What is Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) and how can it help your business?

Get a quick overview of what Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is, what workflows should look like, and the technologies you’ll need to get started.
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Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is a combination of technologies that can automate a wide range of business processes, from simple, repetitive tasks to complex, end-to-end workflows. 

IPA solutions use artificial intelligence (AI) in combination with the usual automation tools (like BPM and RPA) to learn and adapt to changing business needs, making them more intelligent and effective than traditional solutions.

In this article we’ll do a quick overview of what really is inside an IPA workflow and the technologies you’ll need to get started.

What exactly is IPA?

Let’s start with the basic question everyone keeps asking: what exactly is Intelligent Process Automation?

Are you doing IPA if you have a chatbot to address customer complaints instead of a real person? Almost, but not exactly.

You see, AI is only one side of the triangle that is IPA. Mind you, a very important side, but you can’t just slap an LLM or some Natural Language Processing (NLP) on your users and call that IPA. You have to integrate AI into your processes, which is where BPM and RPA come into play.

Look at the following diagram:

Think of this diagram as a bird’s eye view of how AI fits into this puzzle. 

With IPA you’re “injecting” different AI-based technologies (seen in the diagram you have NLP, OCR and LLMs, but there are many more options) into the usual BPM + RPA workflow, giving them the ability to adapt their behavior based on the data mined from their environment (existing business processes).

In the end, you’ll end up with a process that can quickly respond to changes without the need for human intervention.

What are the main benefits of IPA?

As you can probably imagine by now, IPA can have a significant impact on your business by adding a level of flexibility and a speed of adaptation orders of magnitude above what you can achieve with regular processes.

In particular, IPA can help you to:

  • Improve efficiency and productivity: IPA can automate tasks that are currently performed by manual labor, freeing up your employees to focus on more strategic and value-added work. Granted, so can RPA, but with the addition of AI the amount of tasks increases as well as their complexity, suddenly tasks that were deemed “for humans only” are done by machines (think of auto-tagging purchase orders, invoice validation, etc).
  • Reduce costs: By automating inefficient processes, IPA can help you to reduce operating costs and improve profitability. This is an extension of what automation in general can achieve, but just as with the previous point, now you’re able to automate more complex tasks, making the cost reduction even greater.
  • Improve quality and accuracy: Intelligent Process Automation can help you to reduce errors and improve the quality of your products and services thanks to advanced data processing techniques.
  • Enhance customer service: It can help you to improve the customer experience by automating tasks such as order fulfillment, customer support, and billing. 
  • Increase agility and responsiveness: IPA can help you to adapt to changing business needs more quickly and efficiently.

IA, BPM and RPA in IPA

Those are a lot of acronyms, but they should be familiar to you by now. Business Process Management and Robotic Process Automation are two pillars of IT automation and Hyper automation, and are fundamental tools to create any type of business automation you can dream of. BPM will help you organize and orchestrate entire workflows, while the latter will add some automatic processing to the tasks.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI): AI enables IPA solutions to learn and adapt to changing business needs. For example, AI can be used to train an IPA solution to automate a new process or to handle exceptions in an existing process.
  • Business process management (BPM): BPM and process orchestration tools such as Camunda help businesses to design, model, and monitor their business processes. IPA solutions can leverage BPM tools to automate end-to-end workflows and to ensure that processes are efficient and compliant.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA): RPA tools automate repetitive tasks by mimicking the actions of human users. IPA solutions can use RPA tools to automate the individual tasks that make up a business process.

Practical use cases for IPA

Enough theory for now, let’s understand how IPA can be used on real-world problems of actual industries, that way you’ll get a true glimpse at the power of this technology.

Customer service enhancement

  • Automated customer inquiries: IPA can revolutionize your customer service processes by automating responses to common customer inquiries. Through AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants, businesses can provide instant responses to frequently asked questions, ensuring 24/7 availability. This not only improves response times but also enhances customer satisfaction. You’re slapping a chatbot in front of your users, yes, but you’re also integrating it into the customer inquiry process, that’s what makes it IPA.
  • Seamless order processing: By implementing IPA, businesses can streamline their order processing workflows. This entails automating order confirmation, tracking, and delivery notifications. As a result, customers enjoy a smoother buying experience, and companies reduce the chances of order-related errors.
  • Rapid issue resolution: IPA can expedite issue resolution by automating the initial steps of problem-solving. When a customer reports an issue, the system can automatically categorize and prioritize it, ensuring that the most critical problems are addressed promptly. This approach not only enhances customer loyalty but also optimizes resource allocation.
  • Personalized customer interactions: AI-driven IPA can analyze customer data to personalize interactions. It can recommend products or services based on past purchases, increasing cross-selling and upselling opportunities. This personalization fosters a stronger bond between the customer and the brand.

Finance and accounting efficiency

  • Error-Free invoicing: IPA can eliminate the risk of invoicing errors by automating the generation and distribution of invoices. This reduces discrepancies and ensures that invoices are sent out promptly, improving cash flow.
  • Bill payment optimization: Automating bill payment processes can help businesses avoid late fees and penalties. IPA can schedule and execute payments according to predefined rules and timelines, enhancing financial management.
  • Payroll precision: With IPA, payroll processing becomes highly accurate and efficient. The system can calculate salaries, taxes, and deductions automatically, minimizing payroll errors and ensuring employees are paid accurately and on time.
  • Audit trail and compliance: IPA solutions can maintain a comprehensive audit trail, which simplifies compliance reporting. Automated record-keeping ensures that financial transactions are transparent and meet regulatory standards.

Streamlining human resources

  • Effortless onboarding: IPA can simplify the onboarding process for new employees. It can generate offer letters, provide training materials, set up accounts, and schedule orientation sessions. This not only accelerates the onboarding process but also guarantees consistency and compliance.
  • Leave request automation: When employees request leave, IPA can manage the entire process, from submission to approval. It can verify available leave balances, adhere to company policies, and maintain accurate records. This minimizes administrative overhead and reduces the chances of disputes.
  • Efficient payroll management: In the realm of HR, IPA extends its capabilities to ensure precise payroll management. It can calculate bonuses, commissions, and overtime pay automatically, while also taking into account tax regulations and deductions.
  • Talent management: IPA can assist in talent management by automating aspects of performance review and talent development programs. It can provide insights into employee performance, training needs, and career progression, enabling HR teams to make data-driven decisions.

Getting started with IPA

If you are considering implementing IPA in your business, you’re already ahead of your competition, but there are a few considerations and best practices you need to keep in mind before you go all in.

Let’s go over them quickly:

  1. Identify the processes that you want to automate. Not all processes are suitable for automation. You need to identify the processes that are repetitive, time-consuming, and prone to errors. A good way to do this is to listen to your employees, they’ll be the first ones to tell you the repetitive and boring tasks they have to do every day. On top of that, consider also doing some process mining, and reviewing the analytical data stemming from your ERPs, CRM, etc, to understand where the bottlenecks are and what processes have the most problems.
  2. Design and model your business processes. Once you have identified the processes that you want to automate, you need to design and model them using a tool like Camunda Modeler and BPMN. This will help you to understand the process steps, identify any inefficiencies, and develop a plan for automation. This step alone can be a huge eye-opener when you start finding ways to optimize the process only based on the steps required to achieve it.
  3. Select the right IPA solution. There are a number of different IPA solutions available, so you need to select one that is right for your specific needs. Consider factors such as the types of processes you want to automate, the size of your business, and your budget. Here is a nice example of how to use Camunda with Amazon Comprehend to achieve IPA.
  4. Implement and deploy the IPA solution. Once you have selected an IPA solution, you need to implement and deploy it in your business. This may involve training your employees on how to use the solution and integrating it with your existing systems.
  5. Monitor and optimize the IPA solution. Once the IPA solution is in place, you need to monitor its performance and make adjustments as needed. This will help you to ensure that the solution is meeting your expectations and delivering the desired benefits. Keep in mind that while you’re adding AI into the mix with the intent that it will help your workflow automatically adapt, this is not a silver bullet type of approach (there is no such a thing), you’ll have to twitch and tune it at first until it works within the constraints of your workflow.

Process Orchestration: Coordinating Complexity

Process orchestration tools play a pivotal role in navigating the intricate landscape of modern business processes. They ensure every element of a process harmoniously synchronizes to produce the desired outcomes. 

Here’s why process orchestration is indispensable:

  • Complex Workflow Management: Many processes are complex and span multiple departments and systems. Process orchestration tools such as Camunda excel at managing these complex workflows, ensuring that each step is executed in the correct sequence and that data flows seamlessly between systems.
  • Automation Coordination: IPA often involves the automation of various tasks within a process. Process orchestration tools ensure that these automated tasks are triggered at the right time and that they interact correctly with human tasks and other automation components.
  • Exception Handling: Not all processes run smoothly without hiccups. Process orchestration tools are equipped to handle exceptions gracefully, routing them to the appropriate personnel or systems for resolution. This prevents bottlenecks and ensures that processes continue to flow even in the face of unexpected issues.

BPM: Design, Model, and Monitor for Efficiency

BPM tools are the architects and custodians of your business processes. They provide the blueprints and oversight necessary to ensure that your processes are not just automated but optimized for efficiency, compliance, and continuous improvement:

  • Design and Modeling: BPM tools empower you to design and model your business processes visually. This allows you to map out each step, define roles and responsibilities, and identify areas for automation and optimization. The visual representation helps teams gain a clear understanding of how processes work.
  • Efficiency Enhancement: With BPM, you can identify bottlenecks, redundancies, and inefficiencies within your processes. By analyzing process data, you can pinpoint areas that can be streamlined and automated, leading to significant time and cost savings.
  • Compliance and Governance: BPM tools incorporate compliance checks and controls into your processes. This ensures that your processes adhere to industry regulations and internal policies, mitigating compliance risks.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Monitoring is crucial for evaluating process performance. BPM tools provide real-time insights into process execution, allowing you to track key performance indicators (KPIs), identify issues, and make data-driven decisions for process optimization.

Camunda: Leading the Way

Camunda stands out as a frontrunner in the realm of process orchestration and BPM software. With Camunda’s products, businesses gain access to a versatile and scalable platform designed to orchestrate complex processes and streamline BPM activities. Here’s why Camunda is a preferred choice:

  • Flexibility: Camunda’s solutions are adaptable to diverse business needs. They can be tailored to suit your specific processes, ensuring a customized and efficient orchestration and BPM environment.
  • Scalability: Whether you are a small enterprise or a large corporation, Camunda’s products are designed to scale with your business. They can grow with you as your process automation and BPM requirements expand.
  • Robust Capabilities: Camunda offers a comprehensive suite of tools for process modeling, execution, monitoring, and optimization. It equips your business with the tools needed to succeed in today’s dynamic business landscape.

In conclusion, process orchestration and BPM are not merely supplementary to IPA; they are the foundation upon which successful automation and optimization are built. By leveraging these critical components and partnering with leading providers, businesses can orchestrate, optimize, and continually improve their processes.

Final thoughts

IPA is a powerful technology that can help businesses to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer service. 

By combining AI with Business Process Management, and Robotic Process Automation, IPA solutions can automate a wide range of business, from simple, repetitive tasks to complex, end-to-end workflows.

If you are considering implementing IPA in your business, it is important that you carefully select the right solution, and ideally, to work with an experienced partner. 

With careful planning and execution, IPA can help you to achieve your business goals and objectives.

Here are some additional tips for getting started with IPA:

  • Start small but plan big. Don’t try to automate too many processes the first time around. Instead,  start with a few processes that are easy to automate and that will have a significant impact on your business. At the same time, understand the full potential of the IPA solution you’ve chosen and make sure it’ll be compatible with the rest of your business’s needs.
  • Measure your results. It is important to measure the results of your IPA implementation to track your progress and identify areas for improvement. Remember, this is not a one-time setup, you’ll have to monitor and adjust the process until it’s working just as you’d expect it every time. 
  • Get buy-in from your employees. It is important to get your employees on board with your IPA implementation. Explain the benefits of IPA and how it will help them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

IPA is a rapidly evolving technology, and new capabilities and solutions are emerging all the time. If you’re curious to see how Camunda can help you with IPA,  go right ahead and try Camunda with a free account. You won’t regret it.

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