As digital transformation accelerates across the globe in nearly every industry — fueled, in part, by the challenges posed by COVID-19 — companies are increasingly faced with managing the critical IT systems and complex applications that span the hybrid cloud landscape. It is no surprise, therefore, that when I talk with clients, the one topic that is increasingly top of mind is something that has been with us since the dawn of the industrial age — automation.
An inflection point for automation
So why the growing interest in automation now? Today, we are at an inflection point shaped by several technology trends. First, there’s the explosion of digital business, as companies scramble to remain competitive by digitizing and automating their business processes and IT operations. Another driver is recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), resulting from the convergence of visual recognition, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning. These technologies have opened the door to new possibilities for a more intelligent form of automation that taps into the ability to process and synthesize vast amounts of data in record time.
Putting it all together creates a new approach — one we call “AI-powered automation” — and it has enormous potential to enable companies to digitally transform and improve how IT and businesses operate with unprecedented speed, at scale. Adding AI to the automation toolkit helps organizations discover and decide where to best apply automation digital transformation — arming employees with the knowledge they need to accelerate innovation and make more informed decisions to improve outcomes — allowing them to, essentially, work smarter.
Companies can apply AI-powered automation to manage complex technology environments and simplify workflows and tasks, all of which reduce costs and give back time so that people can focus on what is most strategic. We believe AI-powered automation will make all information-centric jobs more productive. Automatic incident detection, for example, can help avoid digital outage. And digital employees can help automate business operations.
4 key elements to AI-powered automation
To realize these productivity gains, we have an approach to AI-powered automation we describe as having four key elements: Discover, Decide, Act, and Optimize. Without AI, data discovery associated with automation is mostly limited to structured processes and structured data. But AI tools like machine learning and the natural language functions found in the Reading Comprehension feature of Watson Discovery have advanced to the point where they can understand unstructured data and processes, allowing organizations to discover patterns and opportunities in noisy data and helping to lessen the burden of manually reading and analyzing data.
Making actionable decisions on that data then becomes a function of a well-defined methodology, and AI-infused tools like IBM Operational Decision Manager can execute decisions within business and IT operations at a speed and scale well beyond traditional automation. Acting on those decisions falls largely into the realm of the tried-and-true technology known as robotic process automation (RPA), but with a much greater reach thanks to AI.
RPA is no longer about automating simple, single tasks, but rather about digitizing complete systems and workflows. To achieve the full combined benefits of the discover, decide, and act facets of AI-powered automation, optimizations must be continually applied, using tools like Watson AIOps to capitalize on new insights to autonomously enhance business and IT operations, moving beyond reactive to predictive and proactive.
Client use cases
Using this “Discover, Decide, Act, and Optimize” approach allows us to understand where clients are in their automation journey and unlock to faster paths to business value, as the following examples illustrate:
- ENN Group, Ltd, a green energy company in China, implemented a virtual assistant solution at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to respond to employees, now suddenly working remotely, with their IT service desk requests. Within a half a day of setup, the virtual assistant helped enable thousands of employees with the technology they needed to work remotely — an effort that would previously have taken days or weeks. ENN also implemented an automated financial assistant, based on IBM RPA technology, to handle back-office tasks, reducing processing time by 60% and generating millions of dollars in savings.
Interested to leverage AI-powered automation for reducing the amount of time spent on manual processes by 80%¹ and decrease customer wait times by half²? Read about IBM Cloud Pak for Business Automation here.