What Is Smart Process Automation and How Can Your Business Benefit From It?
You probably know about Robotic Process Automation and all its benefits. What if we told you that RPA can get even better? Learn more about Smart Process Automation, how it is different from RPA, which industries can use it, and what’s in it for your business.
According to Gartner, global spending on RPA software will reach almost $3 billion in 2023, and will continue to grow. This impressive metric proves that businesses around the globe have been adopting Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to great effect. Reducing time spent on mundane tasks and increasing efficiency, this versatile automation technology has already found its use in all major industries.
One of the main reasons why RPA has been so successful is its capability to c. Thanks to that, RPA allows businesses to push the boundaries of what they can achieve with automation. It is only logical then, that Robotic Process Automation itself would be improved in a similar fashion using new technological advancements, right?
Enter SPA—Smart Process Automation (or Intelligent Process Automation), an RPA system taken to the next level. In this article, we’ll discuss what SPA is, how it is different from RPA, which industries can use it, and what’s in it for your business. Let’s get cracking!
What is Smart Process Automation?
Unlike RPA, which already has a well-established position in the market (to prove that, Deloitte reports that 53% of enterprises have already started their RPA journey), SPA is a relatively new concept. Let’s start by comparing it to RPA and listing the benefits it brings to all stakeholders.
Smart Process Automation vs Robotic Process Automation
By this point, you probably know what RPA is about: it’s an automation technology that uses pre-programmed scripts (bots) to handle repetitive, high-volume, and rule-based processes. It’s a highly effective solution, but what if it could be improved even further? That’s exactly what SPA sets out to do, taking RPA to another level by applying sophisticated machine intelligence techniques to task automation.
A Smart Process Automation system makes use of cognitive technologies such as AI, ML (machine learning), and NLP (natural language processing) to better deal with semi-structured and unstructured data including document scans, emails, contracts, presentations, images, or even audio recordings. By ‘better’, we mean more innovatively.
Where RPA takes a task and automates it, completing it in less time than a human would, SPA can also cooperate with people, make suggestions, and apply enhancements to workflows.
The higher level of autonomy is one of the defining features of SPA, and its main advantage over traditional RPA. Robotic Process Automation works wonders when it’s delegated to a task that’s based on an if-then rule: if a condition occurs, a program then executes a pre-defined action. These are mostly simple but labor-intense processes such as data entry, records verification, or numerical operations. However, there are exceptions even in the most rudimental tasks, particularly if unstructured data is concerned.
When an RPA bot stumbles upon one of these anomalies, it will usually notify the assigned employee/team (so-called “human in the loop”) to resolve the issue. What sets SPA apart from RPA is the ability to observe and learn how the exception is addressed to be able to handle it on its own in the future. This means that your employees won’t be interrupted by bots asking for assistance every time a specific anomaly issue occurs. Instead, the SPA algorithm will predict how a human would solve the exception and act accordingly.
Speaking of predictions, the cognitive abilities of SPA will also come in handy for suggesting additional processes that would benefit from automation. Automation platforms like UiPath already offer AI solutions to identify areas for improvement.
And it’s not just the behavior of your staff that SPA can learn. By combining the customer-faced RPA processes with AI and ML, the bots will be able to predict customer behavior, create personalized offers, and improve interactions with clients.
Last but not least, SPA creates a whole new world of possibilities for data analytics. Most processes optimized with RPA require bots to run through thousands of records—why not make use of all that data and have AI analyze it in real-time to generate market intelligence for your company?
What are the benefits of SPA?
As the next stage in the evolution of RPA, Smart Process Automation does everything its older sibling excels at, but better. And just like RPA, SPA adds value for everyone involved regardless of their role:
Business — From the perspective of the company as a whole, adopting a smart automation system will increase work effectiveness and accuracy while reducing time-to-action. Automation lowers operational expenses as well, with 61% of businesses reporting that their pre-implementation saving expectations were met or exceeded.
Employees — Manual, repetitive workloads feel more like a waste of time rather than a rewarding job. Launching RPA was the first step toward freeing your staff from these chores. The next one comes with SPA, which will give professionals even more time to focus on creative and fulfilling tasks that stimulate business growth now that bots can handle exceptions by themselves.
Customers — SPA can positively impact customer experience, both directly and indirectly. The immediate effect on CX is the better speed and quality of response thanks to optimized customer service workflows or chat and self-service enabled by automation. The indirect impact comes from the overall improvements to your business operations that will help you deliver your services or products more efficiently.
SPA: industries, processes, and technologies
Perhaps one of the most important advantages of RPA is its flexibility. Given proper implementation, it can be used to optimize a vast range of processes in virtually any industry.
The same can be said about Smart Process Automation solutions. Since SPA is essentially RPA empowered by AI and ML, it too will find application in every sector, from healthcare to retail. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular use cases:
Healthcare — With tons of documentation (medical records, insurance claims, registration forms, etc.), back-office tasks, and human health at stake, healthcare is one of the industries that show the most potential for improvement with SPA. Processes such as medical billing and coding, claims processing, scheduling, referral management, or check-in all can be relayed to bots for greater efficiency and accuracy. Another good case for smart automation in healthcare is the fact that much of the data used in the industry comes in the unstructured form—think handwritten doctors’ notes or medical images.
Finance and banking — It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that financial services are another industry ripe with automation potential. It’s all about crunching numbers and thoroughly documenting all actions. Here SPA will help in reconciliation, fraud prevention, handling accounts receivable and payable, generating reports, forecasts, and analyses, as well as ensuring compliance.
Insurance — Here’s another sector that involves lots of unstructured data, like phone calls, emails, or handwritten documents that need additional context to make sense of. There isn’t much room for error in insurance either, which makes the robotic accuracy of SPA invaluable. Some of the most common insurance processes to automate include claims management, document processing, fraud detection, underwriting, policy management, and compliance.
Logistics — In logistics and supply chain management, every process in the workflow must be carefully coordinated to avoid delays. SPA can guarantee that everything goes according to the plan by optimizing inventory, scheduling, supply and demand planning, shipment tracking, and freight management. To top it off, predictive models can help businesses get the best deals possible with AI-powered vendor analysis and evaluation.
eCommerce — Online retail is no stranger to automation either. Here, bots will improve delivery and inventory management, support, payment processing, product categorization, and store planning. AI can also tap into large volumes of customer data to suggest loyalty programs and offerings tailored to specific client segments.
All industries — Some tasks are the foundation of any business activity, like invoicing, reporting, data operations (entry, extraction, and import), and customer service. Whatever industry your business is in, smart automation will make operations in these areas much faster and more precise.
It’s also worth noting that SPA presents opportunities for process automation for small businesses that need additional workforce but can’t afford extra hires. Thanks to their learning abilities, SPA systems can become more autonomous over time, eliminating the need for recruiting new employees while still allowing companies to scale up.
Finally, let’s talk about the availability of SPA. Despite the technology being younger than RPA, all leading automation platforms have been developing their smart solutions.
UiPath stands at the forefront of smart automation. In addition to the combination of AI, ML, and NLP, it offers Computer Vision, which allows bots to “see” on-screen and process on-screen actions.
Blue Prism’s Intelligent Automation Platform is built around six automation skills: knowledge and insight, learning, visual perception, problem-solving, collaboration, and planning and sequencing.
Automation Anywhere advertises its smart automation platform as a process discovery tool and a bridge between front and back office operations.
WorkFusion boasts custom and purpose-specific AI-powered Digital Workers.
AI Builder puts ease of use first, allowing citizen devs to create their own simple AI models.