by Bruce Orcutt, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing
While automation champions may see a plethora of opportunities for implementing IA to increase efficiency, we’ve seen that taking a staggered, one-by-one approach to implementation yields the best chance of success.
Despite the deafening buzz surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) software like ChatGPT and its implications, human employees remain the beating heart and soul of any organization. Their ingenuity and cognitive ability cannot be replaced, but it is often misused. While “automation” might have negative connotations related to human employment and the labor market, it’s possible for automated processes and humans to enhance each other. Not just possible, in fact, but essential if organizations seek to persist through a recession and beyond. The key is to improve operational efficiency in a way that implies both immediate and future benefits.
Leveraging intelligent automation (IA) allows business leaders to augment administrative and logistical roles, eliminate thousands of hours of labor, and boost the productivity of existing employees without raising the overhead—but only if automation is approached correctly. While automation champions may see a plethora of opportunities for implementing IA to increase efficiency, we’ve seen that taking a staggered, one-by-one approach to implementation yields the best chance of success.
Non-profit healthcare provider Banner Health sees the role of intelligent automation as a means to supplement staff, provide a better employee experience, and remove manual work, thereby enabling employees to spend more quality time with patients—the ultimate goal. They promote taking a step-by-step approach when introducing IA technologies, as they did when introducing intelligent document processing to relieve front-end staff of the manual document processing tasks associated with electronic medical record (EMR) entry to enable them to handle other duties. With staff at such high demand right now, the result of this one small change provided a significant impact—equaling half a million documents processed and 2,100 hours (about 3 months) saved—all of this before rolling out the solution to all locations.
When discerning where to introduce automation into an already well-established process, automation leader Suzi Dack at Banner Health cautions against abruptly changing everything about your operations, as this could collapse your team rather than help them. Instead, introducing concepts and solutions in pieces helps employees understand and buy into the technology. When they become familiar and comfortable with the first change, she says, layers can be added, and more impactful solutions can be designed.
If you go in there and try to do it all at once, it takes longer time for development, you don’t see your ROI as fast, and honestly, the staff are not as supportive of it. So, we try to be very thoughtful with what we’re doing, and we try to do it in small increments so they can adjust accordingly.
By alleviating staff’s manual tasks with intelligent automation, staff can focus on “mission critical” activities relating to patient care and safety, and positive patient outcomes. But how do leaders know where automated solutions are needed in the first place without risking unnecessary investments?
Luckily, there are insights available that will prevent both excessive resource investment and less-than-optimal uses of automation.
Businesses are susceptible to inadvertently inflating their staff and technology expenses by maintaining inefficient processes that don’t make effective use of employees. While a bottleneck in a workflow might seem to indicate a need to hire more, doing so may simply shift the bottleneck to a later point in the process that will have a more visibly negative impact on employee and customer experiences. Automating processes arbitrarily can have a similar effect. Without a clear understanding of every step in a process, businesses cannot reach optimal efficiency and are more likely to hire excessively.
However, organizations can gain better insight through process intelligence. By observing an accurate and detailed model of how individual steps in a process are completed, managers can implement automation solutions in the right places, ensuring that automation does not inhibit productivity and employees’ efforts are spent where they’re needed.
Process intelligence augments task and process mining to generate timestamps throughout stages of a workflow. While task mining records individual employees’ keystrokes and mouse clicks, process mining sees the completion of steps within the larger timeline. Using these front-end and back-end insights contributes to a comprehensive understanding of a process’s efficacy and guides more meaningful application of automation. Banner Health works closely with front-line staff, nursing teams, and physicians to understand their efficiency needs and where they have identified bottlenecks. These types of internal interviews can validate or serve to educate stakeholders when process efficiency gains can be made. Once automation is implemented, process monitoring provides a means to assess the impact of these changes and provide a roadmap for continual improvement.
Advanced forms of process intelligence also offer simulation capabilities, allowing managers to adjust variables in their model to account for hypothetical changes to a process, yielding a useful forecast without incurring any tangible risks. Business leaders can leverage this predictive power to proactively prepare for any possible changes to their operations, such as labor shortages, supply chain disruption, or other challenges inherent to economic turbulence.
Many organizations’ AI journeys begin with the acquisition of off-the-shelf solutions from external vendors. While that might have been enough to differentiate a business when AI was earlier in its infancy, many organizations are left with technical debt—when point solutions are not fully deployed or adopted by staff. It is necessary to work with partners who can not only streamline the initial implementation of AI but also the necessary training that must take place for its adoption, ongoing use, and future adaptation.
Considering that 70 percent of organizations’ attempts at automation fail,working with partners who can augment your current IT and staff resources is a necessary step to safeguarding the efficacy of automation. However, it’s also a proactive measure to contribute to an organization’s health and competitive edge in financially uncertain times. With 44 percent of private companies planning to invest in AI in 2023, automation will no longer be a means of getting ahead, but rather required to keep up. If businesses don’t effectively digitally transform amidst business challenges, chances of success in a healthier economy will wane. Investing in intelligent automation solutions that bring out the best in humans and technology alike will ensure the greatest return on investment (ROI) in the long term.