What are some of the biggest trends in automation?

26 Jul 2021

Image: © VectorMine/Stock.adobe.com

Avanade’s Max Vicino discusses the future of automation and what companies need to think about when implementing this kind of tech.

Click to read more stories from Automation Week.

Automation and AI are not new, but recent technological progress accelerated by the pandemic is pushing the frontier of what machines can do. Now, advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are ushering in a new age of automation.

But what are some of the biggest trends in this area? Max Vicino, intelligent automation lead at Avanade UK and Ireland, told Siliconrepbublic.com about some of the key developments and challenges when it comes to automation.

Hyper-automation

“Automation is moving from rules-based process automation to intelligent automation, also known as hyper-automation, which is the combination of robotic process automation, machine learning, cognitive services and artificial intelligence working cohesively to automate both rule and judgement-based complex business processes,” he said.

“Hyper-automation is opening new possibilities for the employee experience – turning manual, labour-intensive tasks into nearly no-touch, rules-based processes, allowing employees to focus on more value-adding work.”

Low-code or no-code platforms

While most web or application designs previously depended on developers writing a lot of heavy code, Vicino said there is a growing trend in automation that is making this work much more accessible with low-code or no-code platforms.

According to the International Data Corporation, there will be more than 500m digital apps and services by 2023, the same number of apps developed in the last 40 years in total.

“There simply aren’t enough developers for the volume of work ahead to modernise businesses and this is where low-code comes in,” said Vicino.

Automation as a service

Since the software-as-a-service concept first came to be, many more ‘as a service’ offerings have followed and, according to Vicino, automation is no different.

“Automation as a service lowers the total cost of ownership as the resources are shared and on cloud. It also significantly reduces the time to implement as it has standard configuration templates,” he said.

Will a robot take my job?

As well as some of the biggest trends, Vicino also told Siliconrepublic.com about some of the biggest misconceptions around AI and automation, mainly in terms of workplace automation.

“Workflow automation is a term that elicits a variety of responses depending on who you talk to. Some may be excited about its prospects and welcome it with open arms, while others might be afraid about it replacing humans, leading to high rates of unemployment,” he said.

“Too often, organisations fall prey to one or more of these misconceptions about AI and automation.”

He said the fear around technology taking people’s jobs is not a new phenomenon and has come up time and time again across all industrial revolutions.

“The one common theme across all of these revolutions was that people were afraid of the technological progress, worried that it will take their jobs away. But history has been proof that this couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

“Automation of menial repetitive tasks via AI/intelligent automations frees up time for employees to focus on more rewarding strategic and value-add work. This in turn will create higher business value and cultivate deeper customer engagement.”

Other misconceptions around automation includes fears around it being too technical or too expensive for a business to implement, both of which Vicino said are not true.

“You can start small by automating some of your most manual, repetitive processes and then reinvest the money saved from the significant cost reduction achieved into automating other processes so, your automation efforts can become self-funding after a point,” he said.

A close-up headshot of a man in a suit against a red background.

Max Vicino. Image: Avanade

How leaders can take the next steps

While hesitancy around automation definitely exists, there are also plenty of companies embracing the benefits it brings.

However, Vicino also warned against a few common mistakes leaders can make when it comes to incorporating AI and automation.

“Getting started in intelligent automation is relatively straightforward. Yet those advantages lead many to run before they can walk. This is how companies end up with many automations with no clarity on how much ROI is being generated,” he said.

“Hence, a proper governance structure along with an automation and AI centre of excellence (CoE) that can coordinate and lead organisation-wide automation efforts is essential to ensure that companies get the best ROI out of their automation investments.

“The CoE is usually built around critical processes, technologies, or applications to help the company adopt leading automation methodologies and eventually become more efficient.”

He also said it’s important to move away from simple task-based automation to a more holistic process transformation enabled by robotic process automation, or RPA. This means companies should be redesigning their processes before automating them.

“If the goal is to go beyond basic labour arbitrage savings to improve the process, then companies need to undertake process re-engineering before automation. Process mapping, analysis and redesign work are essential to an effective intelligence automation implementation,” said Vicino.

He also said selecting the right automation vendor is a critical step, but one that is often ignored by companies.

“Vendors are often chosen on ad-hoc factors, which leads to problems. It is important to select a vendor who has enough experience in the industry in which your organisation operates,” he said. “It is critical you do ample research into how these vendors work so that you can decide which of them will be the best fit for your organisation.”

He also said it’s vital to get buy-in from various stakeholders when it comes to implementing automation in order to have a truly successful enterprise-wide strategy.

“Automation and AI should not be looked as a shiny new technology being implemented in isolation but instead should be made an integral part of the digital transformation strategy,” he said.

“It’s important to understand that intelligent automation is no longer something from the distant future. Automation is everywhere. If you are not doing it, your competition is.”

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com