All of us have heard for decades about artificial intelligence and robotics. But fewer are the people who know about the new concept of intelligent automation (IA). Coined in 2017 by IEEE and ranked as the most important technology trend by Gartner in 2021, IA is set to change the way we work, serve clients and support patients.


SwissCognitive Guest Blogger: Pascal Bornet, Chief Data Officer, Aera Technology, Author of the bestselling book “Intelligent Automation”


What is IA?

Intelligent automation, or hyperautomation, is a set of technologies that allow white-collar knowledge work processes to be automated across a variety of industries, such as health, banking, engineering, law, and retail. It aims to achieve business outcomes through automated processes with minimal human intervention, augmenting knowledge workers and freeing them up for more creative and relational tasks.

IA increases efficiency (speed, cost-effectiveness, and process resilience) and effectiveness (quality, compliance, and ultimately customer and employee satisfaction). It is reliable and available 24/7, it’s scalable and universalizable to almost any industry and business function, and it’s accessible and user-friendly.

Differentiating IA from AI

While AI has become a buzz word used in many contexts, IA is very pragmatic and practical. As put by Dr Mary Lacity, professor at the University of Arkansas, “While AI is ensconced with Hollywood-levels of fear and hype, IA is a realistic Wall Street-to-Main Street business strategy supported by a collection of tools to redesign knowledge work”.

IA is not just another term for artificial intelligence (AI), although the two concepts do overlap.

It can be challenging to differentiate between IA, AI, robotics, and other business process management (BPM) platforms, as the boundaries between them are blurred and continually evolving.

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However, based on my own experience and my survey of over 200 other IA experts, I offer the following framework.

Robotics is the automation of simple, specific, predictable, repetitive tasks, and includes both physical robots and software robots.

BPM platforms allow business processes to be streamlined, analyzed, optimized and automated. They are usually tools operated directly by human workers.

AI uses technologies such as machine learning and deep learning to reproduce human behavior and intelligence. It is more complex than a simple algorithm or set of instructions: it can learn from its environment or from its own past behavior. It can make decisions, but does not inherently have the ability to execute tasks based on them.

Robotics, BPM and AI all overlap with each other, and IA sits at the intersection between them.

IA includes software robots, but not physical robots; industrial AI, but not AI used in gaming or the arts; and BPM platforms that demonstrate some form of intelligence, but not those that lack the ability to support end-to-end processes. IA can act on top of existing BPM systems, not replacing the tools but leveraging AI to interact intelligently with them as a human knowledge worker would.

Graphic showing Positioning Intelligent Automation with other recent technology concepts

The promise of IA

IA is being rapidly adopted and will dramatically change the knowledge-work landscape.

In 2017, a survey by Avanade found that 86% of global business leaders believed they needed to deploy IA in the next five years to stay ahead in their industries—and those five years are nearly up. Another survey by Gartner found that 42% of CEOs had already begun their IA transformation journeys, and 56% of those were already realizing gains from the transformation. Finally, a 2019 Deloitte survey reported that IA had an adoption rate of over 50%, and predicted that it would increase to 70% by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, IA capabilities are developing extremely quickly, and the IA and AI industry is experiencing explosive growth, with companies such as UiPath growing from a 40-person startup to a $7 billion company in just five years, and the number of AI startups increasing 14-fold in the last decade.

According to my research, the potential scope of the impact of IA represents 84% of the US workforce: those employed in trade, transportation, finance, business, engineering, education, health, leisure, and government.

The adoption of intelligent automation has been compared to the Industrial Revolution in agriculture and manufacturing. However, while the Industrial Revolution took place gradually over a couple of centuries, the digital nature of IA means that the technology can advance much faster, unencumbered by the limitations of having to manufacture and ship large physical machines. This means it could make similarly dramatic changes to work and society in a much shorter timeframe.

Like tractors did for farmers, IA tools will significantly increase the productivity of knowledge workers, and so will reduce the number of workers needed to achieve the same or greater output. This will be disruptive for employment in the short term, but beneficial for the whole of society in the long term. Agricultural automation reduced the number of farmers needed to feed America from nearly 100% of the population to only 3%, increasing total output enough to practically eliminate hunger and malnutrition, and freeing the other 97% to pursue other occupations, so that our society can enjoy modern medicine, universal education to age 18, household labor-saving devices, the internet, a vast array of leisure activities, and so on. Imagine what a similar revolution in knowledge work could release us to achieve.

The content of this article is inspired by the Amazon bestseller book “Intelligent Automation.”

About the author:

Pascal Bornet is a recognized global expert, thought leader, and pioneer in the field of Intelligent Automation (IA). Author of the best-seller book “Intelligent Automation”, and member of the Forbes Technology Council, he received multiple awards in the fields of technology and artificial intelligence.

He is also a senior executive with 20+ years of experience leading digital projects for renowned companies such as Mckinsey and Ernst & Young (EY). He is currently leading Aera Technology, an innovative startup. In addition, he is a Board Member and Senior Advisor for several organizations, startups, and charities.

He published articles in Forbes, Bloomberg, McKinsey Quarterly, Japan Times, Business Times, and several other reference publications. He is an influencer with more than 500,000 followers, lecturer, and keynote speaker, passionate about the capacity of IA to make our world more human.