2020 through the lens of Intelligent Automation

No look back on 2020 can avoid Covid-19. The most overused words of the year must have been ‘’unprecedented’’ and ‘’the new normal’’, but justifiably so.


No look back on 2020 can avoid Covid-19. The most overused words of the year must have been ‘’unprecedented’’ and ‘’the new normal’’, but justifiably so.

In the business world, the disruption to private and public sector organisations alike has been nothing short of revolutionary. Forrester reported a “digital transformation surge” as the pandemic struck, as companies sought to “lower operating costs and build greater business resilience, to weather pandemic-driven disruption.”[1] Significantly, Forrester sees this digital disruption surge driven by investment in Intelligent Automation.

There are at least three enablers behind this increased investment[2]. Firstly, as consumers and workers have accepted social distancing, contactless payments and the like as a safety measure, they now more readily accept interaction via technology (for example now preferring self-service supermarket checkouts where they might a year ago have preferred a human checkout assistant).

Secondly, people have become much more familiar with technologies such as Zoom, on both a personal and business level, thereby increasing their trust in them.

And thirdly, robot use has increased during Covid-19, as they are more efficient and don’t catch a virus. For example, Walmart is using robots to clean floors[3]; “anti-epidemic” robots in Rwanda can check patients’ temperatures and deliver medicine and food[4]; and in Japan one university developed “telepresence” robots for receiving university degrees, with a computer tablet for a head, draped in an academic gown, enabling a student on a Zoom call to “receive” their degree from a university official[5].

What all these innovations have in common is an element of Intelligent Automation.  This is underscored by “the seven reasons that make Intelligent Automation a necessity for modern, connected, customer-first, efficient and adaptable organisations”, according to Procensol’s latest white paper, “Planning for the Aftermath of a Global Disruption”. These are:

  1. Intelligent Automation is an ideology, not a system sold by one vendor with a bias or strength in only one area.
  2. Intelligent Automation-ready technologies are “plug-and-play”.
  3. Modern Intelligent Automation ready technologies’ cost of entry is a fraction of monolithic, legacy systems, making it affordable to experiment and innovate.
  4. Bots decrease risk and increase productivity exponentially.
  5. Intelligent Automation-ready technologies are low-code and flexible for a rapidly changing business landscape.
  6. Intelligent Automation-ready technologies are quick to deploy and available anywhere, at any time, and on any device.
  7. Intelligent Automation-ready technologies are data analytics friendly, and out-of-the-box.

In particular, the ability to start small quickly and economically has been critical in 2020. It has been common to hear of organisations that were planning some form of digital transformation to take place in years suddenly implementing that change in a matter of days or weeks[6]. As well as finding an enforced level of organisational agility they didn’t know they had, they found a budget for small, experimental and innovative projects to help employees and customers alike.

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However, the size of the projects is not proportional to their importance. They are paving the way for a changed future, and as many commentators have pointed out, there is now no going back to old ways of working. This means that Intelligent Automation must become a strategic imperative, discussed at the highest levels of organisations and embedded in organisational culture.

As we say in our “Planning for the Aftermath of a Global Disruption” white paper, “With the right set of Intelligent Automation solutions, a proper review of its Intelligent Automation-readiness across the organisation, a careful plan, and embedding innovation as the new culture one might just come out of this global disruption better than ever.”

[1] https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/17743/399177/covid-19-will-change-our-psychology-and-roadmap-for-intelligent-automation

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0268401220310100#bib0135

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52340651

[4] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/25/africa/rwanda-coronavirus-robots/index.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/may/31/the-five-robots-helping-to-tackle-coronavirus

[6] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis/charting-the-path-to-the-next-normal/coronavirus-is-accelerating-digital-strategy-formulation#

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