What is enterprise automation and how can companies start implementing it?
Automation in business gains momentum, but there is still a lot companies can do. According to McKinsey Global Institute, around half of all the activities people are paid to do could be automated. Another report showed that organizations in the United States could automate 2.6 trillion hours of work.
The truth is that every team and department engages in some repetitive and rule-based tasks such as processing transactions, reconciling records, collecting and entering data, and many more. These tasks are often tedious and make the workforce unhappy. Additionally, performing them manually carries the risk of error.
Such tasks are perfect candidates for enterprise automation solutions that can conduct them quickly, accurately, and without any pauses.
Today, enterprise automation has a different shape than just a few years ago. We are far more advanced than simple bots and virtual assistants taking over repetitive back-office work. In the best scenarios, we can talk about fully-fledged enterprise automation platforms that assist employees in making decisions, optimize their operations, and have a massive impact on the customer experience.
Read further to find out if enterprise automation will replace human workers, what are the hottest trends in enterprise automation, and how to begin an enterprise automation project at your company.
What is enterprise automation?
Enterprise automation is the practice of identifying complex and/or repetitive manual business processes and streamlining them with software. Enterprise automation utilizes many tools to optimize efficiency and slash unnecessary costs.
Automation streamlines manual work by delegating repetitious tasks to bots that can perform them better than humans. It's not about replacing employees with robots but enabling employees to perform more valuable work instead of drowning them in repetitive tasks.
The key to successful automation is identifying processes and operations tasks where software can achieve much better results than humans. By automating these tasks, the team's valuable output increases exponentially.
Four common types of enterprise automation
1. Basic automation
Basic enterprise automation focuses on simple tasks, communication, and usability. It's about making particular tasks more manageable, not about performing them 100% with software. For example, a dashboard that automatically aggregates data from different sources still needs someone to interpret gathered information.
2. Process automation
Process automation is the practice of using software to automate various business processes, such as hiring and onboarding or providing customer support. It helps document and manage the team's processes to ensure that every team member knows what's happening, as well as how and in what order they should perform tasks. Dedicated workflow software makes business process automation relatively easy to implement.
3. Automated integration
Automated integration is the automation of connections between various systems used in an enterprise. For example, such automation can allow for importing customer data from a website directly to your company's CRM. Integration automation can yield fantastic results and should be considered a vital part of any enterprise automation strategy in 2023.
4. Robotic Process Automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) is the practice of creating software that completes repetitive tasks that employees would otherwise tackle on their own. So-called bots are programmed to perform tasks by following a chain of predetermined instructions. It can be achieved, for example, by making them mimic human actions in the software's user interface. RPA is widely used in manufacturing - but also in banking automation and healthcare automation.
Adoption of enterprise automation
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report, automation is at the core of digital transformation initiatives among businesses today. The survey of 502 senior executives showed that 51% of them use automation extensively and 40% moderately. Interestingly, European companies are among the leaders in extensively using enterprise automation.
Just a few decades ago, manufacturing would be the only sector where you'd see automation. Today, there is no industry left on earth that is untouched by automation. Enterprise automation is increasingly popular in banking, healthcare, insurance, logistics, and other sectors.
Executives recognize the value of automation in business and are ready to invest in it. A survey by KPMG shows that more than half of companies invested more than $10 million in enterprise intelligent automation while over one-third allocated $50+ million.
When it comes to enterprise functions, you can find automation examples in practically every department - from finance, customer service, and sales to marketing, procurement, and legal.
Finance and accounting functions are the primary candidates for automation among enterprises today. These are the areas where most of the current investment is going. As indicated in the survey, 23% of respondents admitted to spending more than $50 million on it. Other popular areas are sales, marketing, and customer service, where respondents spend under 10 million on them.
Key trends in enterprise automation
Automating a process is challenging if you want to do that for every single process across the enterprise. Automation-as-a-Service offers a solution. Expert IT companies offer such enterprise automation services to businesses to help them automate process workflows and increase productivity.
Automation-as-a-Service has the potential to scale automation throughout the organization quickly by providing a holistic approach and never forgetting the big picture. Today, Automation-as-a-Service covers knowledge-based and rule-based automation solutions that work with predefined requirements and heavily utilize AI. The global Automation-as-a-Service market is growing at a CAGR of 25.3% to reach $12.36 billion globally by 2026. In the next few years, we will see wider adoption of enterprise process automation. Automation-as-a-Service will be at its core.
2. Beyond Robotic Process Automation
When thinking about enterprise automation, people usually imagine some kind of robot performing repetitive tasks on a user interface. But such implementation is just the tip of the iceberg. Modern automation solutions allow organizations to perform much more complex and valuable tasks.
This type of automation comes under different names - Gartner calls it "hyperautomation," Forrester "digital process automation," and IDC "intelligent process automation." They're all about bringing together the right technologies to automate processes across the entire organization. These technologies include much more than just Robotic Process Automation and include Big Data, AI/ML, VR, the Internet of Things (IoT), and more. Artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities enable cognitive services like Natural Language Processing (NLP) or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which, combined with RPA, create unquestionably more intelligent automation environments. Another wave of innovation comes from IoT with technologies like digital twins, edge computing, and sensors.
3. Infrastructure automation
With the increasing adoption of hybrid IT and microservices, infrastructure automation is another critical trend for enterprises. The idea is to automate processes such as provisioning, orchestrating, and managing both cloud-based and on-premises IT infrastructure.
Database management, continuous integration, continuous deployment, and automated testing are easier with tools like AppZ, Terraform, Docker, Kubernetes, and Puppet. DevOps departments can choose from many software solutions to make their life easier, both licensed and open source.
Many enterprises require a single platform to monitor various environments that are now added to traditional data centers - such as cloud services, the Internet of Things, and edge environments.
Gartner coined a new term for that: "hybrid digital infrastructure management." By 2022, 20% of enterprises will use hybrid digital infrastructure management (HDIM). They're going to need tailored automation software solutions that increase the efficiency of workload placement across the cloud, on-premises, and edge environments.
Without a holistic approach to managing these diverse environments, enterprises may lose sight of and even risk their competitive advantage.
4. Security automation
Enterprise cybersecurity is taken increasingly seriously today, so no wonder that security specialists are turning to automation. Cybersecurity threats are becoming more difficult to detect, mitigate, and prevent. At the same time, security operations centers (SOCs) are used to suffering from staff shortages. Finding and hiring a cybersecurity expert is more complicated than ever.
All that increases the value of automation in enterprise security. Trends such as security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) are going to grow exponentially. A report from Gartner showed that 30% of organizations with security teams larger than five people would take advantage of SOAR tools in security operations. In contrast, in 2019, only 5% of companies used these tools.
By adopting automation tools, security teams will optimize their daily tasks, increase response times, streamline investigation processes, and reduce damage from attacks. SOAR tools are often used for SOC optimization, threat investigation and response, threat monitoring and response, and threat intelligence management.
5. Impact of enterprise automation on the job market
Many people are concerned that robots will replace humans at work. As long as human workers are involved in the process of robot creation and maintenance, this isn't going to happen.
This is the automation paradox. Humans are going to spend less time on easier tasks and more time tackling challenging jobs. The more powerful our automation systems become, the more essential human contribution will be. Human involvement is going to be more important than ever.
Also, remember that if enterprise automation commits an error, it will multiply it until someone shuts it down or fixes it.
However, enterprise automation solutions will have a massive impact on the skills and requirements expected of the workforce. Problem-solving and creativity will become the most valued skills as intelligent automation technologies empower workers. Other essential skills of the future workforce are collaboration, openness to change, intuitive thinking, people management, emotional intelligence, and strong ethical values.
6. Outsourcing automation development
Companies around the world want to accelerate the development of automation solutions. But many businesses lack confidence and don't know how to overcome automation challenges. Some of the most common blockers on the path to successful automation in business are:
- fear of change,
- lack of relevant skills,
- lack of vision and automation strategy,
- management challenges,
- lack of enterprise-level approach to automation,
- data privacy and security concerns,
- concerns regarding technology deployment.
Fortunately, a reliable technology partner can help to mitigate these issues by sharing the risks and helping you to accelerate innovation. This is why many enterprises partner with IT consulting companies. Such organizations capitalize on the experience their vendors gained over countless enterprise automation projects. At Maxima Consulting, we have years of experience implementing automation solutions, including robotic process automation, business process automation, workflow automation software, healthcare automation solutions, and enterprise intelligent automation across many industries. Contact us today to see how we can help your organization.
How to start an enterprise automation project?
Step 1: Identify the tasks that are best suited for automation
The first question an organization needs to ask is whether automating a particular process, workflow, or activity is technically feasible or will only become available in the near future.
When asking this question, don't focus on the entire job but on individual aspects of a given role. Few roles can be automated in their entirety. The best tasks for automation are repetitive and follow a set of rules or patterns.
Step 2: Consider the costs
Once you know that the right technology is available for automating the task, it's time to take a closer look at its costs. Don't forget that it's more about the costs of implementing automation technology at your company. It's also about business change which comes at a cost. For example, you might need to provide education or training to employees so they make the most of automation solutions.
And then consider the benefits. Automation is also more than just reducing labor costs. You'll be looking at greater output and higher quality of work with fewer errors.
Step 3: Regulations and culture
Take into account regulatory barriers and the social acceptability of assigning an automated system to carry out a particular role. For example, many such tasks can't be automated in a sector like healthcare, where patients are less likely to trust a robot. Identify the areas with the most automation potential that aren't limited by these factors.
Step 4: Document the process
To make the automation work, you need to have a well-documented process. The documentation will help the robot to capture the process.
This is also an excellent opportunity to identify in what ways manual work is an efficient solution and where it should be eliminated. For example, if an employee enters an ERP system to fetch data 30 times a day, it's clearly a loss of their time.
Step 5: Reshape business processes to match automation
It's essential to categorize business processes in terms of eligibility for automation. This allows you to identify what could be automated with the help of a business process outsourcing provider. Many such vendors offer help across the entire spectrum of process automation. They can tell you when it makes sense to reshape your business processes so they work better. A provider will help you plan a deployment roadmap, create pilot projects, and assist in the broader rollout.
Enterprise automation solutions will surely increase their significance in the next few years. Instead of worrying that your employees aren't ready for it, prepare them. Educate them about the benefits of automation and show how many boring tasks will no longer be part of their responsibilities as they focus on more exciting jobs that require human creativity and problem-solving.
At Maxima Consulting, we helped many enterprises jump-start their automation journey. Get in touch with us if you're looking for an experienced partner to help you take the first step toward business process automation.
This article was first published in 2021 and later updated. The last update was made on June 6th, 2023.