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Intelligent Process Automation : The New Imperative for Business Services

By Robert H. Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work, Cognizant


Robert H. Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work, Cognizant

Advances in technology, automation, interconnectedness, user experience, process analytics and machine intelligence have finally aligned to redefine and reshape the very nature of work. As a result, we are entering a new era of human-machine interface for repetitive and rote processes, in which software tools have emerged as “the robots” for knowledge work.

While enterprise robots may not resemble the automatons from your favorite sci-fi movie, when applied to automating core business processes, they can extend the creative problem-solving capabilities and productivity of human beings and deliver superior business results.

But an automation-for-automation’s-sake strategy fails to focus on the real prize — an explosion of rich process-level data. The new business process management scenario is one in which humans are working smarter, thanks to software that automates critical business tasks.

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction"
- Bill Gates

Consider this “intelligent process automation,” and it drives new insights, value and outcomes for businesses. For example:

• Banks can approve mortgages in minutes, not hours.
• Hospitals, clinics and ERs can reduce errors through consolidated, daily admission reports.
• Insurance companies can virtually eliminate re-work by entering claims accurately the first time

Haven’t we been “Automating” Forever?

Driving down costs — and achieving greater results from process optimization — has been a business mantra since the dawn of computing. For years, the technology services industry has been intensely focused on lean principles (or process elimination) to meet these objectives.

Today, companies are looking for new “levers” to pull. And the next wave of process efficiency gain and business outcomes will be driven automation that helps smart robots to complement smart people – by using sophisticated software to automate tasks that humans typically perform.

Some have called this next wave “robotic process automation.” While true, the phrase is misleading. In spite of significant software tool development, we still do not have Robby the Robot or “the Borg” running around our call centers, medical management facilities or insurance enrollment offices. These robots don’t resemble those that do physical work (such as welding or painting), but their impact is just as real.

Yet any applications programmer will point out, we’ve been “automating” tasks since the dawn of computing. So then what’s the big deal about today’s intelligent process automation tools?

While virtually every process uses technology to make it work, there’s still a lot of repetitive, manual data entry, searching, and collating to get things done.

Think about the “long tail” of process steps that haven’t been automated by core systems: process workarounds that require people to toggle between multiple systems and screens to achieve “last-mile” integration of data. The value of this type of “swivel-chair” work can be pretty limited.

Today’s smart robots are digital software tools that mimic human tasks at desktop computers by eliminating manual steps. As a result, costs decline while speed and accuracy rise. It also means that the people essential to the process can do more in less time.

Especially when coupled with deep process insight that machine learning and big data can bring – both of which are derived from data unlocked by robots –by automating systems to better sense, predict and deduce the data they consume, employees can work heads up, not down, with a cognitive, robotic intelligence supporting their own.

To Find the Money, Go with the (Work) Flow....

When workflows become standardized, that process is very likely a good candidate for automation. For example, how many “right ways” are there to run a payroll or to adjudicate a straightforward insurance claim?

Buyers and business process services providers will need to start anticipating and incorporating these levels of projected savings into their future plans and commercial models.

Consider horizontal functions like accounts payable (through e-invoicing) and claims management (through auto-adjudication) as great examples that exist today. Tomorrow, you’ll see more automation (and just as likely, digitizing value chains) among industry processes like revenue cycle management in healthcare, and clinical data management in life sciences.

Robots can also make a money-saving assembly line. New research from the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work shows that of 537 executives, nearly one-fifth reported achieving cost savings of greater than 15% from process automation over the past year.

Moreover, 66% of all respondents expect at least 10% cost savings (again, using 2013 as a baseline) from automation in the long-term future. Businesses are also mining the resulting big data, providing money and meaning for their businesses to make more timely business decisions through automation-enabled analytics.

Sometimes, “doing analytics” or merely automating an existing process falls short. Prompted by innovative competitors, a full digital re-think for making money and meaning may be crucial to transform core processes in the future of work. Digital value chains can reform processes that are smart and data-rich.

By using next-generation SMAC-based (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies, companies are completely re-imagining customer, supplier and partner interactions. By igniting the digital information surrounding these entities — or Code Halos — organizations can realize business process insights in far greater fidelity than has ever been possible before.

The Journey to the Future of Process Management

Businesses need a fresh approach to their organization models and processes — and they need to digitize to analyze.

Staying put is not an option; intelligent process automation is a crucial new delivery model to make that happen – and it’s here to stay. It also sets a scene for smart automation built and operated by smart people freed from the humdrum who focus on creating greater business value.

Chances are, we won’t have to worry about cyborg terminators. But we will be able to create more effective knowledge workers while simultaneously generating and capturing data that can improve processes and eliminate wasteful steps.

And like a good science fiction movie, whether you like it or not, it’s coming soon — to a process near you.

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