Intelligent Automation: The What, Why and How to Get Started

There’s a lot to get excited about as the world prepares for the mainstream adoption of 5G. Not only will 5G enable a wide variety of use cases, it will drive the adoption of emerging technologies. These emerging technologies include artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, IoT and others. In this article, I’d like to talk about intelligent automation. More specifically, what is it, why is it important, and how do you get started?

(Automation Anywhere HQ, San Jose, CA, February 2020)

According to Automation Anywhere:

Intelligent automation (IA) is a combination of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies which together empower rapid end-to-end business process automation and accelerate digital transformation.

The RPA industry is booming. You can maximize ROI by establishing a holistic approach that focuses on people, processes, tech and digital workers coming together.

Recently, I attended Automation Anywhere’s #IADay at their HQ in Silicon Valley. I love automation, so spending the day learning about groundbreaking new automation technology was like a dream. During that event, Automation Anywhere launched its new product called Discovery Bot.

If you read Automation Anywhere’s vision, along with a quote I pulled from the presentation, you’ll get a general feel for what intelligent automation is all about:

Vision Statement: Enable human intellect to achieve greater things by taking the robot out of the human, and putting human-like intelligence into the bot.

“We believe AI should power every step of the automation process because that allows businesses to maximize their ROI. It’s the secret sauce that will continue to enhance the business outcome and success.” — Mihir Shukla, CEO and Co-Founder of Automation Anywhere

While I was in Silicon Valley, I sat down with Heidi Hattendorf to chat about intelligent automation. Heidi is the senior director and global industry leader in telecom and media for Automation Anywhere.

I hope you enjoy this in-depth interview that not only shines a light on the importance of intelligent automation for business in 2020, but it also explains some real life examples of how it can affect your ROI. (Again, I point to the profound vision statement above.)

Sit back in your comfy pants with some tea — this is gonna be goooood!

Intelligent Automation Interview with Heidi Hattendorf: The What, Why and How to Get Started

Diana Adams: Hi, Heidi. Thank you for spending this time with me today at Automation Anywhere. Automation is clearly gaining momentum. Can you tell us why that is, and what you are hearing from your customers?

Heidi Hattendorf: Yes, absolutely. Thanks, Diana for being here. It’s been an exciting day. We’ve been talking about automation for so many years, and now, finally, it’s in full swing. As an industry, telcom is fully benefiting from it.

The reason for that is because of the maturity of applications and systems. Companies want to be able to connect their data enterprise-wide, all the way from the front office, such as sales, and back, to billing. And, they want to be able to do something with that data.

At Automation Anywhere, we’re really excited about the whole intelligent automation space, and what we can bring to customers in this space.

Diana Adams: So, let’s say there is a small or medium-sized business out there that wants to get started with intelligent automation. They know automation is the key to future-proofing their business and keeping them competitive.

Where do they start? When I think about all the processes in a business, how does a business select where to start their intelligent automation path?

Heidi Hattendorf: That’s a really great question, Diana. We get that all the time from customers. They want to understand what other companies have done, and what those best practices look like.

First, a lot of companies start with the back office because they want to increase efficiency and get things running smoothly. They want to get that data flowing.

Then very quickly, they usually turn towards the front office. That affects the customer experience part of the business and the processes. For example, in telcom, this would be the contact center, the sales on-boarding, and the provisioning of new services. Then they might move to network operations. And then, within these processes, you might be wondering, “Where do I start from within there?”

Diana Adams: Exactly.

Heidi Hattendorf: That’s the beauty of looking at Discovery Bot, and looking at process automation.

At Automation Anywhere, we’re automating automation with Discovery Bot.

(Intelligent Automation Day #IADay at Automation Anywhere HQ)

It’s really about looking at the process while someone’s doing their job and then starting to automate that process. It requires mapping out the details so companies can see which processes are going to give them the best return on investment.

That’s where companies should look when trying to determine where to start. It’s going to be slightly different for each company. It always ties back to their strategic goals and what they want to accomplish.

Diana Adams: I like that automation needs its own automation.

Heidi Hattendorf: It does! We’re in such an automated world now and customers have high expectations. Why should we have our human workforce tied up with asking customers the same question multiple times? Or looking at data across five different screens and trying to aggregate that data together?

Let’s offload that work to a software bot to simplify the process. In telecom, it’s very exciting in the contact center because now the call agent can spend more time helping the customer.

The agent can focus on being human and thinking through the tough problems. That person can promote new services that might help that customer, and new ways to personalize that customer’s experience.

Diana Adams: I know a lot of people have said, “Oh no, automation is going to take jobs away from people in the office.” But that’s not what’s going on here. It’s about the humans working and collaborating with the bots so the customer and the team members can have a more meaningful experience.

They can do more meaningful work by offloading the grunt work that they don’t want to do anyway, right? I’m referring to data entry and things like that. I think I read somewhere that data entry is the most dreadful work.

Heidi Hattendorf: Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head. It’s really about jobs they were never really hired to do in the first place.

In telecom, sometimes it’s moving data from one system to another. Or, looking at regulatory or security and having that audit trail. It was never estimated that it would take as much human workforce to be able to do that.

So, you’re absolutely right, it’s offloading. It’s about the connection between the human and the bot. For example, having the human work with the customer… thinking, analyzing, and then having the bot take care of the repetitive tasks.

Also, we are teaching the bot through machine learning and AI, and then moving towards analytics. We are excited to have all three pieces of the puzzle working together. We can automate just about anything. Now let’s help our customers prioritize and figure out where to start and what’s going to work best for their business.

Diana Adams: So, basically, intelligent automation hinges on three cornerstones: There’s the RPA piece on one end, there’s the AI piece on the other end, then there’s also the analytics piece that goes into it. Am I understanding this right?

Heidi Hattendorf: You got it. It’s always been intelligent automation, but now we’ve got this new piece with process discovery [Discovery Bot]. It’s all about the repetitive tasks, like you said. The AI is the thinking, and the analytics is the analyzing.

We’re bringing intelligence into the automation process.

(Kirk Borne, Diana Adams and Harold Sinnott)

It’s been really rewarding seeing companies go up that chain and move from the pure RPA, which is vital, into more of the analytics and the AI side so they can get even more out of it. It’s not just about getting the data, it’s what you do with the data.

Diana Adams: What can we expect from Automation Anywhere over the next year? Tell me what you’re most excited about.

Heidi Hattendorf: It’s really interesting to be in this space right now, especially since RPA and intelligent automation as a category have completely accelerated. It’s exciting to watch companies really take hold of it.

Within telecom, it’s been inspiring to see customers getting their back offices in place. They’re seeing efficiencies and reductions in cost, then they move to the front office, which focuses on the customer experience, the contact center, the sales on-boarding and provisioning of new services. And then they move into the heart and soul of their business with networking operations.

It’s amazing to see customers trust that this automation that worked great for the back office can now help them meet their overall business goals. Whether that’s customer experience, revenue margin, or any ROI they’re defining. It can be a huge lever for them.

So, to answer your question, I’m just really excited about seeing our customers create a better workplace for their employees, satisfy their customers, and have thriving businesses.

Diana Adams: Isn’t that amazing? I love that.

Heidi: It is! It’s even more amazing if you look at what’s going on with 5G and IoT in the industry. The timing is perfect to get businesses ready for it in terms of all of this. With so many new devices being introduced for IoT, it’s going to strain today’s processes.

What better time to get everything streamlined, aligned and ready, especially for 5G. I mean, you’re in the industry too. How do you see automation?

Diana Adams: Automation is not an option anymore. It’s critical for business. By 2025, we’ll have around 25 billion devices connected. To complicate it even more, those 25 billion devices aren’t all the same, so you have the complexity of all the different devices. It’s imperative to turn to automation.

Then you go over to the network automation side, and a whole new opportunity opens up. For example, Ericsson recently launched an AI dashboard that is able to manage the network and spot problems and solve them before they even happen. It’s an example of using data to anticipate problems within the network and solve them before they technically even become problems. Does that make sense?

Heidi Hattendorf: Absolutely. Looking at the network is a key piece. And also, intelligent automation can eliminate sending a human out to do the job. Remote diagnostics are more possible now.

As the network learns and more data is captured, there’s a great audit trail. That feeds to the next experience as well. There are so many possibilities! The cloud model we have is a great pairing with 5G. It contributes to a really good synergy between operators and their customers.

Diana Adams: I love the call center example you mentioned. Imagine the difference in these two scenarios I’m about to describe.

In the first example, you call the company you’re working with. You describe the problem. Then they transfer you to someone else. Then you describe the problem again. That person puts you on hold while they check the details. It’s an arduous process.

In the second example, that same call center agent works collaboratively with a bot. The bot checks on all the details in the background. That gives the people on the call a chance to develop a rapport. It gives the customer a chance to learn about new services. They hang up thinking it was a pleasant call — both of them!

Heidi Hattendorf: You hit on the sweet spot for call centers. It’s better for everybody, not just the customer.

Think about it in the context of a retail business where the customer is standing at the counter. Normally, the customer and the retail employee have to wait for the credit check to go through and the number to be assigned.

In this case, it’s all automated behind the scenes. The employee can talk about upgrades or service plans. It frees everybody up and escalations happen more quickly. Everything is optimized to a new level.

Diana Adams: Can you tell me more about Discovery Bot? At Intelligent Automation Day here at Automation Anywhere, we were able to create our own bot! It was super-fast and a lot of fun. In a couple of minutes, we had all created a bot. Ha!

Heidi Hattendorf: You did great! I saw your bot running. I think that proves the point that you don’t have to be a programmer and know code.

It gives that freedom where you know what processes you want to create and you know what’s going to work for your business. You’ve got that freedom. You don’t have to wait for a department to free up resources. You can go and create your own bot.

With the Discovery Bot, you can move to the next level of being able to determine what processes are best to automate.

Diana Adams: In a broad sense, one thing we talked about today is how intelligent automation breaks down the silos within a company. Can we touch on that a bit? I love that part of it.

Heidi Hattendorf: It really does. Before, I think every department and every function was really looking at, “Okay, how can I optimize?” which is good. But when you look at digital transformation, the cloud model and the digital world we’re in now, it’s really about that data going end-to-end, across the company. It’s so important that teams are working together and they’re really connected by this data.

Let’s use telecom and billing for an example. That could be considered back office, but that absolutely impacts the front office. It’s important to have those process airtight and streamlined. It helps both sides. To your point of the silos being broken down, it becomes seamless. The data flows a lot easier.

There will no longer be a concern about the different silos in different departments because it will be an enterprise-wise digital experience.

Diana Adams: Thank you so much for all this information today. Just to wrap this up, tell me your top three use cases for automation within telcom.

Heidi Hattendorf: There’s so many, as we’ve discussed. If I had to pick three to focus on, I would say definitely the contact center, for the user experience and operational efficiency. The second would be the network operation center. The third would be the sales enablement or the customer on-boarding and provisioning.

Diana Adams: Thank you and everyone at Automation Anywhere for inviting me to attend today’s Intelligent Automation Day. It’s been such a great day!

Heidi Hattendorf: It’s been a fantastic day. If I think back, we started this morning with a global livestream. We all geared up for it. Our CEO announced and launched our new Discovery Bot and Process Discovery tool, which was great.

It was wonderful to see experts like you from the industry, employees, the founders — really just this whole mix of everyone coming together with the excitement about this new piece of technology. It’s really going to transform lives.

Then we got to experience it with Build-a-Bot, where we got a firsthand chance to try it out. Then we took some time to digest it all and ask some big questions like, “How is this going to work? How would we apply it?” Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a fantastic day.

Diana Adams: It has been phenomenal. One of the highlights of my day was meeting you and spending so much time talking to you. It’s been inspiring to talk to someone about the telcom industry and how intelligent automation is transforming how we all do business. It was magical to collaborate. I’m blessed to be here.

Heidi Hattendorf: Thank you, Diana. It’s been great spending a day with you too. Let’s face it, we’re all tech geeks and it’s really a great space to be in, right?

Diana Adams: Yes! Thank you very much!

(Heidi Hattendorf and Diana Adams, February 2020)

[Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Automation Anywhere. I was paid to write about my experiences at Intelligent Automation Day at their HQ in Silicon Valley.]

Tech journalist, Apple ACN, Digital Transformation, IoT, 5G, AI and the future of tech.

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