Not All Automation Is Created Equal: Selecting Technology To Achieve True Digital Transformation

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Manually processing mounds of documents is tedious work for employees and impedes organizational efficiency, scalability, customer responsiveness, and the ability of a business to compete in a digital world.

To avoid being lost in the shuffle, a growing number of businesses, across all industries, are adopting automation solutions. With the right automation technologies in place, organizations – and thus their employees and customers – can benefit in many ways. They enjoy greater accuracy in processing data and new insights to improve and expand their offerings to customers. Organisations benefit from greater productivity so they can do more things more effectively – for example, a global insurance company realized higher business productivity, lower turnaround times and a more than 65% increase in accuracy for handwritten cursive recognition.  Intelligent Automation (IA) can also lead to increased profitability because it enables businesses to be more efficient and innovative. And businesses that use automation are more resilient because they are more agile.

While digital transformation is certainly not a new enterprise strategy, we are seeing organizations not only increase the importance of investing in process automation in a post-COVID world, but also find the need for increased speed and adoption of these technologies. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of organizational resilience and how businesses need to make the most use of digitisation and automation to sustain operations and continue to deliver services.

However, in seeking solutions, businesses should be aware that not all automation is created equal.

RPA and OCR Offer Very Limited Automation Potential

Some companies are using robotic process automation (RPA). While RPA can automate specific tasks, it does not allow for end-to-end automation of a business process. Further, the optical character recognition (OCR) that RPA often employs cannot capture data from the vast majority of documents businesses handle

OCR uses template-dependent or zone-based data extraction methods to extract data from documents. As a result, RPA and OCR can address structured – but not unstructured – data.

Why does this matter? Given that 80% of data within most organizations is unstructured, the fact that RPA and OCR are unable to handle it is a significant limitation – and eliminates the potential for straight-through processing (STP) of entire business processes. (This was one of the challenges faced by a Fortune 500 insurance company, whose employees had to manually examine more than 27 types of unstructured documents prior to adopting a solution that enables straight-through processing.

Unstructured data is the information that is not stored in a fixed record length format. This kind of data includes things like digital images and videos, emails, and social media feeds. For one global insurer, this challenge came in the form of unstructured documents related to handwritten fields and also check boxes within policy documents.

Bringing Cognitive Automation into the Mix Addresses Unstructured Data and Enables STP

As research firm Everest Group notes in its Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) Playbook, businesses can overcome RPA’s limitations by complementing it with artificial intelligence (AI). Cognitive Machine Reading (CMR), which leverages AI, empowers organizations to read all data types – overcoming the challenges of digitising unstructured data.

When organizations leverage technology that can recognize, classify and extract data from all kinds of documents, they can automate entire processes instead of just individual tasks. That means businesses and their stakeholders can benefit from straight-through processing.

Straight-through processing can cut manual efforts by 95%. And combining RPA, which moves data from one place to another and can check it, and CMR, which learns processes and can address and fix issues, also enables organizations to build processes that can both act and think.

The time has come for companies, across all industries, to look at ways to improve their operational processes through technology innovation. Our new normal puts increased focus on the importance of organizational resiliency. Manual processes work against that because they often mean that workers need to go to physical business locations to handle paperwork. That creates risk in today’s environment. Intelligent automation frees people and organizations from on-site, paper-based, manual processes and instead relies on processes that are better suited to today’s digital, distributed, remote work world.

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