It's often assumed automation can only be achieved through Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML), when in fact, automation can be achieved by any means. The ultimate goal of automation is to optimize how you work, allowing you to do more with less, and that can be accomplished by developing or implementing applications (web, software or mobile), integrating APIs, or of course, introducing intelligent automation with AI and ML. Whichever solution you chose is completely dependent on your stage in the data journey.
Benefits of Automation
Automating your business is an effective way to stay ahead of the competition. According to Gartner, who coins automation as the "Next Frontier for IT," the benefits are compelling. "Automation improves accountability, efficiency and predictability, while reducing cost, variability and risk."
Automation is no longer a thing of the future - automation is now. It can be implemented in any business, both big and small, and can also be integrated during any stage of the data journey (collection, integration, centralization, analyzation or visualization). So where do you begin? The best place to start is identifying the root cause of the problem your business is facing. Once you know where the issue lies, you can begin steps to optimizing your business.
Automation Through Applications (Apps)
Building a simple application is one way to integrate different sets of data into a singular digital collection format. There are many automated application options that can be applied to save both time and money.
Apps can automate data collection. For example, in a field services environment, tasks can be manual and time consuming without an automation strategy. Imagine being onsite for a project and collecting data on paper and taking pictures with a digital camera. To analyze the data on the paper, it must first be entered into a system manually. To analyze the images taken with the camera, the images need to be collected and uploaded alongside the written data. To save time, reduce possible recording errors, and eliminate labor spent on manual data entry, integrating a mobile app can allow data and images to be collected on a single mobile device. The application can also be equipped to collect even more data such as GPS location, direction, time or speed.
Automation Through Application Program Interface (API)
APIs specify how software components or applications should interact, creating an environment where apps in your workflow can communicate with each other instantly. According to an article from Inc. on getting ahead with automation, using APIs "drastically reduces the number of resources your company must invest to achieve the benefits of automation. You no longer have to be a developer to automate your stack."
An API integration in itself can mean automation. Imagine working as a call center agent and constantly getting calls from customers asking questions like:
- What's my loyalty number?
- What's my account balance?
- When will my product arrive?
An agent might have to go through 7 different systems to find the information they're asking for since the data is often spread out. You'd have to take their phone number, identify who's calling, verify account details, etc. before even locating the information requested. With a simple API integration between these different data sources and applications, a call center agent can see all the information on the customer in a single, centralized dashboard. API integration leads to reduced call volume, reduced call times, and even an option of making such requests self-serving, in which end users can utilize the dashboard on their own.
Automation Through Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence provides much of the power behind automation for businesses and is essential to taking over manual, redundant tasks to allow workers to focus on more critical tasks. AI solutions like chatbots and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be implemented quickly and produce results immediately. The scope of AI's transformative abilities in automation extends to a broad spectrum of business applications and industries.
To understand how automating with AI can be beneficial, let's look into the example of invoice processing, a common practice across most companies. The normal route to process invoices involves many manual steps:
- Receive invoices via email
- Manually download the invoices
- Categorize files into folders for each particular vendor, client or entity
- Take categorized files and enter into a financial system (i.e. NetSuite)
RPA and intelligent automation can be combined to automate the entire invoicing process from end to end. By utilizing an RPA platform like Automation Anywhere, UiPath or Blue Prism, bots can be developed to collect, classify and process the invoice information extracted from emails. Optical character recognition can also be utilized to automatically extract the information and integrate into a financial system.
With this automated process, not only is it helping to reduce manual work, it also helps with scalability. The ability to process thousands of invoices can increase to hundreds of thousands with the addition of more servers or more bot processes, allowing you to consistently adapt through proper quality analysis.