NTT DATA Business Solutions
Jonas Winther Kvist | May 7, 2024 | 5 min read

The automation paradox: Now it is an attraction and not a turn off

The article discusses how generative AI (genAI) is changing professionals’ mindset towards process automation, emphasizing its value in efficiency and job enrichment. It highlights the importance of a holistic approach and internal expertise for successful implementation, despite concerns about job displacement.

business process automation with KI

AI has a huge effect on enterprise automation. So far not as much in the automation products themselves as in the mindset of professionals handling business processes.     

I usually say that we’ve delivered Robotic Process Automation way before the phrase was even coined. It comes naturally in an ERP environment to streamline, facilitate and automize the steady stream of sales orders, invoices and other document-centered processes, where the number of repetitions may accumulate to hundreds of thousands.

Within the last handful of years, the appetite and potential in terms of automation has seen a rapid increase. Beyond the RPA wave we have seen AI in general and Generative AI (genAI) in particular further fueling the hopes and dreams about processes, that we can run digitally with almost no human intervention.

Change in mindset

One of the most remarkable changes just the last couple of years is the mindset of people within the enterprises. It could be the finance professionals handling accounts receivable who have their bread and butter related to handling the transaction of invoices and the correct payment and accounting. They have been the worst critics of automation attempts in the last decades for both healthy and not-so-healthy reasons.

Because they know all the intricacies and details in “their” process, you will see them deliver a fact-based critique of a poorly constructed happy-go-lucky automation attempt. And thank you for that. On the other hand, you cannot ignore that robust automation projects sometimes have been hindered by clean-cut job protectionism from these professionals.

Automation attracts talent

Now the situation is the exact opposite. It is more an attraction than a turn-off for finance professionals to work in a company with highly automated processes. Actually, it has become an asset in attracting talent. What automation delivers to humans in these domains is a more varied, challenging and interesting job content. The most repetitive and most simple transactions are the ones we automate first and fastest, and relieved from that professionals are free to solve other more complex problems.

It’s the very strong hype about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and especially genAI in conjunction with a shortage of skilled labor that somehow has evaporated the “fear” of being replaced. From the point of view of executive management, this is a huge open window for automation at the exact right time. It is an opportunity to streamline processes and raise overall efficiency at a time when professional experience is a limited resource.

Cost-cutting of yesterday

We are seeing a decline in a paradigm within the last decades characterized by shared service centers, outsourcing and other cost-cutting measures in the realm of business administration. Now risk management in a new global order and nearshoring are high on the agenda. This combined with a raging war for talent puts automation in a hot seat.

You will definitely see a growing trend in automation projects directed towards business processes. And with much more hype you will see genAI entering the enterprises as a tool for general personal productivity in terms of emails, spreadsheets and text documents. AI as technology will also increase the range and capability of “old school” automation focusing on business processes.

Best practice principles

In any case, the technology and the automation should be planned and conceived based on the good principles derived from best practices. Most of the high-volume administrative processes run through a life cycle you could describe in four phases: Create, Enrich, Approve, and Archive.

As opposed to a free format delivery from a chatbot the nature of these processes is accuracy and accountability. It is quite binary – either it is correct accounting or it is not. You do not want to pay in Dollars if the amount should be paid in Yen.

Holistic approach for process automation

When automating these processes go for a holistic approach. The goal should be to automate from end-to-end when you dive into it, and not only a fraction of the lifespan of a document. In doing that be open to renovating the processes. If precedence is flawed or just not optimal then change it and do not try to fix it with digital tools as it will be both faster and more lasting value to change the process, the account plan or the format.

Also, a key recommendation is to involve real experts in the process, and you find them in your organization, where they handle the paper trail more or less manually today. This is key to making robust automation and safeguarding the key principle of making automated processes an attractive feature for professionals handling claims, sales orders, purchase orders, accounts receivable and more.

The paradox

One of the paradoxes of our time is, that strong voices in the public debate still find it relevant to discuss whether robots and AI are taking over the world and putting an end to a human era. When inside even big enterprises the reality still is, that many many business processes are handled manually even though fact that automation has been around as an option for years.

My crystal ball tells me that it is going to change!

More interesting blog articles