Badīʿ az-Zaman Abu l-ʿIzz ibn Ismāʿīl ibn ar-Razāz al-Jazarī – Ismail al-Jazari for short – was an incredible man.
Not just a scholar but also a mechanical engineer, artisan, artist, mathematician and most memorably, an inventor. He created everything from water wheels and chain pumps, to mesmerising automata such as candle clocks and musical robots. Later on in life, he wrote The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and became known as the Father of Robotics.
So, what has all this got to do with IT and more specifically, modern-day automation?
All of Ismail al-Jazari’s inventions had a purpose – even if the purpose was entertainment. Many of his creations were a way to save time, relieve repetition and create a world where multiple tasks could be completed all at the same time, without him lifting a finger.
The format of 21st Century automation may have evolved, but the intentions remain very much the same.
Modern-day Automation: What does it look like?
Today, automation covers a huge array of technologies and has multiple applications. More commonly in the world of IT, we see it in the form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as well as Machine Learning and AI.
Automation can also be infused with Business Process Automation (BPM) which looks at simplifying and managing complex workflows across multiple divisions.
Does it tend to look like a mechanical peacock fountain? – Unfortunately not. But is it more useful than a mechanical peacock fountain? – Most certainly.
Automation: Where to start
Every business is different and since the pandemic, we are seeing organisations doing complete overhauls of how they work as well as how they deliver their services.
The world has changed – from a business perspective and, equally, from a customer perspective. The office is dispersed, our interactions are virtual and our future is hybrid. Our expectations as consumers are that services are delivered digitally; requests are actioned instantaneously, and availability is 24x7x365.
Digital transformation has become the digital imperative and businesses are having to accelerate their journeys. Automation is definitely a key part of this – not all of it – but it’s extremely useful when applied to specific scenarios such a digital process automation or intelligent process automation.
Before we look at the where, however, let’s just examine the why.
Save time and money – Bots can do the work of 3-5 FTEs, allowing for increased output, on a 24/7 basis. Bots don’t take breaks or holidays and are happy to work weekends!
Increase accuracy – Bots allow you to eliminate human error while increasing speed and accuracy. This is because they can do the same task over and over again in exactly the same way.
Perfect for legacy systems – Bots ‘learn’ the steps a human would normally take with no coding required.
Maximise compliance – Bots allow you to ensure all necessary steps and checks are taken with log, audit and reporting capabilities.
Bots are also not going to do anything that you haven’t told them to do, so it really is about maximising your efficiency more than anything. Now let’s look at the where…
Where automation can have the biggest impact
When looking to implement RPA, you want to identify the processes within your business that:
- Are highly manual and/or paper based
- Are repetitive
- Are rule based
- Have a low exception rate
- Involve a standard electronic readable output
HR traditionally consists of many repetitive, often manual, administrative type tasks including capturing / updating / disseminating data and requests for processing.
Processes that can be easily automated include:
- Data Entry
- Joiners, Movers, Leavers
- Time Management
- Benefits Administration
- Compliance and Reporting
- Personnel Administration
IT is compelled to embrace automation as a way to focus on the initiatives that require innovative thinking by eliminating the time-consuming manual tasks, such as:
- Software Development
- Server and App Monitoring
- Routine Maintenance & Monitoring
- Batch Processing
- Email Processing & Distribution
- Password Reset / Unlock
- Backup & Restoration
Here we focus on the processes that are prone to error and therefore can cost the business, these are typical processes for automation in Supply Chain:
- Inventory Management
- Demand & Supply Planning
- Work Order Management
- Invoice & Contract Management
- Returns Processing
- Freight Management
Finance and Accounting
Finance and accounting is an area where automation can have significant positive impact on cost savings, improved efficiency and streamlining processes such as:
- Procure to Pay (AP)
- Order to Cash
- Record to Report
- Vendor Management
- Incentive Claims
- Sales Order
What accuracy rate is expected from Automation?
There will always be exceptions to the rule as Head of Application Development, Trevor Dagg explains: “Depending on what you are automating, you can expect to achieve an accuracy rate of around 60%, but when you apply machine learning and AI to ‘learn’ the exceptions that will improve. Once the exceptions are built in, your automated process will then carry a higher rate of around 80% to 85% accuracy depending on the process – which is realistic and a huge time and money saver, especially when you consider that bots can work 24x7x365.”
Automation: where do we go from here?
A thousand years ago, Ismail al-Jazari took his inventions to a new level which included water clocks, drinks servers and hand washing automations – which still echo with more relevance today than perhaps he first dreamed.
In the world of business however, automation can be carried into a more over-arching methodology and that’s Intelligent Process Automation.
“Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) can be achieved by using a combination of Robotic Process Automation and Business Process Management technologies and methodologies. This allows us to orchestrate at a higher level so that we can connect individual processes into a more complex workflows across the business,” says Trevor.
Read more about Business Process Automation.