How AI is quietly revolutionizing the back office

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is booming in enterprise applications across the board, but most of the focus has been on public functions such as chatbots and personal or professional assistants. But this obscures the fact that much of the real action takes place behind the scenes, in the myriad of back office processes that add to the cost and complexity of running a modern organization.

However, AI is not like previous generations of technology, which were focused on specific operations and made to work in a predefined way. Instead, the challenge for the enterprise is to create the kind of training and development processes that would allow AI to place traditionally manual processes under fully automated control — essentially starting from the day-to-day work of running the office, while the workforce focuses on continuous optimization and strategic development.

The right AI for the job

However, not all back office processes are the same, and some are more likely to adopt this new paradigm than others. So the task is to determine which functions are not only the easiest to automate, but also contribute the most directly to the result.

According to Automation everywherea developer of robotic process automation and other technologies, organizations seeing the best results from back office transformation have focused on these key areas:

  • Creditors: AI is much more capable of scaling operations in response to incoming workloads than a team of clerks. This takes the bite out of time-consuming tasks such as data extraction and validation, proof-of-delivery, and posting to ERP and financial platforms.
  • Debtors: Likewise, AR is laced with cumbersome tasks, mostly focused on order processing and fulfillment, as well as billing and money allocation.
  • Employee onboarding: AI performs routine tasks such as filling out forms and populating databases, freeing up staff time for more challenging aspects of the job, such as recruiting and retention.
  • Personnel data management: This is an extensive, transaction-intensive process in which one task often triggers several others. Automation is expected to reduce costs in this area by as much as 40%.

The healthcare sector, in particular, is seeking significant gains in cost savings and operational efficiency by transferring back-office procedures to AI. As a highly regulated industry, healthcare faces mountains of paperwork covering everything from patient outreach and scheduling to: insurance claims and fulfillment of prescription drugs.

A recent analysis by MIT/Sloan Administration showed that administrative costs make up more than a third of the health care burden in the US, averaging about $2,500 per person. AI can take over many of these tasks, such as medical coding, billing and reimbursements, while at the same time reducing errors, waste and fraud. And unlike the more noticeable advances that are happening on the clinical side, back office AI does not require FDA approval or other regulatory burdens to be implemented.

Lighten the load

Regardless of the industry, document management is one of the biggest office burdens organizations face. Whether it’s scanning, saving, sorting or any number of other tasks, managing documents is a tedious, time-consuming task. According to Managed Outsourcing SolutionsHowever, AI is quickly making its way into a wide variety of document-related apps, making these processes not only faster and more efficient, but also more secure. Forward-thinking organizations are finding that automated scanning, data extraction, clustering, and categorization are also bringing more unstructured data into analytics platforms at a faster pace, improving overall business intelligence and speeding up decision-making.

But be warned: deploying AI in back-office processes isn’t the same as pushing a switch, says John Loeppky of ITPro† For starters, different jobs will benefit from types of AI, be it in general intelligence, machine learning or more advanced forms of deep learning and neural networks. Likewise, over-deployment of AI can be tricky if the human workforce is not trained to take maximum advantage of the technology. Ultimately, business leaders need to understand that old-fashioned ROI still drives any technology deployment.

No doubt the headlines in the future will be brimming with talking, floating forms of AI. But it’s fair to say that the real action is behind the scenes, where it not only lowers the cost of doing business, but also makes for a more responsive and productive environment, both at home and in the office.

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