January 27, 2016
Intelligent Automation: The essential new co-worker for the digital age
By: Bhaskar Ghosh

Industrial automation and robotic process automation have been progressing steadily as enterprises offload tasks to machines. But now businesses are taking automation technology in entirely new directions with the addition of intelligence.  Beyond eliminating repetitive tasks, it will enable people to accomplish more with technology through new modes of human and machine collaboration to support humans in complex and creative problem solving.  It will require companies to relook at their workforce—what tasks should humans do, what skills do they need now and how they are going to work with machines?

I see this collaborative bond between humans and machines developing as we bring more artificial intelligence (AI) into our own technology delivery at Accenture. That’s why I’m particularly excited that “Intelligent Automation” is one of the five digital trends highlighted in Accenture Technology Vision 2016.

From doing things differently to doing different things
Accenture sees a future where intelligent automation is part of the fabric of our service delivery, one where our professionals are augmented by aids that improve efficiency, quality and scale.  We forecast that contemporary AI and future advances will allow employees in enabled areas to achieve 30 to 40 percent or more productivity gains within three to five years, even in functions that are already automated. Our strategy is to automate and augment high-end decision making as well as eliminating repetitive, manual tasks. 

For example, within application services delivery, Accenture is deploying a virtual director of delivery which augments our human directors. This intelligent agent highlights potential issues and risks buried in delivery metrics related to budget, schedule, or quality. Our virtual director of delivery alerts human delivery leads to potential issues that would otherwise be difficult for them to detect in dauntingly vast amounts of data. As we get better about analyzing data and use automated systems with AI technology, Accenture predicts the challenges of big data will eventually disappear so that "big data will simply become data."

We expect these types of agents to provide similar insight and advice across the entire software delivery lifecycle and will be aggressively developing and releasing them. This is one great example of how autonomics value will not be restricted to repetitive work; it will also benefit more cerebral activities.

AI will become a defacto tool
Accenture believes AI will become a de-facto tool for business, perhaps offered as an AI engine or operating system to the point where “AI will become mundane.”  Competitors are going to be using it. Customers are going to want it. Ecosystems and partners will need to be plugged into it.

Many of us are already living comfortably with AI in the consumer world.  We trust the autopilot function on cars to aid with parking and the personal virtual assistants on our phones to schedule important meetings (see Figure 1). Individual investors are already entrusting billions of dollars to automated investment services, or “robo-advisors,” such as Betterment and Wealthfront. Soon we’ll trust machines to automate more areas of our work so that we can collectively tackle bigger problems. Things like finding cures for diseases and feeding a growing global population. That’s why Accenture eventually thinks “machines will earn the trust of humans."

Intelligent Automation

Figure 1: Intelligent automation is helping people in their daily lives

How can your enterprise get started now with Intelligent Automation? 

To learn more about this year’s Accenture Technology Vision, I invite you to read the chapter highlights, check out a range of informative at-a-glance visuals, view our videos and slideshares, and keep checking this blog for more discussion of these trends.

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