Business process automation has come a long way in recent years, transforming how companies operate by delivering significant efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings. But what does the future of business process automation hold, and how will it continue to shape how we work? Here are five key areas business process automation futurists are keeping a close eye on.
The Rise of AI and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are set to play a significant role in the future of business process automation. AI-enabled BPM platforms can analyze vast amounts of data in real time, extract insights, make decisions, and take action without human intervention. This allows them to make decisions faster than humans can—and with higher accuracy.
How will AI and ML supercharge automated processes?
- Increased efficiency: For example, your organization can use artificial intelligence to automatically route customer inquiries based on their needs instead of having an employee handle each individually. AI-enabled processes can churn through endless troves of data and make decisions faster than humanly possible. McKinsey finds that AI and ML have the power to boost the value of traditional analytics techniques by 30–128%. This allows businesses to streamline their operations while saving money simultaneously—a win-win.
- Reduced costs: While some view AI as a blade to prune headcount, for many organizations, the benefit lies in strategic planning and analytics investments. One study in the manufacturing industry revealed that 64% of AI adopters reported cost savings across the supply chain.
- Improved customer experience: Amongst the top 10 AI use cases in business, McKinsey lists four prime customer-facing activities: customer service analytics, customer segmentation, product feature optimization, and customer acquisition and lead generation. With AI, you can deliver personalized experiences that meet individual needs. The best way for companies like yours to do this is by using machine learning algorithms to tailor communications based on tastes or preferences.
- Boost productivity: According to PwC, 44% of AI leaders report “productivity” as the area where they’ve realized the most value from AI-infused automation. Businesses often need help reaching faster turnaround times on projects, especially when those projects involve large teams working together on different parts of a project simultaneously across multiple locations or time zones. By automating processes through artificial intelligence, you can track progress against goals over time—and in real time. Account for bottlenecks at any given stage along the way, and let AI provide actionable course corrections. Retaining institutional knowledge is a point of concern for many organizations—AI bridges the gap by remembering process histories, helping individuals make decisions about how to proceed best in similar contexts (i.e., “what did we do last time?”). By using AI wisely, Accenture predicts organizations can boost productivity by up to 40%.
Regarding process automation, AI-related technologies are transforming every step of the way.
Intelligent document processing
Intelligent document processing (IDP) is a much-needed part of any business process automation strategy—and it’s a prime feeding ground for the future of AI.
Natural language processing, or NLP, is one of many technologies that make IDP such a win. A computer isn’t just a passive bystander, listening in on text and audio exchanges: large language models, like ChatGPT or Google’s Bard, lean hard on NLP to tease meaning from spoken and written language. Using NLP, computers become full-fledged conversationalists, savvy of all the grammatical rules, idioms, and quirks that flow through communication.
This expanded understanding will change how we interact with documents stored on company servers and attached within project management tasks forever.
Instead of hammering random terms into the search bar, scrambling to find that pearl of wisdom you swear appeared in one of last quarter’s many reports, you’ll be able to ask your BPM: “What presentations from September 2022 talked about Europe sales numbers?” NLP will upend the search bar as we know it, allowing us to converse naturally with IDP software.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to play a significant role in the future of business process automation, connecting devices and systems to one another and providing real-time data and insights. This can significantly improve the efficiency of business processes, allowing companies to make instant data-driven decisions.
IoT grants everything from vehicles to coffeemakers a wireless signal, collecting and transmitting real-time data on system performance.
Ultimately, this rich influx of data will integrate seamlessly into an organization’s workflow. For example, delivery trucks with telematics sensors will notify a manager if a driver exceeds the speed limit. Predictive maintenance sensors that monitor tire pressure will automatically schedule an end-of-day inspection with the next available personnel. IoT data will sit comfortably within a workflow as the agent that sparks alerts, decision points, and more.
While automation has swiftly improved the manual admin tasks that make even the most exciting job a bore, it will continue to steamroll a path of efficiency in higher-value tasks as well.
Marketers and other customer-facing departments are eyeing automation’s content generation capabilities. Instead of a website spraying the masses with the same content, futurists imagine AI cobbling home page copy depending on the visitor’s psyche and search habits. Streaming giant Netflix estimates that machine learning improved personalized recommendations so substantially, that the tech ultimately saved them from losing $1 billion in subscriber fees.
AI will enhance marketing and sales processes by mining behaviors and insights to piece together messaging at an extraordinary scale. Imagine logging into your bank’s website for a pre-approved mortgage offer that pictures a home akin to the dream house you ogled on Zillow or Instagram last week—with your last name already on the mailbox. Marketers will send out automated outreach as a blank canvas tasking AI to cobble together a unique interpretation tailored to each recipient.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Wave a special wand at Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and prepare for delight: storefronts and other locales spring to life right before your very eyes. But in the workplace, augmented and virtual reality unlocks sorcery in all business areas.
VR and AR are tools that allow you to visualize your processes. Both provide an immersive experience that simulates real-world environments for users through computer-generated graphics and sounds.
VR transforms users into a completely digital realm—like wearing a headset that makes you feel like snorkeling or attending a meeting from 500 miles away.
The automotive and aerospace industries are famous for one VR specialty—digital twins. With a few taps on a screen, businesses can simulate how changes, both big and small, will impact a product’s design. Aircraft designers test how different angles on a jet engine body affect aerodynamics, while car manufacturers can simulate how a new convertible will operate in various weather conditions.
On the other hand, AR projects graphics or data onto the real world. Point your phone’s camera down a city block, and the mapping app superimposes photos of each restaurant’s most mouth-watering dishes.
In the future, organizations will use these technologies in business process automation to provide immersive, interactive experiences such as training, simulation, and product design. Using AI to simulate market conditions, supply chain adjustments, and sales programs are just a handful of the areas PwC cites as most effective. Here are some practical applications your team can consider:
- Refine a pitch through a simulated meeting with potential investors: Paired with AI, you can practice responding to various feedback to bolster your chance of winning the bid.
- Train remote employees on new equipment: It’s a training video on steroids. Employees can see inside the machine, manipulate exploded views, and try out different scenarios. A trainee can wear a headset while completing a list of virtual tasks, allowing supervisors to observe their behavior from afar. It’s a handy technique for businesses looking to scale up operations without adding costs associated with travel expenses and time lost racing between locations.
- Build a digital twin: Run tests on a virtual reality duplicate of a process. You can use VR to visualize an idea or workflow before trying it in real life. This can increase productivity by allowing employees to learn processes more quickly.
AR and VR are excellent educational tools because they allow users to experience situations that aren’t possible or cost-feasible in real life.
The future of business process automation is exciting and holds the potential to significantly transform the way we work. From the rise of AI and machine learning to the increased adoption of personalization and IoT, the technologies and trends shaping this field are set to bring about significant benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings. Companies that embrace these technologies and integrate them into their operations will be well-positioned to thrive in the years to come.