It’s impossible to read a business or IT-related publication these days and not read about “digital transformation.” It’s EVERYWHERE, but what does it really mean? After all, any digital technology can be "digitally transforming."
Digital transformation is a broad, catch-all phrase. Depending on the context, it can mean anything from Internet of Things data collection on assembly lines to improve a manufacturing process to moving to a cloud-based infrastructure to the basics of digitizing paper (a digital transformation method that readers of this magazine are familiar with!).
However, there are a few key technologies that underpin nearly all digital transformation initiatives. We can group them under another umbrella term: intelligent automation.
What Is Intelligent Automation?
This could be an article itself, so let’s keep this brief. Like digital transformation, definitions for “intelligent automation” vary; though most involve an element of artificial intelligence (that’s where the “intelligent” part comes in).
Here’s how Doculabs defines it: the use of artificial intelligence embedded in technologies such as process mining, smart workflows, RPA, IDP and NLP. Let’s go one final step down the definition rabbit hole and define these five technologies:
- Process mining — discover and monitor processes by mining activity data
- Robotics process automation (RPA) — automate repetitive tasks across multiple platforms
- Intelligent document processing (IDP) — extract data from printed or written text within documents (paper or born digital)
- Natural language processing (NLP) — understand meaning from human language (video and audio)
- Smart workflows — the orchestration of activities to complete a process
Of course, each of these technologies can be focused on independently, but when used in combination, the opportunities to digitally transform your business explode.
Enough preamble, here are five essential points to understand BEFORE you embark on any digital transformation journey.
1. Capture Is Critical: The ability to remove paper from workflows has been the starting point to digital transformation for 30 years — and counting. Obviously, paper and digital don’t mix.
The beginning point for many digital transformation efforts needs to begin with document ingestion. That means paper documents, of course, but also born-digital documents. Both need to be captured and processed for insertion into business workflows and/or for archival. The days of walking manilla folders from desk to desk as a workflow can (and should) be in the past for every business.
2. Process Is Paramount: Digitized documents are useless if they can’t be easily accessed by the employees who need to act on them (loans, invoices, contracts, etc.). Putting content into context — the applications employees do their jobs in — is a key element of digital transformation. Smart workflows ensure documents are routed to the appropriate employee for action according to your business’ rules.
A key enabling technology here is process mining, an exciting, and still relatively new, capability that allows you to see how your business processes are actually performing based on your data.
Rather than the traditional methodology of identifying business processes through interviews, guesswork and whiteboards; process mining tools allow you to analyze activity data to see both where your process inefficiencies are today and how you can improve them tomorrow.
3. Cut Through the Marketing Lingo: As I mentioned previously, you’ll find multiple definitions of “intelligent automation.” Not only are there multiple definitions, but there are also multiple, overlapping phrases to describe the same technologies: Intelligent capture.
Intelligent document capture. Intelligent automation. Hyperautomation. Digital transformation. Capture 2.0. Process automation. Intelligent process automation. Intelligent document automation. Digital process automation.
I may have even missed a few. Depending on the vendor or the analyst firm, the emphasis on capture or AI or process can vary.
As you look to digitally transform your business, it’s easy to get lost in all of this lingo. That brings us to point number four, don’t get distracted from your business goals.
4. Focus on Your Business Goals: CEOs and board members are infamous for having SOS (shiny object syndrome). Don’t be distracted from your goals by the marketing lingo and the ever-evolving buzzwords. You should pay attention to new technologies to identify ways to improve your business processes, but, like RPA a few years ago and whatever the next new “hot” technology will be, there is no technology silver bullet.
Work outward towards the right technology to fix your business problem. Don’t work inward from a technology and then try to identify how it can address your unique business challenges. Based on our experience, we find that identifying your process gaps (process mining is a tremendous help here, read my article from last Fall, “Eliminate the Guessing Game: How can process mining benefit your organization?” to learn what process mining can do for you) can help you identify current weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.
5. It’s Possible: This seems obvious, but you can turn your paper-based organization into a digital powerhouse — especially if you keep the four pieces of advice above in mind. Doculabs has successfully helped business’ digital transformation for decades through helping them identify opportunities for digitization using document capture to ECM in our first few decades to intelligent automation and process mining today.
It’s not easy. And you never really stop. But you can do it.
You Never Stop Transforming
One final thought, keep in mind that while transformation implies a beginning and an end, businesses are never fully finished with “digital transformation.”
Webster Dictionary defines transformation as “To change in character or condition.” That’s exactly what you want to do to your business.
However, intelligent automation tools will continue to improve. New categories of products to enable even better and faster digital transformation will emerge. If you remember that transformation is an ongoing act and you should never rest on your achievements, your competitors will never be able to get ahead of you. Never rest when it comes to using intelligent automation tools to save time and money while improving responsiveness to customers.
Marty Pavlik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Executive Vice President for Doculabs (www.doculabs.com). He helps clients put in place complex digital business transformation initiatives involving leading technologies.