Experts agree that the growing maturity of a cluster of technologies has transformative potential, but businesses must act fast if they’re to gain a competitive edge
Hyperautomation has been thrust into the spotlight for the second time in six months by Gartner. In October 2020, the research giant named it as one of its top strategic technology trends for 2021. Its latest report on the subject, published at the end of April, forecasts that the global market that enables hyperautomation will be worth almost £430bn in 2022 – a 24% increase on the previous year’s figure.
“Hyperautomation has shifted from an option to a condition of survival,” says Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice-president at Gartner.
But what is hyperautomation, why is it generating such interest now, and – most crucially – how can businesses best harness its potential?
In essence, hyperautomation is a strategy that enterprises adopt to quickly identify, vet and automate as many processes as possible, applying a disciplined, holistic approach and mix of technologies. It spans the whole spectrum of operations, using digital tools to simplify many time-consuming tasks. These tools include AI systems, robotic process automation (RPA), low-code application platforms and virtual assistants.
The concept is becoming increasingly relevant, Biscotti says, because organisations will “require more IT and business process automation as they are forced to accelerate their digital transformation plans in a post-Covid, digital-first world”.
Gartner’s October 2020 report had noted: “Many organisations are supported by a patchwork of technologies that are not lean, optimised, connected, clean or explicit. At the same time, the acceleration of digital business requires efficiency, speed and democratization. Organisations that don’t focus on efficiency, efficacy and business agility will be left behind.”
Tackling low-hanging fruit
Peter van der Putten is director of AI solutions at cloud software firm Pegasystems and an assistant professor of AI at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He suggests that the drive towards hyperautomation has been “gathering pace for a while as the technologies have matured”.
Their simultaneous emergence has created far-reaching possibilities. There is low-hanging fruit to be gobbled by business leaders, he says, although those who invest heavily in hyperautomation stand to gain the most from it.
“There is more to hyperautomation than streamlining workflows to save time and reduce cost,” van der Putten stresses. “There are strategies that businesses can use to link automation with business outcomes more directly. Realising the potential of hyperautomation hinges on robust governance and the quality of executive-level support – how it is implemented across an organisation and not in narrow niches.”
Hyperautomation will do to the knowledge worker what the industrial revolution did to the manual worker
For instance, the ability to manage exceptions through AI enables finance, IT and governance experts to deliver value for industries that already use new networks or decentralised cloud services. A recent global survey of 1,300 business leaders by Pegasystems identified key areas where hyperautomation has already been benefiting financial services providers. Respondents reported achieving quick wins in a number of functions, including finance, data management and production. They expect to see significant advances in areas such as supply chains and “partner ecosystems” over the next five years.
As an example of what’s possible with hyperautomation, take credit broker Loan.co.uk. The business, which has been building intelligent systems since 2014, has transformed mortgage lending from a process that’s traditionally been opaque, complex and painfully slow. The total automation improvements to date have “saved our 40 advisers and processors on average three hours and 45 minutes a day”, reports CEO Paul McGerrigan.
The company’s AI helper, Albot, can search thousands of lenders’ offers in less than a second while matching more than 10,000 criteria, delivering the lowest rate appropriate for the applicant’s circumstances.
“Our smart AI underwriter can fully underwrite about 100 cases in 30 seconds, including credit searches,” McGerrigan says. “Previously, it would have taken an adviser 20 minutes to underwrite one complex case.”
A workplace revolution
The company’s new approach has significantly increased transparency and, in turn, engendered greater trust among its customers. McGerrigan urges other companies to embrace hyperautomation, which, he says, “will do to the knowledge worker what the industrial revolution did to the manual worker. We are seeing the largest shift in how we work in 100 years. Most firms have been taken by surprise at the speed of change, while some are still asleep.”
Guy Kirkwood, chief evangelist at UiPath, an RPA software provider, agrees that the potential for hyperautomation is huge. “In the US alone, 2.6 trillion hours of work a year are automatable,” he says, noting that the pandemic-induced lockdowns have added impetus to the trend.
“Work will be revolutionised,” Kirkwood predicts. “Almost over night, employees were expected to work from home, deal with unfavourable economic conditions and handle a huge rise in their workloads in areas such as customer service and data entry. Many turned to automation to adapt.”
He points to a firm providing smart infrastructure that used to print, sign, scan and upload 400,000 invoices a year manually. The business “now has a robot that performs these tasks digitally. This means that no employee needs to physically be in the office to process an invoice.”
Now that businesses have been catapulted into the digital age, regardless of their industry, we are on the verge of a new era of work in which hyperautomation will play a much greater role. Companies that make the leap today and go big on automation will be winners tomorrow.
This article was originally published in Raconteur’s AI for Business report in May 2021