Dec 1, 2020

Interview: Pascal Bornet on intelligent automation

Paddy Smith
8 min
pascal bornet
Pascal Bornet is a world leader in intelligent automation (IA). He talks to AI about how the next industrial revolution’s effects go beyond business...

It would appear that Intelligent Automation (IA) can’t come soon enough for Pascal Bornet. The recognised leading global authority on the subject is passionate about the capacity of artificial intelligence and automation to make our society more human. He’s a busy man, conducting his interview with AI from the car as he abandons Paris for the south of France for a family break.

Making more time could be one of the welcome shared outcomes of IA, as outlined in Intelligent Automation – Learn How to Harness Artificial Intelligence to Boost Business and Make Our World More Human.

The book – co-authored by Bornet, Ian Barkin and Jochen Wirtz – is the first reference guidebook published on the topic of IA, and draws on more than 500 use cases to illustrate a wide range of bold predictions.

Bold? You be the judge. How about: 

  • Saving 10 million+ lives a year
  • Saving US$10 trillion per year
  • Eliminating world hunger
  • Saving the environment

Now we’ve got your attention, read on for Bornet’s vision of the next renaissance, and how IA can make the world more human.

Where does IA come from?

The industrial revolutions started over 200 years ago, automating blue-collar work in the agricultural and manufacturing industries. They provided massive and structural benefits to our society, such as the reduction of famine and an increase in standards of living. They also relieved people from laborious manual work.

Officially coined in 2017 by IEEE, intelligent automation (IA) ushers in a new revolution: that of office work, automating white-collar work. Today, office work accounts for more than 80 per cent of the job roles in our global economy – such as lawyers, financial controllers, or call centre operators. Like the previous automation revolutions, I believe IA will have a significant impact not only on employment but, more broadly, on our society.

What is IA?

IA, also called hyperautomation or cognitive automation, is one of the most recent trends in the field of artificial intelligence. It is a combination of methods and technologies, involving people, organisations, machine learning, low-code platforms, robotic process automation (RPA), and more. It is aimed at automating end-to-end business processes in a computerised environment. It delivers business outcomes on behalf of the employees. 

For example, IA can help to automate most work activities in ‘procure to pay’ – from the selection of vendors, sending of orders, reception and processing of their invoices, up to the payment of these vendors.

IA effectively creates a software-based digital workforce that enables synergies by working hand-in-hand with the human workforce. As a result, IA increases process speed, reduces costs, eliminates errors, and enhances compliance. Ultimately, it improves employee and customer satisfaction and boosts revenues.

How does IA boost business efficiency?

Even though IA has only been coined recently, its applications have spread incredibly quickly in the business world, validating its promise. It has already been adopted by more than half of the world's largest companies, including ADP, JP Morgan, ANZ Bank, Netflix, and Unilever. The expected impact on business efficiency is in the range of 20 to 60 per cent. These benefits are available to all organisations, across industries, and regardless of function.

While impactful, implementing IA is certainly not a silver bullet. While it is easy to succeed in implementing a pilot on a limited scope, many organisations have been struggling to scale their transformations.

According to my experience and research, companies which were successful had all implemented five components:

  • Always put people in the centre of an IA transformation: IA is built by people, for people. Without people, there is no IA. Without IA, there are still people.
  • Start with a strong and healthy foundation: management support, capability building and change management.
  • Combine the IA capabilities to automate end to end processes and create synergies.
  • Democratise IA with the use of low code platforms, for example.
  • Leverage technology to accelerate IA implementation (eg. process discovery and mining, data discovery, AutoML, automated maintenance).

How does IA improve employee experience?

According to Gallup research, 85 per cent of employees worldwide are not fulfilled by their work, because it is too manual, repetitive, and tedious. IA solves a large part of this issue by freeing up employees from repetitive and transactional tasks, such as keying in invoices in an accounting software. And it refocuses them on more value-added and exciting tasks (ones involving insights, creativity).

It also augments them, transforming them into superhumans able to generate insights from millions of data in a few seconds (such as identifying a tumor on an X-ray).

What impact has Covid-19 had on IA?

In my view, this crisis evidenced the need for more resilient systems to support our society. Our health and economic systems, mainly managed by a human workforce, have been put under extreme stress. Hospitals were desperately in need, while economies were falling into downturns. IA has a large role to play in solving this and make our world ready for the next crisis.

Ilan Oshri, professor at the University of Auckland's Graduate School of Management, said: "Covid-19 achieved in six to eight weeks what the evangelists of automation have not managed... for more than five years."

Despite the bad aspects of Covid-19, it has helped the world understand the importance of digitalising processes, enabling remote performance, and automating them to rely less on the human workforce. 

Companies that already leveraged IA have been able to continue their operations, collect their cash, manage their operations, and motivate their employees remotely.

How does IA boost the customer experience?

Building trust, while satisfying and retaining customers, is critical for businesses. 96 per cent of unhappy customers don't bother complaining, and 91 per cent of them will simply leave and never return. IA helps to create innovative and customised products, and highly responsive, omnichannel customer services available 24/7. Based on my experience with IA, companies can increase the level of their customer satisfaction by over 50 per cent, while reducing the contact centre workload by over 50 per cent.

How does IA save lives?

IA has the potential to save millions of lives every year by supporting clinical trials and disease diagnosis, and avoiding medical errors. In developing countries, it can help reduce deaths from preventable causes (1.6 million people died from diseases related to diarrhea in 2017) and compensate for the shortage of 4.3 million physicians globally, by enabling remote diagnosis. For example, IA application Tissue Analytics instantly diagnoses chronic wounds, burns, or skin conditions just by taking a photo from a smartphone.

How can IA save money, and reallocate it to better uses?

IA could have the potential to realise a US$10 trillion of annual cost savings, by reducing frauds, errors, and accidents. Indeed, IA not only makes transaction processes more efficient and reliable, but it also generates log files for every action, creating transparency and ease of compliance. Such a vast amount of money would allow us to double our global budget for education, help restore our planet from pollution, or even eliminate hunger.

How can IA help to reinvent our world?

Generalising the use of IA in our world is not without risks. To prepare our world to effectively translate the key benefits of IA, our societies' roadmap should include some imperatives.

First, education needs to be adapted to fit the skills expected in the future. It has to focus on people's competitive edge; that is, on tasks that machines will never be able to do (well). In my view, the most crucial of these skills are creativity, adaptability, and ‘learning how to learn’.

Second, according to economists, the use of digital technologies over the last decades has resulted in increasing wealth inequalities amongst people. To remedy this situation, it seems necessary to consider implementing wealth-sharing mechanisms such as universal basic income.

On top of this, IA's impact on employment needs to be monitored very closely. Similarly to the previous industrial revolutions, an optimistic scenario holds that IA will enable the creation of more jobs than we have today. Conversely, a pessimistic scenario suggests that, due to the fast pace and other specifics, IA will massively reduce the number of jobs available. While the actual scenario will most likely be hybrid, to mitigate risks, we need to be prepared to deal with both scenarios. We owe this to our children and future generations.

Enabled by the above initiatives, IA could help us consider building a new, more human society. One that involves a new, more engaging definition of ‘work’, and that would give us the time to refocus on what matters the most in our lives – family, love, taking care of others, and our planet.

Intelligent Automation – Learn How to Harness Artificial Intelligence to Boost Business and Make Our World More Human, is out now, written by Pascal Bornet, Ian Barkin and Jochen Wirtz.


Pascal Bornet is a global expert in the field of intelligent automation (IA). He is a senior executive with 20-plus years of experience leading digital business transformations and creations. Over the past 10 years, he has founded and led intelligent automation practices, first for Ernst & Young and then McKinsey & Company. These lines of business delivered high-impact results to corporate clients across industries through innovation, research, strategic investments, and cutting-edge technology developments.

Bornet is a recognised author, thought leader, lecturer, and speaker on artificial intelligence, automation, and the future of work. He is also an influencer, elected Top Voice in Technology 2019, and has more than 300,000 followers on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Bornet holds an MBA from the University of California Los Angeles, an MBA from the National University of Singapore, a Master of Science in Management from EM-Lyon/Saint-Etienne, as well as several certifications in Data Science and Finance (US CPA). 

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Jun 15, 2021

The advantages and disadvantages of AI in cloud computing

3 min
AI is being used in cloud computing, which works by allowing client devices to access data over the internet remotely, but are there pros and cons?

Cloud computing offers businesses more flexibility, agility, and cost savings by hosting data and applications in the cloud. AI capabilities are now combining with cloud computing and helping companies manage their data, look for patterns and insights in information, deliver customer experiences, and optimise workflows.

We take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of AI in cloud computing. 

The benefits of AI in cloud computing


Lower costs

A major advantage of cloud computing is that it eliminates costs related to on-site data centers, such as hardware and maintenance. Those upfront costs can be restrictive with AI projects, but with cloud enterprises you can access these tools for a monthly fee, making research and development related costs more manageable. AI tools can also gain insights from the data and analyse it without human intervention, reducing staff costs.

Deeper insights 

AI is able to identify patterns and trends in large data sets. Using historical data, AI compares it to the most recent data, which provides IT teams with well-informed, data-backed intelligence. AI tools can also perform data analysis fast so enterprises can rapidly and efficiently address customer queries and issues. The observations and valuable advice gained from AI capabilities result in quicker and more accurate results.

Improved data management

AI enables extensive data management, and cloud computing maximises information security, making it possible to deal with massive amounts of data in a programmed manner to analyse them properly, allowing the business to leverage information that has been “mined” and filtered to meet each need. AI can also be used to transfer data between on-premises and cloud environments. 

Intelligent automation 

Businesses use AI-driven cloud computing to be more efficient and insight-driven. AI can automate repetitive tasks to boost productivity, and also perform data analysis without any human intervention. IT teams can also use AI to manage and monitor core workflows. IT teams can focus more on strategic operations while AI performs the mundane tasks. 

Increased security 

With businesses deploying more applications in the cloud, security is crucial in order to keep data safe. IT teams can use different AI-powered network security tools which can track network traffic, they can flag issues, such as finding an anomaly. 

The drawbacks of AI in cloud computing


Data privacy 

 Enterprises need to create privacy policies and secure all data when using AI in cloud computing. AI applications require a large amount of data, which can include consumer and vendor information. While some data can be anonymous and can't be tied to personally identifiable information, knowing who the data belongs to makes it more valuable. When sensitive information is used, data protection and compliance is a major concern.

Connectivity concerns 

IT teams use the internet to send raw data to the cloud service and recover processed data. Poor internet access can hinder the advantages of cloud-based machine learning algorithms, as cloud-based machine learning systems need consistent internet connectivity. 

While processing data in the cloud is quicker than conventional computing, there is a time lag between transmitting data to the cloud and receiving responses. This is a significant issue when using machine learning algorithms for cloud servers, where prediction speed is one of the primary concerns.

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