The rise of intelligent automation as a strategic differentiator

James has a passion for how technologies influence business and has several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Intelligent automation (IA) technologies are graduating from being operational to highly strategic. In terms of the bottom line, it’s even more impressive.

A study from SS&C Blue Prism, conducted by Forrester Consulting and published in April, put together a composite organisation representative of five customers interviewed. The conclusion was that, over three years, there were key gains in IA from greater productivity to compliance cost avoidance, to improved employee experience and retention. This represented an overall net present value of $53.4 million (£42.5m) per customer.

Yet this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Dan Segura, enterprise sales manager at SS&C Blue Prism, notes one healthcare client who, in what is described as a conservative estimate, delivered savings of more than $140m overall on cost avoidance and recoup. Another healthcare client delivered a use case with a claimed $43m benefit on its own; a bot which recouped overtime pay for nurses and staff during the pandemic.

“They built it in an afternoon,” Segura explains. “It’s a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time; and having the right skills and technology being ready.”

Many of the technologies which comprise intelligent automation have been around for a long time, such as classic RPA (robotic process automation) or OCR (optical character recognition). SS&C Blue Prism’s document automation, which forms part of the latter, is described as a ‘game-changer’ by Segura. “There’s a lot of these processes, whether it’s going to be executed by a robot or a human,” he says. “First things first, we’ve got to get data off documents.

“Automation is not just doing simple tasks anymore thanks to the introduction of AI and generative AI” he adds. “There’s now more understanding, whether it’s assessing information from documents, information from a message, structuring things that are semi-structured or unstructured, to drive the process or complete the process.”

Segura describes wider business process management (BPM) and process orchestration tool Chorus, meanwhile, as ‘one of the world’s best kept secrets.’ Or, at least, it was; in November analyst Everest Group named the tool as a leader and star performer in its Process Orchestration Products PEAK Matrix.

The tool is now getting leverage outside the traditional finance and insurance fields. “It is how millions and millions of transactions and pieces of work are getting done every day,” says Segura. “We’re now seeing adoption [elsewhere] alongside automation to orchestrate their work and give them that end-to-end work orchestration, visibility, and efficiency gains with whatever they have going on.”

So how does a use case come to life? It is often a mixture of inspiration and perspiration. Where SS&C Blue Prism comes in is to ‘help customers catch lightning’, as Segura puts it. “We’ve all been in that situation where it’s like ‘oh if I were running this place, here’s what I would do’,” he says. “Intelligent automation gives you the opportunity to reimagine your processes and transform how you get work done. Once that light switch turns on, and the initial use case is built, that’s really the secret sauce of SS&C Blue Prism; it’s that realisation and awareness of what intelligent automation can deliver.

“We’re always learning from our customers,” adds Segura. “It’s at their direction because they know their business and processes better than anybody. Combine their business expertise with the transformational power of intelligent automation and its digital workforce, then that’s where the magic happens.”

Any organisation, argues Segura, regardless of the industry, has change agents and citizen builders in waiting. Don’t think that’s a misnomer; the term is definitely ‘builder’.

“I hear about these citizen developer programmes, and they’ll say, ‘here we have 500, 1000 citizen developers.’ What I don’t hear is, ‘and with this army of citizen developers we’ve achieved this’,” says Segura. “Whereas I have customers where two people have basically become citizen builders with more of a robust type of approach.” The $43m healthcare single use case is a case in point. “It is the whole mantra of SS&C Blue Prism,” adds Segura. “We’re designed to go after those higher value chain automations that can have a tangible impact on some of the company’s key objectives.”

So, you have the idea, the value proposition, and the capability to build it out. How do you make it stick?  Every organisation is different; though if your company has a continuous process improvement department then that can be a good place to start. Segura likens it to offshoring processes. “You don’t just wave it goodbye and never think about it again,” he explains. “At the end of the day, it still has to function.

“You’re not just ‘digital-shoring’ [automation] and it will essentially be taken care of by digital. Someone has to continuously improve the process; someone has to mind when something changes with the business rules or regulatory compliance; somebody has to be responsible for making sure that those changes are kept up in an agile way.”

SS&C Blue Prism has a longstanding, large US retail customer that combines that lightning capture with the right internal culture around automation. This is a company that has 72,000 employees, as well as 60 ‘digital workers’ executing more than 150 automations. One such automation, through using OCR technology, lets the company automate the processing of inbound customer orders received by digital fax.

The overall result is 6.2 million transactions processed to date, and 250,000 hours of work returned to the business. But there is one extra ingredient required, particularly for a big company: discipline.

“It took them a while to get to that point in maturity,” explains Segura. “They do have a very central function when it comes to the intelligent automation team, [but] keep in mind one of those processes is in supply chain. That process is regularly reviewing 4.2 million purchase orders; it’s minding 50 million inventory case volume; it’s going through two million SKUs for 8000 suppliers.

“This is highly iterative, but it’s that process of having that lightning rod to capture the requirements and give people who are not necessarily technical a platform and a methodology to iterate very closely with the intelligent automation team,” adds Segura.

Think of what SS&C Blue Prism does therefore as providing a superhero cape for those who don’t otherwise get the chance to step into the limelight. It is a message the company will look to broadcast at the Intelligent Automation event in Santa Clara on 5-6 June.

“SS&C Blue Prism opens up that door to enable your citizen builders really make an impact and deliver strategic benefits to the company,” says Segura. “You’re not just playing with a pilot, not just fooling around with something; you’re really getting into the strategic objectives of the company.”

Photo by Tara Winstead

Want to learn more about AI and big data from industry leaders? Check out AI & Big Data Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London. The comprehensive event is co-located with other leading events including Intelligent Automation ConferenceBlockX, Digital Transformation Week, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo.

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