Intelligent Automation

Drive digital transformation with intelligent automation

As businesses strive for digital transformation, intelligent automation can improve productivity in the short term while accelerating the transition to an optimized technology environment over time. Intelligent automation comprises an array of technologies that are designed to optimize and automate repetitive, rule-based transactional work, as well as tasks that have traditionally required human interaction and judgment.

To extract the most value from automation, organizations must work with business process owners to identify and pursue the highest-value opportunities, while developing a deep understanding of smart automation tools, even as these technologies continue to evolve rapidly.

The Hackett Group® can help. As an intellectual property-based strategic consultancy and leading benchmarking firm, The Hackett Group excels at identifying world-class performance and helping businesses to adopt the best practices to achieve it.

The potential of intelligent automation

Intelligent automation is a category of technologies that can automate and optimize structure, knowledge, and interaction work. In contrast to traditional business automation solutions, intelligent automation is:

  • Faster and more economic to build, implement, and maintain
  • Agile and easily adaptable to changes in business demand
  • Flexible enough to address multiple problem sets across processes – that is, it is not function-specific or process-specific
  • Modular in structure, allowing organizations to start small and scale up by integrating other elements and functionality
  • Owned, led and driven by the business in close collaboration with IT, rather than being owned and managed by IT

Intelligent automation technologies can be segmented into five broad categories.

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) mimics human actions to execute routine tasks in business applications. It can automate work that is primarily clerical or administrative and perform rule-based tasks on structured data. RPA operates using existing applications, systems and processes, and works with almost all user applications and systems.
  • Smart data capture mimics human interpretation by automatically extracting information from structured and unstructured data sources. It can capture analog and digital inputs that include documents, text, voice, images, and video data. Optical character recognition, handwriting recognition, machine reading and image recognition are all examples of smart data capture technologies.
  • Conversational interfaces mimic human interaction and understand human queries in a realistically human way. This category of automation includes chatbots and virtual assistants that interact linguistically with people. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, conversational interfaces can steer and optimize conversations based on history, as well as new insights about conversation requirements.
  • Cognitive automation augments human intelligence by processing unstructured, complex or high-volume information to deliver insights, predictions, and judgments. This type of automation can predict events and outcomes or prescribe and recommend decisions. It adapts dynamically, using contextual awareness to deliver insight in real time.
  • Agile orchestration coordinates work executed by established systems, human workers and smart automation tools. It links the different systems and workers required to perform a process and includes technologies such as workflow automation, case management, and ticketing, as well as new AI techniques. Agile orchestration monitors the work taking place in the environment, identifies resource constraints, and takes action or applies resources to address the constraints.

Deploy intelligent automation with The Hackett Group

The Hackett Group employs extensive benchmarking data and digital expertise to identify the leading businesses and best practices that enable world-class performance through intelligent automation. Our research has allowed us to quantify the potential for improvement in productivity and efficiency for typical business service functions that deploy smart automation.

For example, benchmarking data suggests that organizations deploying intelligent automation can execute work with 23% fewer full-time equivalents (FTEs) than their peers. To capture this potential, organizations must deploy automation with an optimized and rationalized technology environment. This includes reengineering processes, consolidating the application portfolio, and leveraging the full capabilities of existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) and best-of-breed functionality.

To identify the most valuable automation opportunities, we help companies deconstruct work into components that allow for targeted analysis of ROI. To estimate the size of smart automation opportunities, we allocate the time and average salaries of clerks, professionals, and managers across three types of work.

  • Structured work involves the application of prescribed rules, methods or scripts to inputs such as data entry, high-volume processing and data collation, with a well-defined expected outcome.
  • Knowledge work involves creation, conceptualization and decisioning that leads to the acquisition or application of knowledge. This work has inputs with significant variations and outputs that are not clearly defined, and it requires actions that are dependent on context and knowledge.
  • Interaction work involves interpersonal communication within a business function between staff and internal customers, external customers, external service providers, or regulators.

Recommendations for implementing intelligent automation

Our experience working with clients on adopting intelligent automation solutions has produced several key recommendations for companies seeking to understand the potential of this technology.

Build intelligent automation into the digital transformation strategy

To ensure that automation is part of digital transformation and an overall business strategy, we deploy a digital transformation framework to help guide planning. This defines the capabilities that characterize digital business strategy objectives, digital business capabilities and digital IT capabilities. Any automation initiatives should be based on this comprehensive foundation.

Focus on the team

Deploying intelligent automation requires a core organizational unit staffed by a multidisciplinary team with leadership and political skills, business analysis and design skills, and technical development skills.

Increase skills

To realize the benefits of intelligent automation, business organizations need to add significant capabilities to their traditional skill sets. These include skills in data science, business acumen, social media, design thinking, strategic thinking, customer experience, process excellence, relationship management, creativity and innovation, and change orientation.

Focus on the big picture

When deploying automation solutions, it’s important to remember that they offer a value far beyond the automation of specific tasks. Broader benefits to the enterprise include increased revenue, improved agility and better customer relationships. Focusing on the impact of automation on the business and shareholder value can keep initiatives aligned with the bigger picture.

Utilize heat maps

We recommend building a comprehensive heat map that highlights areas of greatest suitability for each type of automation technology. This will help prioritize investments and maintain focus on the highest-value targets.

Deploy technology wisely

Navigating the landscape of intelligent automation technologies requires sharp insight to match technology needs with an evolving vendor landscape.

Why customers choose The Hackett Group

The Hackett Group is a leading global strategy and operations consulting firm. Our acclaimed benchmarking and best practices database is built on unparalleled IP from more than 26,000 benchmark studies with the world’s leading businesses. These include 97% of the Dow Jones Industrials, 89% of the Fortune 100, 70% of the DAX 40 and 55% of the FTSE 100.

These studies inform our advisory programs and consulting services in business strategy, operations, finance, talent management, strategic sourcing, supplier management and information technology. We also offer dedicated expertise in a broad array of disciplines and technologies such as process mining, advanced analytics, and eProcurement. And our capabilities in application managed services, outsourcing consulting, and payroll help businesses to maintain performance, while reducing costs and freeing staff for more strategic initiatives.


What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation, or smart automation, is a category of technologies used to automate and optimize structured, knowledge, and interaction work. The Hackett Group recognizes five distinct types: smart data capture, conversational interfaces, robotic process automation, cognitive automation and agile orchestration technologies.

What are the benefits of intelligent automation?

By deploying intelligent automation, businesses can reduce FTEs, accelerate processes, increase responsiveness, and improve quality, accuracy, and control. Automation can also help deliver better customer experiences, enable omnichannel delivery, produce new analytical insights and enable employees to deliver greater value.

What is intelligent automation vs. traditional business automation?

Intelligent automation solutions are more agile, enabling them to easily adapt to changes in business demand. They are faster and more cost-effective to develop, implement, and maintain. Modular technologies allow organizations to start small and scale over time. And because it is owned by the business and supported by IT – rather than being owned and managed by the IT organization – intelligent automation typically requires low code or no code.