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What Is Automation?

This article was written by Ma-Keba Frye, SEO Content Writer at MuleSoft.

In today's highly competitive and fast-paced world, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation are quickly becoming must-haves in the workplace. As technology continues to evolve, businesses are transforming, making better decisions, improving efficiency, and more. In particular, automation can take the most mundane and repetitive tasks and improve the rate and volume at which they're completed.

Research shows that automation demand has increased in over 90% of companies as they strive to drive immediate value across various departments within their business. Before we move on, we’ll answer the question, “What is automation?”

What is automation?

Automation uses technology to streamline and perform manual, pre-defined, and repetitive tasks and activities with reduced human involvement. It expands across industries and functions and encompasses various technologies such as AI, ML, and robotic process automation (RPA). Many companies have noticed the value of automation and are rethinking their processes to improve workflows, reduce costs, enhance efficiency, increase productivity, and more.

What are the types of automation?

Automation solutions fall into various categories and vary in what technology they use and how and what processes they impact. 

What is robotic process automation?

RPA is the most basic form of automation that combines automation and robotics, or "software bots," to perform specific, high-volume tasks. This task-based automation mimics human actions to reduce employee workloads by solving rule-based problems.

What is business process automation?

A segment of business process management (BPM), business process automation (BPA) or process automation, uses software or technology to automate end-to-end business processes or individual tasks across an organization. It helps improve efficiency and accuracy across several operational steps and functions and supports larger-scale goals, like improving employee onboarding or the customer experience.

What is intelligent process automation?

Intelligent automation or intelligent process automation leverages the capabilities of automation technologies such as BPA, RPA, AI, ML, and natural language processing (NLP) to scale and streamline business processes. Together they accelerate innovation and automation processes that are more decision-based. 

What is hyperautomation?

Hyperautomation is a disciplined, business-driven approach to traditional business process automation. It aims to automate as many business and IT processes as possible by combining the capabilities of multiple tools and technologies such as RPA, AI, and ML to enable scalability, business model disruption, and remote operation.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is an approach that uses pre-defined rules or existing processes to automate the flow of information, tasks, and data across work activities. Workflow automation typically impacts micro-level tasks, such as signing a document. 

How is automation used in various industries?

Automation is continuously unlocking possibilities. As a result, no industry, department, or operation is exempt from benefitting from automation technology and software in some capacity. Some key industries include:  

How does automation impact healthcare and life sciences?

Automation, AI, and ML strongly impact healthcare and life science processes at various patient, administrative, and research stages.

  • Automation, such as RPA, helps streamline patient scheduling and billing
  • Automated triage screening tools have helped patients self-triage during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing additional support to staff
  • Data collection has improved thanks to automating electronic health records (EHR) processes, helping healthcare professionals collect and better analyze patient data for research and care improvements
  • Chatbots, which use NLP capabilities and AI, have helped expand healthcare access and meet patients where they are
  • Clinical trial data handling is an extensive and tedious task often prone to human error, but with RPA, data transfer processes are streamlined and deliver faster and more accurate information and results.

Where can automation be found in manufacturing?

Automation helps simplify complex workflows within the manufacturing ecosystem to reduce costs, drive efficiency, and improve decision-making.

  • As market demands shift, automation helps manage supply chain processes and avoid costly disruptions
  • RPA increases productivity and safety across manufacturing industries, such as automotive, by working alongside humans to achieve more with less while maintaining control over product quality
  • In times of labor shortage, automation helps companies meet demand while maintaining costs throughout product assembly, packaging, and shipping
  • Automated technology helps manufacturers perform tasks with greater precision and a reduced error rate than when relying solely on humans, contributing to producing high-quality products

How does automation help the retail industry?

The retail automation market is rapidly growing as it offers several benefits to the customer experience, expense management, and more. 

  • Automated inventory management systems eliminate repetitive tasks, reducing errors, saving time, and improving visibility into available inventory
  • Incorporating automation into online shopping returns eliminates taxing and cumbersome manual tasks while streamlining data entry and customer billing    
  • Outlet automation helps gather data related to customer shopping habits, which provides insights for store layout planning, eventually building a better customer experience and impacting sales

Where can automation be found in financial services?

Process automation, RPA, and intelligent automation are just a few technologies that help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the financial services industry.

  • RPA helps automate accounts payable, accounts receivable, and reconciliations
  • Automation and AI reduce friction and streamline onboarding while mitigating identity theft, fraud, and account takeover risks in anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance and prevention efforts
  • Automation also enhances customer experiences by providing them with more convenient options, such as customer service chatbots and self-service applications, better account management, and personalized experiences based on customer data 
  • Financial institutions can integrate ML and AI into workflows to streamline identity verification for applications and account logins

How does automation help the insurance industry?

Traditional insurers often use outdated legacy systems and rely heavily on manual work. From better customer experiences to streamlined carrier processes, automation delivers several benefits to insurance companies and their policyholders.

  • RPA, ML, and humans can work together to speed up the claims process, including document and evidence collection for intake, assessment, and settlement
  • RPA and AI automate the issuance of insurance policies while also supporting current customers with account and policy updates to improve the policy management process
  • Underwriters need an accurate profile of a potential customer’s health risks, creditworthiness, and financial limitations –– by automating this process, insurers can accelerate the approval and reduce errors
  • Automation helps insurers adhere to the many regulations within their industry by conducting compliance checks, validating customer data, generating reports, and more

How to embrace productivity and efficiency with automation?

Automation will continue to impact the future of work by bridging the gap in capabilities and improving the employee experience. Amid the rising pressure to digitally transform, companies will continue to bring automation to the forefront of their digital strategies to support business transformation, deliver value, remain competitive, and drive innovation. 

As you take the next step in achieving business growth and powering your organization, consider what automation can do for you. Watch our Automation 101: Transforming Your Business For Any Future webinar to see how MuleSoft Automation can help your business combat automation-related challenges and obstacles.