February 07, 2022

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Intelligent automation 101

Intelligent automation is the foundation for building up your digital transformation strategy.

Photo of Krista Luehring

Krista Luehring

Product Marketing Professional

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Are you looking for a foothold in the confusing syntax of modern technologies?

Understandable, truly. Especially when it comes to terms that generate a lot of buzz and get thrown around by everyone from technology analysts to sci-fi fans. From automated intelligence, artificial intelligence, intelligent automation and more, it’s tough to get a trustworthy footing.

Though confusingly similar (they both break down to the AI abbreviation, after all) and with functions that can overlap, automated intelligence and artificial intelligence rarely mean — or do — exactly the same things.

It’s more than just going paperless or eliminating slack in a process — it’s how organizations can deliver great service, both within their own teams and for their customers.

Intelligent automation is the key to connecting today’s workforce to the future of work, and if you don’t have an intelligent automation footing and roadmap for growth, you’re already falling behind.

New to intelligent automation? Keep reading — our intelligence automation primer will get you caught up.

What is Intelligent Automation?

Intelligent automation (IA) describes a large category of technology solutions that automate processes that were once manual, so businesses can anticipate the needs of users and customers. It helps organizations simplify or eliminate tedious tasks through technology that learns as it operates, meaning the product will work better six months after implementation than it did after the first week, and will surpass the efficiency of the six-month mark 12 months after implementation.

What does intelligent automation provide?

Intelligent automation provides a reduction in human-first touchpoints, a more digitized work environment, enhanced accuracy, a more empowered workforce and organizational resiliency. It allows your organization to process its data faster and more accurately than with a human-only workforce. 

According to a 2021 Forrester report, Intelligent Automation’s Value Spreads Beyond Cost Savings, “intelligent automation can free up $132 billion in economic value,” in the U.S. alone, including:

  • $68 billion among cubicle workers

  • $44 billion among coordinators

  • $18 billion in function-specific knowledge workers

  • $23 billion single-domain knowledge workers

What provides intelligent automation?

Many organizations capitalize on their intelligence strategy by leveraging the embedded intelligence within their foundational technology platforms. For example, leading content services platforms (CSPs), increasingly provide intelligent content services, which means IA tools like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced analytics are native capabilities to the CSP. While still a burgeoning trend, the use cases for embedded intelligence within content services is seen as a transformational opportunity in the industry.

Why is it important to intelligently automate?

Data is being created in our world at staggering rates: “On average, information volume coming into organizations is expected to grow by 4.5X over the next two years, with nearly 60% of that information to be unstructured (like a contract or a conversation) or semi-structured (like an invoice or a form),” according to AIIM.

How — or whether — we harness and use that data is the question of the moment. The same AIIM report discovered a cumulative D+ grade for organizations’ ability to “extract intelligence from information.”

A tsunami of data coming into your organization without the ability to quickly and accurately recognize it, extract it and organize it puts your team at a loss, with impacts such as:

  • Inability to see the whole/entirety of your data, diminishing business intelligence
  • Competitive disadvantage when compared to savvier users of intelligent automation
  • Underwhelming business performance
  • Unsatisfied customers
  • Overworked, undervalued, disengaged and frustrated employees 

How does intelligent automation work?

Intelligent automation success, no matter which tool is being considered or deployed, is predicated on the prework that went into designing the solution. In previous generations of technology, deployments may have begun with an identified technology, but in today’s fast and fluid business structure, one size doesn’t fit all.

The first step in pursuing an intelligent automation project is a comprehensive data-gathering mission centered around the business challenges you want to solve. Ironically, your success with intelligent automation begins with people.

Once the preliminary implications and desired outcomes are identified, you need to choose a partner to help guide you to the best-fit solution. Any intelligent automation solution, regardless of which tool is chosen, will need to:

  • Integrate with your other line-of-business systems
  • Predetermine criteria, tasks, relationships and related actions, and encode them into machines
  • Execute pre-built rules, such as “if-then” scenarios and confidence-level programming
  • Continuously improve its functionality through what it’s learned during operation

Intelligent automation vs. RPA

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the hot topic of the day in intelligent automation, though it’s not technically an intelligent automation tool. While both RPA and intelligent automation can free up your knowledge workers to focus on more value-driven tasks, RPA is best leveraged when task automation is repetitive and doesn’t require a learning component.

RPA installs a digital workforce to complement your human workforce by allowing both to perform — and excel — at tasks that play to their strengths and provide optimum value for the organization. RPA is not about replacing workers with robots. Instead, it’s about automating routine tasks. With RPA, you can move the burden of tedious and tiresome tasks from an employee’s workload to a “digital” worker. RPA tools are especially effective for repetitive tasks, such as predictable mouse-click workflows.

Read more: The Forrester Wave™: Digital Process Automation Software, Q4 2023 report


Forrester Consulting study: Transforming Processes and Experiences With Content, Automation And AI

Will AI-enabled automation meaningfully improve content-heavy processes?

Yes, according to 81% of respondents to Forrester Consulting’s 2024 study. To stay competitive, your organization must close the gaps by integrating AI and automation into your content strategy. Read this compelling study, full of stats and insights, for more.