True story: A chief technology officer didn’t believe an intelligent automation tool could, on its own, look at a photograph and discern what type of room in a house the photo depicted. So, the salesperson conducting the demo went to the real estate site Zillow and clicked on a random listing. The CTO zeroed in on a photo showing a room that looked like a disaster area, with clothes, boxes and bags strewn all about. Undeterred, the salesperson entered the URL for the photo into the automation platform.
Seconds letter, the platform came back saying it was 99% confident the photo was of an attic space.
This is the power that artificial intelligence, and cognitive automation platforms in particular, can bring to business problems. The ability to understand unstructured content and apply human-like decisioning opens up new avenues for where you can apply process automation technology and removes the risk that comes from relying on humans to perform repetitive processes.
Unstructured content: What it is, why it’s a problem
Unstructured content creates problems for rule-based automation engines, including robotic process automation platforms, and OCR templating approaches, because it’s so difficult to define rules that apply to something you can’t predict. And unstructured content is nothing if not unpredictable.
By definition, unstructured content refers to content that is variable in nature. It could be contracts, Word documents, text (including emails) and images.
Take a bank statement, for example. Statements from the same bank will likely have fields that show up in the same place from one to the next – name, address, account number, start date, end date and the like. But statements from another bank are likely to be quite different. If you’re taking a rule-based approach to automating a process that involves looking at statements from numerous banks, such as a credit approval process, it’ll be next to impossible to come up with enough rules to take into account how each bank’s statement is formatted.
Another example that may be top-of-mind for most financial professionals is the imminent demise of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR, set for the end of 2021. For many years, LIBOR has been the benchmark to set interest rates for most variable-rate loans, interest-rate swaps and other financial instruments. Companies need a way to search their contracts for language around LIBOR, understand what their risk is, and examine whether changes are required. Here again, coming up with a rule-based approach to examine myriad such contracts would be tedious to say the least, and likely impossible.
One alternative, of course, is to rely on humans to manually look at documents and images, find the relevant fields, extract desired information and enter it into another application, document or spreadsheet. As with any task involving humans, that process comes with expense and the risk of human error, whether it’s transposing numbers, misspelling a name or simply missing something important. Humans do, after all, get tired – and bored.
The opportunity in intelligent automation
Clearly there’s a huge opportunity to be had in automating such repetitive, error-prone processes, including freeing up employees to perform more rewarding and strategic work. But it requires the ability to effectively deal with unstructured content.
As the Zillow example demonstrates, intelligent process automation offers just such a capability. IPA incorporates technologies including optical character recognition, enabling it to “read” unstructured documents, and natural language processing, which provides the ability to analyze and understand context, much like a human does. Machine learning and deep learning technologies also come into play, enabling processes to continually learn from the past, while transfer learning enables intelligence gleaned on one process to apply to other, different processes.
It all adds up to increased efficiency for your organization. If our technology can tell an attic from a messy bedroom or basement, chances are we can help automate whatever processes you need to deal with.
To learn more, check out this Everest Group white paper, Unstructured Data Process Automation.