Intelligent Automation Keeps Us on the Road to Innovation

We reached a major digital milestone in 2022. No, we haven’t finally achieved the paperless office, although we’ve made headway — more on that later. No, the real milestone is that, per some internet mathematicians, on July 31, 2022, George Jetson was born. When The Jetsons first aired in 1962, the cartoon took place 100 years in the future. George was a digital index operator at Spacely’s Space Sprockets. While this probably meant nothing then, today having a digital-related job is a reality.

This forward-thinking cartoon came up with ideas that could possibly become a reality in the future – non-recreational flying cars (not yet!), flat-screen TVs (yes), a robot cleaner (yes, for vacuuming), and a lot of touchscreens.

The pace of innovation is noticed most within our homes: Cell phones replacing land lines and payphones, electric cars replacing gas-powered vehicles, and streaming and satellite replacing broadcast and cable. The thing about innovation is that we get better, faster and more efficient products.

Innovation for the better

I recently came across an example of innovation for the better – transparent solar panels. With windows made of this energy-producing glass, we could look forward to net-zero buildings. Just think about how that could affect utilities, construction and climate change. If we can pull it off, it would be astounding. According to website, “To be clear, transparent solar panels sound too good to be true. They have the potential to shift cities from major energy users to energy providers in an instant and could usher in a new era of clean energy revolution while safeguarding farmland and natural habitats.”

Companies keep innovating and we make changes in how we do things to support efficiency, environmental improvements and aesthetics. The thought of a net-zero building that captures solar energy through transparent solar panels – or solar windows – is exciting because of how that will transform the construction industry for business and residential use.

Can we expect to see utilities buying companies that make these panels? I would guess yes. Adopt and change; pivot so your business and its products and services don’t become obsolete.

How we do things

Innovation has made us rethink how we do things, and for business, this can be critical to productivity and efficiency. The adage “doing more with less” comes up often when innovation steps in to offer updated alternatives.

Take video security, for instance. We can improve video security oversight by upgrading a facility to newer, better cameras. The difference: Fewer cameras, more features, more coverage and better results.

The same is true for intelligent information management (IIM).  While a lot has been said about having an open mindset, we have also seen changes in how we work. The pandemic caused business to rethink their office structure, their physical location and the tools that their workers need to work from anywhere.

The “Great Resignation” prompted the rethinking on the employee side, with workers evaluating their lifestyles, frustrations and desires to find greater value in what they contribute to their work life balanced with their personal life.

Combined, this upheaval has pushed the late adopters to take action now. With IIM, this means tackling the two big problems: 1) eliminating a reliance on paper and 2) eliminating manual processes.

An article in the Harvard Business Review notes, “… pandemic-related digital acceleration was necessary to secure immediate economic survival, but it ended up doing something more — setting a new normal in terms of organizational speed. So, while the original intention was to quickly enable remote work, organizations now see digital acceleration as a more permanent part of the effort to realize business outcomes.

Eliminating paper

There are many reasons for minimizing the use of paper:

  • Embracing digital forms and documents
  • Scanning and digitizing documents
  • Using intelligence to enable better information access and search
  • Securing information in a digital repository so it is protected from physical disasters and prying eyes.

All good reasons, but it was not until the pandemic pushed the laggards over the edge that we saw the “pandemic-related digital acceleration” the HBR cites. Coupled with the need to maintain productivity for remote workers, and digital assets – and access to them – became critical.

This pandemic also prompted a rethinking of office space and storage space. Why pay for it if you don’t need it? Again, we saw organizations moving and not wanting to move paper.

Was this change immediate? Not entirely. Many organizations have taken a while to figure out how they will operate in the future – fully remote, somewhat remote, only some employees or job functions? Some smaller firms that had staff come in during the pandemic to handle AP and AR have not made the move. But there is no doubt that digitization is for the better.

Eliminating manual processes

In this case, organizations that had some automation embraced more automation, and because artificial intelligence has taken a role in software, where we were with automation 10 years ago is much different today.

Cloud – There are more opportunities for businesses to give up an on-premises solution for a cloud solution.

Artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) – More developers are using these tools for software to learn and enable more capabilities.

RPA – In 2000, with the combination of screen scraping software, workflow automation software and AI, developers had a new tool that could handle human interaction with digital systems. Over time, robotic process automation (RPA) software bots have entered the workplace operational stream to handle tasks that humans used to do.

Often with a significant ROI, RPA technologies have been making life easier for companies by handling simple tasks and improving workflow automation processes. If I put on my George Jetson hat, the RPA marketing predictions at the start of the trend show a significant change to business operations with a huge economic impact.

“RPA will have a total economic impact of $6.7 trillion by 2025.” -McKinsey & Company, Study on Disruptive Technologies, 2013

But, if we look forward to today’s forecasts, looking at just one provider, IDC predicts that they will see an economic impact of $55 billion in 2025. This suggests that the 2013 projection might be too high, however all the RPA providers roll up, so it will still be significant.

Innovation keeps us on our toes

RPA has become a differentiating factor in business operations, as it has evolved and taken our workflows to greater heights. Other technologies and innovations are right around the corner.

Where will we be in another 10 years? What is in the forecasts? We will learn soon enough.  But, for the businesses that are not even considering digitization and automation, they are falling deeper and deeper into the dark ages of the information revolution.

Looking back shows us how we underestimate and overestimate technological change and dreams – those flying cars! But, while our inventors and innovators continue to move forward, as business owners, we owe it to our operations to take advantage of innovation and improving operational efficiency.

Embrace what digitization and automation can do. Make a positive impact on your business. Ask about and consider how RPA will work within your company.

Where will we be in 2062, when we really hit the era of the Jetsons? That’s going to be even more interesting. Let’s be sure to check back in another 40 years.

Joanne Novak is a program manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. and is responsible for program development with the company’s Business Intelligence groups, including the Intelligent Information Management (IIM) practice. Her responsibilities are to build sales and customer-facing educational and thought leadership insights as well as strategic initiatives for IIM.