future automation

Future Automation: How to build an enduring competitive edge in a changing world?

Blog: Future Automation – How to build an enduring competitive edge in a changing world?


Intelligent Automation, Intelligent Process Automation, Hyper Automation, Intelligent Hyper Automation are among many buzzwords used to describe business automation. Behind these confusing terms are dozens of different technologies and ways of using them, which often lead to misconceptions.

This article argues that the buzzwords – or even diving deep into the specific technologies behind them – are not that important to deriving value from automation. But what should you pay attention to?


Future Automation


What is the direction of the road ahead?


From Efficiency to Strategic differentiation

The focus on automation-derived business value quickly morphs from today’s efficiency-led goals to strategic differentiation, business agility, and continuous value realization.

We are past the times of expensive and risky projects such as traditional ERP implementations. The returns on these investments were often questionable, and because all ERP solutions use best practice processes that are very expensive to customize, creating strategic differentiation was challenging to say the least. Typically, the result of a successful implementation was that you got the best practice processes that the industry leaders had implemented months or years earlier.


From Task Automation to Autonomous Business

Already today, leading companies have moved from automating mundane, repetitive tasks to more significant business challenges and opportunities. These include optimizing the entire customer journey, transforming supply chains, or introducing a new business model.

We believe that future automation is all about a journey that takes you from Task Automation to, eventually, an Autonomous Business. It’s like the journey from the Ford T-Model, one of the first mass-production vehicles with 2-speed planetary gear, to self-driving cars that Tesla is pioneering. Though some bumps are still on the road, the direction is clear. The same applies to Business.


How far along the road are you today, and what are the next steps to take?

The future of Business includes a Digital Workforce! A digital worker is a programmed team member trained to carry out a task just like any employee, only faster and without mistakes. All that we have seen so far indicates that every team – by necessity- will have digital workers working alongside humans in the future.

In the next part, we introduce three generations of Digital Workers. Each of these, having a different level of capabilities and value to your Business.


What generation of Digital Workers do you currently have?

If your organization is not yet utilizing Digital Workers, it’s time to evaluate how to benefit from the first-generation workforce. If you’ve started your journey already, you are probably ready for Digitals Workers 2.0.


Digital Workers 1.0 – Task Automation (2015-2020)

Organizations use the first generation of Digital Workers primarily in task automation of mundane and repetitive tasks. Digital Workers 1.0, can capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses, and communicating with other digital systems. These Digital Workers are ideal for automating high-volume labor-intensive work done on a computer.

The tasks assigned to 1.0 Digital Workers must be rules-based and can only use structured data. These first-generation robots have delivered tremendous business value related to labor arbitrage savings and increased quality by reducing mistakes. However, this is just a tiny percentage of the total business value that Digital Workers can deliver.


Digital Workers 2.0 – End-to-end process automation (2021-2030)

The second generation of Digital Workers incorporates cognitive and learning capabilities to the skillset of 1.0 Digital Workers. These robots can handle unstructured data, turn it into actionable information and transfer it further for processing. 2.0 Digital Workers can also have human-like conversations and do operational planning without human help.

The business value of this generation of Digital Workers comes from automating end-to-end processes instead of individual tasks. For example, utilizing second-generation Digital Workers, Businesses can unlock completely new value by automating order-to-pay or Integrated Supply Chain Planning.


Second-generation Digital Workers empower (and require) organizations to rethink and redesign their critical business processes and even operating models. In many situations, the payback time can be months for automated end-to-end processes – automated processes that no longer require any human intervention.

Automating more complex end-to-end processes, like optimizing manufacturing processes from raw materials to shipping, will take longer than Task Automation but can be designed to be self-financed. You can transform a process in stages, taking out enough value along the way to finance the project.


As we move from Task Automation to end-to-end, few challenges are all about technology. Instead, more problem-solving is needed to enable a coherent workforce where humans and digital workers work hand in hand to maximize business value.

Integrating humans into the story of automation can fundamentally shake up Business and be expected to see leaders rise and fall. For this reason, introducing the second generation of Digital Workers also calls for innovating around questions like:

  • How should humans interact with the automated parts of the Business?
  • What are the unique skills of people, and how are they best used?


Digital Workers 3.0 – Autonomous Business (2030 & beyond)

As discussed in the first part of this article, we will eventually end up with autonomous Business enabled by the third generation of Digital Workers that can run and develop end-to-end core business processes. Quite honestly, we will most likely see the first simple business models become autonomous not too far in the future.

Jack Ma (Alibaba founder) has predicted that a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO within the next 30 years. Some organizations have already appointed AI-enabled Board Members, and we will see many more of these in the future. However, the business value of the autonomous generation of Digital Workers is probably something we can let be for the time being, or at least investigating it calls for an article of its own!

For now, ensuring your Business stays ahead of its competition and is ready for the future ties to your ability to take advantage of Digital Workers 2.0.



Future Automation- article by Erik Gaarder, Senior IA Business Consultant, Business & Service Development, Digital Workforce

Featured in Enterprise Times UK