There it is: the true essence of intelligent automation

Digitization and Intelligent Automation (IA) have changed our world dramatically, and it continues to do so. The workforce of the future needs to think in terms of change. Martijn Smit discusses trends and challenges in today’s world of Intelligent Automation.
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This article is part of a series on the trends identified in Accenture's Technology Vision 2016 around a People First approach

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When someone applied for a position at Accenture a few years ago, I would probably have focused on certain skills, such as the candidate’s ability to think in structures and his/her analytical skills. Presently, the focus has shifted, and we have the digital world to thank for needing a new type of co-worker.

Digitization and Intelligent Automation (IA) have changed our world dramatically, and it continues to do so. Intelligent Automation can be defined as the combination of artificial intelligence and automation and, in short, improves companies and industries through the efficient processing of massive amounts of data. The traditional gap between IT and business entities no longer exists; the two have merged. The workforce of the future needs to think in terms of change more than in structures (like in the “old days”); to focus on how people can make optimal use of technology and to be able have a clear idea of the future. I would much rather hire a candidate who has ten ideas about the future, even if only two are viable, than someone who lacks any foresight and initiative. For instance, Elon Musk is an example of a visionary who is constantly working at changing the world we live in.

True Essence and Beauty of Intelligent Automation

Intelligent Automation is not just about coming up with new technology and how to implement it; it’s also largely about thinking about new applications for existing technology. When you think about it, that’s exactly what Elon Musk – yes, him again – did. The sensors and lights that give Tesla its innovative edge, were already built in cars over fifteen years ago to help people navigate their cars safely. The same goes for the beeps warning us when we approach another vehicle and the camera that switches on when we put the car in reverse - they too are pre-existing technologies. It’s the Elon Musks of the world who dare to dream of ways to integrate these innovations in new and original ways. It’s thanks to these innovators, who use and combine existing technologies, data analytics, software algorithms and computer power that the world is blessed with discoveries like the self-driving car. This way of thinking is the true essence and beauty of Intelligent Automation.

"Intelligent Automation is also largely about thinking about new applications for existing technology."

How Intelligent Automation Serves Consumers

Recently, I visited the MediaMarkt where I was pleasantly surprised to see them selling domestic cleaning robots for €500. To me, that shows a clear step forward in integrating Intelligent Automation into daily lives. The same can be said for connected home systems that are being used by more and more people every day. These systems enable you to operate your home from a central point – heating, lights, fire alarms, everything. Just two perfect examples of how Intelligent Automation serves the consumer in this day and age.

In this rapidly changing and dynamic world, Intelligent Automation is essential in leading us forward. Over the past few years, the number of data has increased immensely, and so has the power of the computer engine. This combination allows for Intelligent Automation to blossom, especially when the two are combined. Google obviously immediately comes to mind, but we can look closer to home to see a fantastic example of how Intelligent Automation can make the world a better, more viable place.

Self-sufficient Energy Suppliers

I’m talking about Utrecht, where a Smart Grid Project, which was developed in order to save energy and ensure better control of renewable energy distribution, was tested in a residential area. Results have been impressive: the area has become completely self-sufficient, no longer needing a supplier to meet their energy demands. Residents generate energy through solar panels, and divide the energy mutually based on who needs it. Electric cars have become part of the chain – how fantastic! This is, without a doubt, the way forward. It is a well-known fact that burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change, so in order to keep our world healthy and habitable we need to turn to wind and solar energy to meet demands. This awareness baffles traditional energy companies that are desperately looking for new sustainable business models. To me, it’s the essence of Intelligent Automation.

Development of Digital Ecosystems

Collaborative efforts are another development of current times. Different sectors are integrated, causing new business models to arise. Intelligent Automation is an indispensable part of these new ecosystems. Think of technology and education: if we thought that e-learning was truly innovative at some point, just look at how hologram technology is affecting the education sector. There is a TV commercial where you see a sick child in a hospital bed looking at a screen where she sees her class, and through 3D and hologram technology in the future, it will look and feel like she’s actually physically present.

Another example is Connected Health, which allows doctors to focus more specifically on certain aspects of health care and people to be monitored and measured without having to visit the doctor. With a new pacemaker, the patient also receives a mobile app that will tell both the patient and the hospital more about his/her heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc. Say goodbye to mandatory weekly, monthly or even yearly check-ups!

Robots Versus People: Complementation Over Replacement

Of course, this inevitably brings us to the discussion of whether or not robots will replace people. The answer to this question is not one-dimensional. Clearly, they will to some extent; that development started long ago in the automotive industry, when machines took over human activity. However, the difference between physical operations versus cognitive operations will always be present, the latter being far too challenging to ever be replaced by robots.

"This inevitably brings us to the discussion of whether or not robots will replace people. The answer to this question is not one-dimensional."

Personally, I look at it as a matter of complementing rather than replacing. For instance, think of referees being helped by technology to decide whether a ball is in or over the goal line. The ref is not replaced, but assisted in order to be as thorough as possible. In essence, that is what Intelligent Automation allows us to achieve: apply technology in today’s world and try and make it the most efficient place it can be.

Change Managers’ Mindsets

Looking for new business models is not the only thing leaders and managers need to do in light of these developments. If I were to highlight three of the most important aspects, they would be the following:

  1. In addition to being open-minded about change and innovation, you must embrace the concept of Intelligent Automation. Only when you are genuinely convinced of it, you will truly to open to it.
     
  2. You need to fully understand technology and what it implies for your company. Technology has shifted from supporting your company to enabling it.
     
  3. Look for collaborations; they are vital for ecosystems to prosper. Leaders have to get that need across to all divisions of the company. Whatever we used to do on our own, we now do together.

Doing things together is where Accenture plays a vital role. We understand the industry in which our clients operate in, which allows us to look at things from a technical point of view while keeping individual sectors in mind. Having expertise in every industry enables us to think cross-sectoral and establish new connections within different ecosystems.

Launching Accenture myWizard

In order to stay on top – and ahead – of our game, we set up innovation centers and technology labs all over the world. We need to be agile and move within a rapid pace, not waiting and testing until a product or service is perfect, but already show the proof of concept to a client. In order to achieve this, we have continuous access to knowledge, technology, innovation and tools to combine the three. 

We recently launched myWizard, an Intelligent Automation platform that helps us deliver smarter and more efficient application services to improve business outcomes. By launching this platform, we’ve put a stronger focus on the back-end of intelligent automation – mainly focusing on testing and programming activities, tasks traditionally executed by human beings. Through this, we’ve solidified our status as leaders in the fascinating field of Intelligent Automation, and aim to always be a cut above the rest.

Have you implemented intelligent automation in your organization? Is your workforce prepared for it? Get involved by leaving a comment. If you would like to know how we can help you, please get in touch.

Also have a look at the other articles published in the series on Accenture's Technology Vision 2016

Author: Inge Abraham