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Disrupt or be disrupted

The fourth wave of business process automation incorporates artificial intelligence.

The ability to automate workflow and content has revolutionised how digital transformation is done in businesses.

Business process management (BPM) has evolved into its next phase: intelligent process automation (IPA). But are South African businesses ready for it? According to McKinsey and Company, even though digital transformation has been discussed for nearly a decade, 68% of business processes remain highly manual. The advent of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) is disrupting this.

Stephan Gous, SWECA Territory Manager at Nintex, says when it comes to business process automation, South African businesses are no different to those elsewhere in the world. "There are simply too many solutions available for too many broken processes, resulting in a mix of automated and manual processes in the majority of businesses, regardless of where they're located."

However, when it comes to leveraging AI to improve processes, South Africa is lagging behind somewhat. "IT simply can't keep up with demand from business, and pre-packaged solutions aren't always the answer as it can result in siloes of automated processes. What you need is to bring together all of the processes within a business into one, cohesive machine."

Intelligent process automation includes the capability to leverage AI services and actions like smart routing/approvals, smart contract reviews, smart scheduling and more. It enables employees to automate their own business processes, without IT's intervention.

Gous adds: "IPA and AI are going to be transformational for businesses in South Africa. IPA moves the responsibility for automating processes away from being solely IT's responsibility and includes the business itself."

Businesses of all sizes and across all sectors are looking to decentralise automation out of IT and into the business units so that no single division is responsible, each department, such as HR, legal, marketing, finance and sales, is in control of automating its own processes.

Gous explains that while low-code process automation platforms have enabled business to take a huge step forward in automating a wide range of business processes, the rise of AI in its various forms (machine learning, natural language processing, deep learning, etc) is enabling companies to not just move at the speed of business, but to do it much more effectively.

"Introducing AI to process automation enables no code process automation, which in turn makes it possible for employees to automate, orchestrate and optimise their own business processes, without having to wait for IT."

CIOs and IT departments are able to give executives and management teams the capability to automate and optimise their own business processes. This means that employees are able to drive digital transformation without disrupting existing systems and processes or compromising company data, which is particularly relevant in view of the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect on 25 May, and the local Protection of Personal Information Act, expected to come into force by the end of the year.

IPA enables employees to automate various processes by accessing the right content for the right process and delivering it to the right person at the right time. An example would be the ability to perform intelligent routing, where machine learning is used to automatically route contracts to the legal person most likely to respond and review the contract in the shortest time period, based upon the type of contract, the value of the contract, the time of day, the day of the week, etc.

What to look for in an IPA solution:

* Advanced workflow: drag and drop tools to automate and orchestrate work across people and systems.
* Document generation: auto-creation of sophisticated documents such as contracts or proposals.
* Mobile apps and forms: capturing data online or offline in a form to start a workflow.
* Robotic process automation: automate routine data entry tasks such as form fills or data extracting from legacy systems.
* Process intelligence: analyse and govern your process automation portfolio.
* Machine intelligence: use best of breed AI capabilities to improve process efficacy and efficiency.

Download the Nintex white paper on intelligent process automation here.

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