Intelligent Automation: Innovating towards a new industrial era
We are at the brink of the 4th industrial revolution; a transformation of the industry into cyber-physical systems; blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. Rapidly developing artificial intelligence technologies enable businesses to use smarter and more integrated automation, and fundamentally change the traditional ways of operating. In the near future, machines will be able to analyze information from other automated parts in the production line and make adjustments to their activities, no longer needing human input and resulting in a production hall that can run autonomously for months without human interference being mandatory. This implementation of artificial intelligence in business processes, creating smart automated systems where all parts are connected and able to make decisions based on (real-time) information, is called intelligent automation. Through new technologies like Machine Learning or Natural Language Processing, business activities like customer service can now be automated. This will improve the efficiency dramatically as a computer costs much less than an employers’ wage and it is available 24/7.
It may seem as if humans are simply being replaced by machines, but the only thing that changes is the role of humans in the production process. Where machines take over some roles and jobs from humans, new jobs, knowledge and skills emerge that have to be filled in in order to make this new cyber-physical system work. Humans will be more focused on the programming, calibrating and maintenance of automated processes.
“Intelligent automation will enable enterprises to innovate and evolve by increasing their agility, reducing the complexity of systems and operations, accelerating their time to market, and creating the ability to experiment continually with new products and services.”(Accenture, 2016)
As stressed by Delloite (2015) and Accenture (2016), intelligent automation is not an option, it’s mandatory. It will stretch the boundaries of a company’s ability to innovate and reposition in the market, increasing its competitiveness. The challenge lies in the capability of a company to reorganize its resources and integrate the new technologies into its business process in order to maximize their impact. This is the part our research project will focus on.
Impact on different stakeholders
Intelligent automation can be applied to a wide range of industries, as not only actual production halls, but also information analysis can be automated through new technologies like Machine Learning, as is seen in the big data trend. All stakeholders of a company will be affected by it, changing our ways of working, communicating and reasoning.
As seen before, intelligent automation will introduce new job roles for employees. Their roles will be more focused on programming or installing automated systems, instead of manually controlling it. With new roles and jobs also come new skills, which means the education and training of employees has to be revised. Also, with the introduction of robots and AI into the workforce, we will find situations where machines and humans work alongside one another in production halls, which can be quite dangerous. This calls for new models that make environments and infrastructures that reduce risks on injuries and guarantee employees’ safety.
For consumers, the communication between a company and a customer changes. AI platforms like Amelia automate customer service via Speakingbot that is able to answer customers’ questions in more than 20 languages. This will change the communication and relation between customer and company. It is important that automation of this communication does not go at the expense of personal attention for a customer.
However, through Intelligent Automation it is also possible to personalize certain products to a customer’s needs in an efficient way. For instance, UBS Group AG2, a Swiss bank, uses AI technologies to model individuals’ behavioural patterns and build a profile for each customer showing potential match-ups with different types of health management products.
Through automated analysis of data it is possible for entrepreneurs to make decisions faster and more reliable. Machine Learning technologies are used to discover patterns in the still heavily increasing amount of data that is available to a company nowadays. These patterns are used to make predictions about the market, sales, inventory management and give a manager real-time reliable data to base decisions on.
New technologies bring new opportunities, but also new problems. With computers and machines taking over human tasks, a number of societal problems rise. Will there still be enough jobs for everyone? How reliable are these machines? How much autonomy and decision rights can we assign to Artificial Intelligence? These questions about ethics and safety cannot be neglected and must be addressed now, as we are on the doorstep of a world where man and machine live side to side and thus rules about society and commune have to be made or revisited.
Our research will look into how companies can optimally integrate these new technologies and how all these stakeholders can receive as much benefit from it as possible.
“The companies that will grow and dominate their industries will be those that systematically embrace automation across their organizations, using it to drive the changes to their products, services, and even business models as they continue to transform themselves and their industry.” (Accenture, 2016)