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Intelligent Process Automation (Quick Guide)

Industry

The world is experiencing a shift in technology and Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is at the helm of this shift. We may not yet have reached the space-age era of The Jetsons, but several similar technologies are available today like driverless cars, intelligent robots, and virtual assistants.

Predictions for the period 2020 – 2025 indicate a market growth of 15.8 billion dollars as several companies look to adopt IPA as a strategy to minimize operational costs but maintain output quality. The impact of this technology will be felt everywhere, right from infrastructure to business models.

What is IPA?

With the impending shift in technologies, every CIO who has not yet gotten on board should be asking this question. So, what is it?

Intelligent Process Automation is a communion of different technologies coordinating together in the management of automated and integrated digital processes. The core technologies that form this collection are Artificial intelligence, Digital Process Automation, and Robotic Process Automation.

Intelligent Process Automation Benefits

Several companies have already seen the benefits even without automating all the processes within their company. With automation of less than 70% of their tasks, they are seeing as much as 35% more efficiency in the annual costs of operation. These efficiencies translate into the following benefits.

Humans are Freed from Mundane Tasks

Certain repetitive tasks within organizations can be very boring and labor-intensive, with the introduction of robotic process automation, humans can be released from doing such tasks and instead given tasks that make them more efficient and love their jobs even more. In the end, an organization may have more enthusiastic employees. But, that’s not all, the company can be sure that correct processes are being followed without corners being cut.

Enhanced End to End Visibility

When technology is applied individually, it is not easy to see the wider enterprise results. Deploying IPA, however, integrates all the technologies and creates a transparent process that easily identifies bottlenecks that might be affecting the customer journey. This facilitates solutions that smoothen out the customer journey and improve efficiency.

Minimizing Errors

There are various risks of errors within the various industries and many of them are tied to human involvement. It could be as a result of failing to adhere to set processes or just making mistakes like entering the wrong data. By integrating AI and RPA, the processes are easier to follow and areas that are prone to human error can be improved by the use of technology which will stick to guidelines and never get tired.

Enables Continuous Improvement of Processes

With the transparency increased, processes can be scrutinized better and areas for improvement identified. This means that businesses can constantly improve their processes. What’s more, when AI is included in the process, there is constant learning on the part of machines so eventually making adjustments to processes can be automated.

Compliance at all Levels

IPA makes it possible for compliance to be adhered to no matter the level. While humans would consider certain risks minimal and ignore guidelines, automated processes will stick to the regulations. Whether it is document privacy, legal regulations, or simple industry policies that may seem irrelevant, they will be adhered to all the time. For example, if air conditioning should be kept at a particular temperature, automation will ensure that regulation is adhered to, yet a human might think they can change it just for a few minutes because it is too hot or too cold and then forget to reset it. Such scenarios are avoided.

Better Customer Experience

When processes are working like clockwork, the customer will be much happier with the service they get. There will be shorter waiting time and quality is guaranteed since the product is produced according to a set standard and it will always be the same. Happy customers eventually translate into more money for the business because they get repeat business and recommendations.

Intelligent Process Automation Use Cases

There are many IPA use cases but let's focus on one that is more common. Customer support. With automation, customer inquiries can be attended to with auto-responses. This is great, but it is just involving the use of automation. This process can be improved if we add artificial intelligence.

If a business decides to use IPA for its customer support, they would expect it to handle different emails and messages from the website and determine the right response to give. This means that the machine needs to be able to perform natural language processing which entails deciphering:

Emails will be grouped by the AI according to the content, it will decide which email can be given an automated response, which should be forwarded to a particular individual for resolving, which message is a compliment and which is a complaint.

Sorting through emails is a task that would take a lot of human hours but with IPA, the process is almost instant. Sales teams in many industries depend on this technology to improve customer support before and after the sale.

Another use case within customer support is the use of chatbots. Usually, all a chatbot can do is give responses to customers. This process can be made more efficient by introducing RPA. When the two combine, they can go a step further and perform actions.

If for example, a customer would like to make a purchase online, the chatbot will take down the order and receive payment, then transfer that order to the warehouse where a robot will package the item and have it ready for delivery. This is something Amazon is experimenting with.

IPA vs. RPA

Digital technologies have introduced us to IPA and RPA which are usually confused and sometimes used interchangeably. They however are 2 separate technological advancements although one may be superior to the other. When you consider them, you may realize that it is better to have the two working hand in hand. Let us understand the two.

When you introduce IPA to robotic process automation you add the following technology to the process:

Man tapping a screen model of Intelligent process automation

In essence, IPA provides more intelligence and added improvement in the execution of tasks in comparison to RPA which is more useful for execution of mindless tasks. Each of them has its advantages, but in the end, it is better to have them working together than individually if you want to achieve greater performance.  

Main Purpose of IPA

The main purpose of it is for automation of procedures that entail working with unstructured data. Document automation is among those procedures when you have to deal with text and images. This could be processing customer feedback, making reports, and taking action based on email communication. It enables organizations to give machines leeway to make decisions about certain processes.

A crucial capability of IPA is transfer learning which saves time that would have been spent learning particular skill sets to perform other processes within an enterprise. Instead of creating thousands of rules to deal with the various use cases, transfer learning enables duplication of experiences which improves performance with every execution of a task. This saves finances but gives impressive returns.

For enterprises that are already using automated processes, the IPA's purpose would be to improve the process efficiency through introducing artificial intelligence that will make the software they are using even smarter and able to perform more tasks within a shorter period.

Intelligent Process Automation Examples

IPA examples are visible in different industries. Some are very obvious and you may have interacted with them while others remain in the background. Here are some common examples.

Driverless Cars: If you have been following the news, you must have heard about different companies trying to develop driverless cars. These integrate robotic action to steer the car, while artificial intelligence determines the decisions made, for example recognizing a stoplight and the green one so that it will stop at the red light and go when the light is green. So many other decisions that a human makes while driving are being made by these cars with the help of IAP.

Financial Analysis: Financial officers have to go through a lot of financial data to find inconsistencies. These days, this can be left to intelligent automation to identify inconsistent data, this helps to create better financial analysis and can be used for financial forensics as well.

Processing Documents: A number of online surveys are taken and this data needs to be compiled into a report. Document automation software is now able to analyze thousands of survey forms and extract data from it to create reports. The process of research is becoming a lot easier and faster with better accuracy.

Human and Robot Collaboration: In the past, it was almost impossible for humans and robots to work in the same area at the same time because there was a risk of injury to humans. Today, IPA provides the needed intelligence for the robots to identify humans within the working environment and act in a particular way to ensure safety. This is already in use in car-making factories where humans and robots are sharing workspaces.

Warehouse Management: Robots have been designed to handle warehouses. These robots can take inventory, store goods as well as load and offload. They are capable of recognizing obstacles and move around without colliding with one another.

IPA Tools

For organizations to improve their efficiency, they need to adopt the right intelligent process automation tools. Making a choice may depend on various things including the kind of industry you are working in, what kind of automation you already have in place, how knowledgeable your staff is about IPA. There would be other questions you would also have to ask yourself but that is for a different guide. It would help however to know the different types of tools.

Conclusion

The world of technology is developing faster than ever before and new solutions can be expected to enable enterprises to perform more efficiently. A lot of the technology that we envisioned for the future can be made possible with the improvement of IPA.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

Genesis Abel

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Genesis Abel

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