Interview: Pascal Bornet on intelligent automation

By Paddy Smith
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). 


Featured Articles

Synechron’s Prag Jaodekar on the UK's AI Regulation Journey

We hear from Prag Jaodekar, Technology Director at Synechron, about how the EU AI Act will impact business innovation and how they can best use AI safely

LGBTQ+ in AI: Vivienne Ming and the Human Power of AI

This Pride Month, we honour AI expert Vivienne Ming whose ideas on machine learning continue to expand human capacity and unlock future opportunities

Samsung’s AI-Era Vision Coincides With its New Chip Tech

Samsung announced its AI-Era Vision will be fuelled by its new chip tech alongside its new Samsung AI Solutions platform

SolarWinds Report Finds Limited Business Confidence in AI

Data & Analytics

Apple & OpenAI: Elon Musk Threatens Apple Device Ban

AI Strategy

AI Now on Agenda for Apple as OpenAI to add ChatGPT to Siri

AI Strategy