Every story has a “prequel” these days. It’s complicated to get into the Star Wars “trilogy” now as you have to wade through a number of prequels before you get to the main event. Even “Young Sheldon” exists for those that want to know what the star of “Big Bang Theory” was like in his youth. When you get to a certain age, many things seem derivative, even technology.
Anarchy in the UK
Contemporary music is absolutely derivative and each genre often has it’s own prequel. To most observers, punk arrived in the public consciousness in 1976, largely as a result of an infamous expletive laden, TV interview of The Sex pistols by Bill Grundy. Mainstream notoriety was reached the following summer with three hit singles, the first of which, Anarchy in the UK, was helpfully banned by the BBC, which obviously gave rise to increased sales. Trailblazing continued that summer and we saw the emergence of other Punk purveyors such as The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers, Sham 69 and Manchester’s very own Buzzcocks. Critically acclaimed output from the Pistols ceased by the end of the year, and the musical movement itself was at an end.
However, what many don’t realise is that even as something as innovative and fresh as Punk, was derivative. It didn’t even originate in the UK thanks to the path originally trod by The New York Dolls and The Ramones across the pond.
Robots, Mythology & Chess
Similarly, the Artificial Intelligence we see today also has is rooted in a different era, in fact, to be precise a different century! Whilst the existence of robots is present in Greek Mythology, AI was coined by MIT scientist Marvin Minsky at a conference in 1956. He promised that creation of AI “would be substantially solved within a generation”. It re-emerged briefly 20 years ago, most notably when IBM’s “Deep Blue” beat reigning chess Grandmaster, Gary Kasparov.
Fast forward to 2018 and the “Robotic Onslaught” is omnipresent. Seemingly there is little that our Bot friends cannot do; from driving cars (hopefully better than the locals do in Manchester) to surgery with a little bit of contact centre question answering in between.
Regulation, legislation, even taxation, have been suggested. The employment landscape will be as grim as that dystopian one depicted in “Book of Eli” according to some.
Despite a large number of failing projects starting to emerge, despite a challenging, deliverable ROI in some cases, there is no doubt that Robotic Process Automation has a seat at the Digital Transformation table.
Repetitive tasks such as data input and answering emails in a structured data environment are ideally suited to RPA. Shared Service Operatives can be set free to undertake more meaningful activities by leaving simple, basic queries to be answered by a bot. Or at least directing the originator of the query to the appropriate part of the intranet to elicit the answer they were seeking. All without human intervention.
Everything works swimmingly until there is a change. Change in underlying data. Change in system. Change in process even. No Enterprise Applications exist in a vacuum and change is a constant in all organisations. Very few organisations will be operating the same version of an application at the same time. And, even in the Cloud Era where they do, updates can happen several times a month. There is an assumption that once a bot is set up it operates autonomously without any manual intervention whatsoever. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Next up - Cognitive Agents
So as Joy Division, The Fall, The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen emerged out of the ashes of punk, what comes next after RPA? If RPA replicates key strokes then it could be contended that Cognitive Intelligence (CI) replicates the brain by replicating human thought. For bots, think Cognitive Agents with a little more power, capability and autonomy.
Human Thinking Technology via Cognitive Agents enable the automation of most business processes. (I have yet to see one that it cannot be). Using Natural Language Processing, algorithms and a rules engine, these intelligent agents can be used to map the business processes even if part of them are not already documented. Change as a result of underlying data sources or even versions of application software are dealt with easily. Access to heterogenous Enterprise Applications, legislation and corporate policy documentation, can be done simultaneously. Queries that once took hours or even days can be done in seconds. The good news is it’s all done in the AWS cloud and little or no data is stored locally. Cognitive Agents work with not replace your existing technology.
In the same way that Joy Division or The Cure would not have existed without the Sex Pistols or even Indie music without The Smiths, Cognitive Intelligence would not have happened without RPA. However it offers significant operational advantages, faster ROI and cares little if your data is unstructured. In the same way that Joy Division weren’t a punk band, a Cognitive Agent isn’t a bot. The benefits of Cognitive Intelligence to society are huge.
Next time somebody tells you “the bots are coming” just think about those fashionistas with their “Punk’s not Dead” T shirts the year after it really happened. Make sure your “T shirt” has the right band on it. Think “The Cure” or “New Order”. Punk paved the way for a whole genre of music in the same way that RPA paves the way for Artificial Intelligence. The baton is about to be passed to Cognitive Agents .
If you are looking at Digital Transformation delivering operational efficiency we would love to talk to you. Or if you have already implemented RPA we would especially like to talk to you!