There’s no “back to the future” in Intelligent Automation – it’s coming right at you, right now

Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 08/07/2017

Last week in Chicago hundreds of leaders from the business services community came together to discuss strategies on how to be diligent about integrating intelligent automation. Taking the long game approach is essential as too many practitioners have been caught short by taking a shortsighted view in the past. Barbara Hodge, SSON’s Global Editor, summarizes the state of IA today

 IA Summit SSON

You need have looked no further than the Intelligent Automation summit in Chicago, last week, to understand which way the wind is blowing. Whether from a shared services or GBS perspective, a functional viewpoint, representing a business unit or a Center of Excellence, practitioners are no longer on the cusp of an ‘automation’ wave: they are standing squarely in the path of a full force gale bearing down on them. The good news is that most practitioners seem prepared (whatever your stage, the Global Intelligent Automation Report we just published will be a valuable resource).

Those of us who have been tracking the state of robotic automation for a few years certainly had a moment of pause last week. There's clearly been a shift in mindset. What was fully apparent across three days of workshops, industry discussion groups, presentations and case studies, is that the market has gotten over its initial disorientation around "RPA" and has now widened its lens to the fill breadth of IA solutions that are emerging.

What was most notable was the recognition that it's no longer about a single process, the first bot, or a pilot; the stakes are greater, the stakeholders more plentiful, and the opportunities both deeper and broader than initially thought. The floodgates have been opened.

Where the change of focus is most noticeable is in the growing discussion around "scaling". Executives considering implementing robotic or intelligent automation understand that the more simplified structure of yesterday – desktop-based or script-based – can be limited in terms of the ability to scale up once the approach has proven itself, to achieve a greater ROI. Instead, these same executives are today actively partnering with the IT departments they thought they would shun, and are proactively engaging a far wider group of stakeholders to gain their support for broader initiatives. Many are considering Centers of Excellence or Expertise as a means of honing their IA capabilities and then supporting process owners or business units in implementation. Getting the biggest returns out of their IA investment is what is guiding most practitioners’ decision-making.

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Similarly, many have honed in on the fact that writing code and storing it centrally to be reused again and again makes sense. There is broad-based recognition around the impact of system changes on IA, and change control is playing a more important role, as a result. While just a year or two ago, practitioners might have been caught short by bots unable to operate as business processes underwent unexpected change, or enterprise systems were updated, today's emphasis on a central group and partnership with IT means leaders are doing a much better job in managing not just the implementation but ongoing operations.

There is also near unanimous recognition of the significance of a "digital" employee, that extends far beyond bots being given names. There were multiple references, in Chicago, to a ‘bill of rights’ for digital employees and passionate discussions around what it means if systems are accessed by robots via ‘human’ IDs. Governments have also suddenly recognized the implications of automation replacing human resources and the negative impact this may have on their tax revenue.

The European Parliament is currently evaluating this dilemma, via a draft resolution of the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics, which quotes:

“Whereas now that humankind stands on the threshold of an era when ever more sophisticated robots, bots, androids and other manifestations of artificial intelligence ("AI") seem poised to unleash a new industrial revolution, which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched, it is vitally important for the legislature to consider all its implications.”

It goes on:

“…at the same time the development of robotics and AI may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, so raising concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems if the current basis of taxation is maintained, creating the potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence.”

I would advise anyone trying to understand the longer-term impact of IA to read the draft resolution and thereby consider the impact of IA not just on the enterprise and its employees, but within the broader economic landscape.


Intelligent automation is being steadily integrated into technology platforms, systems, and solutions that have already played a significant role in developing enterprise performance. What differentiates today is the incredibly fast pace of evolution and adoption, the integrated nature of many of these tools (for example connecting RPA machine learning or cognitive capabilities), and the increasingly accessible data bases that will exponentially drive up the impact of intelligent automation.

Note: If you were not able to join the movement in Chicago, please bookmark the Intelligent Automation event in Atlanta in December. SSON will be presenting the H2 Global Intelligent Automation Market Report at that time, which will explain the impact of NLP, Machine Learning, Cognitive activities, and Artificial Intelligence on the advancing continuum of intelligent automation.


Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 08/07/2017


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