consulting and development assistance, and monitor the technology’s progress.
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These types of centers are timely. Automation technologies are the fastest-growing type of AI, even if they are not the smartest. These technologies offer rapid implementation, ease of deployment, and a high return on investment. They are increasingly being combined with machine learning and natural language processing for more intelligence and easier human interaction. There has been particular interest in automation technologies during the pandemic: Applications such as back-office administration and IT operations automation have allowed work to continue even when humans have been unable to come into the office. (A global survey by Deloitte found that 68% of business leaders used automation as part of their response to COVID-19.) Organizations are also using automation as an alternative to outsourcing.
For these reasons, automation COEs play a valuable role. They can help organizations maximize the utility of the systems in use and even obtain competitive advantage from them.
Types of Automation
Automation technologies are quite flexible and are being implemented across a wide variety of settings: They can be applied to structured administrative processes and to well-defined processes such as employee onboarding.
One reason for the flexibility is that there are a variety of automation technology types, including these:
- Generalized automation tools, such as robotic process automation (RPA) for structured workflows involving multiple information systems. This is probably the most popular automation technology category — with the vendors that provide it growing at a torrid pace.
- Tools that support specific organizational functions, such as marketing (for particular marketing tasks, such as campaign management).
- Tools for understanding text from unstructured data in hard-copy documents, leveraging intelligent document processing technology to learn over time and improve accuracy.
- Process control technologies for largely digital processes, including workflow or rules engines.