Of all the prefix definitions for “hyper” given by Merriam-Webster, the first one seems to fit all those “hyper” words we all know: “above : beyond : super // hypermarket.”
We’ve all come across this prefix used in many words and have witnessed the ‘beyond super’ dimension of each one of them. We feel the accelerated state when it’s a hyper-state.
Hyperautomation is born
It should come as no surprise that when the word “hyperautomation” was coined in 2019, research giant Gartner was responsible. With a pulse on technology changes and trends for managing information, Gartner recognized the trend from simple automation toward increased automation for processes especially with innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Their “Path to Hyperautomation” speaks to the continuous improvement in processes beyond what a human can do. Gartner’s definition begins:
“Hyperautomation is a business-driven, disciplined approach that organizations use to rapidly identify, vet and automate as many business and IT processes as possible. Hyperautomation involves the orchestrated use of multiple technologies, tools or platforms, including artificial intelligence (AI) … .”
Everyone knows that with time and experience, we can all get better at a task. For instance, talented musicians perform flawless musical works due to diligent practice. We become better drivers, gardeners, cooks and actors as we learn from mistakes, try something new and improvise along the way. Technology has provided assistance with some tasks and taken over others, like backing up a car with a camera view or having your car parallel park for you. Technology does these tasks in place of what I could do, but while my attempts may vary, technology’s attempts will always be consistent. The art of learning these skills will be lost, but the tasks will be easier and flawless.
Six Sigma starts it all
Process improvement is not a new idea. We are all somewhat familiar with the Six Sigma statistical model for manufacturing processes that evolved from Motorola engineer William Smith. With a goal of having close to 100% defect-free parts or “reduced process output variation,” this idea brought process improvement into the forefront as manufacturers looked to improve their manufacturing processes. It was driven by results and learning from those results to improve the outcome.
The same idea applies to our business processes and the technology we choose to use in our organizations when we replace a human-executed process that has variable consistency with a digitally executed process that performs consistently.
While Gartner’s path starts with “simple automation,” if we first look back a step and expand Garter’s path into the past, we see the first stage of this journey as No Automation. And it is this state of No Automation that hampers many businesses today.
This is the state of paper-based operations and manual workflows. Nothing has been done to digitize documents and records, nor automate simple processes. For small businesses, the digital solution usually starts with scan-store-retrieve, just to ease the employee frustration of finding information. With information locked inside documents, employees face a lot of time spent searching the physical files for what they need. This is a great start to prepare for electronic workflows.
Taking the next step means automating a few simple processes. For instance, instead of a paper form, give constituents, customers or patients an e-form. The business can map data from the forms into their line-of-business application and eliminate re-keying. That bit of automation saves on time and mistakes.
Recognizing that the business has digital assets means more formal routing of work can be done. For instance, in accounts payable it might be an approval process; in corporate communications, a review/approval process for a press release. The automated workflow gets the work flowing to the right people and saves the employee time with multiple emails or chasing after someone who they need to provide an approval. This time-saver can apply to a simple workflow or a more complex one.
A lot more automation
With the emergence of robotic process automation (RPA), we’ve seen great enhancements to support complex workflows. A simple workflow could have an operation that requires human intervention – like looking up a rate – that needs to be inserted into the process before the workflow can continue. With a digital bot, the task can be completed and the workflow can continue. That’s not to say that the only place RPA takes place is within a workflow. Individual or a string of tasks can be turned over to bots and give a business greater operational efficiency, saving the employees from spending their time doing the look-ups or other tasks.
Reaching the hyperautomation level means the workflows and bots are equipped to learn. As we noted earlier, when you or I do a task, we learn what worked and what could be better. For example, when baking, you might decide, “Next time, I’m going to beat the eggs separately then mix them into the flour.”
AI and ML enable the automated business processes to improve with each cycle that is executed. It is automating the tweaks a Six Sigma purveyor would have been identifying through statistical outcomes and noting where improvements could be physically made in the manufacturing process. Because we are using software algorithms, it happens automatically – without human intervention. Gartner calls this “augmenting human intelligence,” where businesses “enter a virtuous cycle of self-healing, self-learning and self-working business processes.”
Being a player
The AI/ML breakthrough is a game-changer for operational excellence. It is quite extraordinary but not unheard of that we can build algorithms to improve their execution over time. Just think about the self-driving car. It is only a test now, but it could be a great innovation in the future – a game-changer for the future of driving.
With this technology journey to a hyper-state, businesses need to realize that innovation continues, and while they may sit back and take no interest in digitizing, modernizing or automating, it will be a disadvantage to their business operations. And the great thing about this journey is that it starts with one digital step. The level of engagement beyond that first step is reflective of the individual business’s need.
Years ago, who would have thought that a voice assistant could be so helpful around the house. Is it a contradiction to embrace technology at home, but not in the office? In one of my previous blogs, Sending Information at the Speed of Thought, I introduced operations executed by human thought. Could that be the next step on the automation journey? Intelligent information management continues to evolve, and how we intelligently connect our business will be critical for future process innovation and operational success.