What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation applies advanced AI and automation technologies to optimize tasks and decision-making processes across entire organizations.

Regardless of how much revenue you generate, if your operational costs are too high your business will fail to turn a profit. Unfortunately, every process and every task your company depends on carries with it a price tag, often in the form of valuable time and effort on the part of your employees. This is where automation comes in. By automating key manual processes, you can free up your workforce to accomplish more in less time—reducing the overall cost of doing business and keeping a greater portion of your revenue as profit.

Automation has long been a strategic differentiator for successful businesses. But until only recently, automation has been limited to relatively simple processes. That is all changing; with new advances in AI and other technologies, top companies are discovering that intelligent automation (IA) can bring so much more to the table. With intelligent automation, you can create fully automated end-to-end processes capable of operating, learning, and adapting, entirely on their own.

Sometimes called hyperautomation or cognitive automation, intelligent automation allows for improved scaling and streamlining of decision-making processes. To make this kind of automation possible, IA relies on several vital component technologies:

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the central technology behind intelligent automation. AI itself uses various supporting technologies, such as machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL) to analyze copious amounts of structured and unstructured data to identify patterns and develop insights that can then be applied to predict future outcomes.

Robotic process automation

While AI is the primary decision engine in intelligent automation technology, it is not the only technology capable of taking independent action. Robotic process automation (RPA) incorporates software ‘bots’ to complete specific tasks. Although most RPA bots are designed to perform repetitive or simple functions, they can be enhanced with insights gained from AI to improve their effectiveness and allow them to learn new processes.

Low-code application platforms

Low-code application platforms (LCAPs) make it possible for businesses to easily create their own AI-powered apps to further support their organization’s individual IA needs. Top LCAPs combine intuitive user interfaces with drag-and-drop coding and other support tools to decrease app development time and empower businesses with perfectly customized software solutions.

Other technologies

Although AI, RPA, and LCAP are the most integral components, there are other technologies that are also utilized in intelligent automation. These include:

  • Business process management (BPM)
    BPM helps automate workflows for improved consistency, accuracy, and agility.
  • Computer vision
    Computer vision tools such as document processing enable computer systems to identify and gather information from images, videos, and other inputs.
  • Natural language processing (NLP)
    NLP allows computers to understand spoken or written language in a natural way, incorporating real-world input to help the machine better discern the meanings in human communications.
  • Process mining
    Process mining places business processes themselves under the microscope. This approach uses data analysis to identify weaknesses or inefficiencies and further enhance existing processes.

Because RPA is so essential to effective intelligence automation, the two terms are sometimes confused or used interchangeably. But the reality is that RPA and IA are not the same thing. You can think of RPA as the soldiers on the ground, while IA is the commander making the strategic decisions. RPA is most effective when it is mimicking and learning from human actions. It generally operates within rule-based activities, such as reading, entering, sharing, and extracting data.

IA takes a higher-level approach. Simulating human intelligence and focusing instead on end-to-end process, IA is capable of bringing automation into the realm of strategy, streamlining and improving an organization's decision-making capabilities. When used in concert, both RPA and IA can benefit from and build upon each other’s strengths.

The components listed above operate together to produce IA solutions that go beyond basic RPA and traditional automation. Rather than limiting automation to conventional rule-based tasks, intelligent automation makes it possible for you to automate more complex activities, including those that have long relied on human judgment.

To facilitate this, intelligent automation follows these basic steps:

  • Build and digitize
    Using LCAPs, you can create, configure, and integrate unified applications capable of top functionality across every channel.
  • Automate
    Integrating data sources with app functionality, the next step is to apply automation capabilities. RPA and document processing play crucial roles in this stage.
  • Apply AI
    Next, predictive intelligence is incorporated into the system.
  • Discover and Optimize
    With automation and AI correctly applied, the intelligent automation process is almost complete. That said, there is still room for improvement. Automating process discovery with intelligent process automation allows you to quickly locate bottlenecks and anomalies in your processes, understand root causes, and continually optimize your IA solutions.

Because intelligent automation expands on upon the capabilities of RPA to apply automated, accurate decision making to virtually any scenario, it brings with it several key advantages:

Improved accuracy and consistency

One of the top advantages of automation is that it ensures that specific activities are accomplished following the exact same processes every time, while also integrating with reliable data to ensure accuracy. Intelligent automation brings this advantage to complex processes that require more thought and adaptability than traditional manual tasks

Optimal compliance

As more and more regulatory policies become law, businesses in every industry must take a comprehensive approach to compliance. IA applies unmatched accuracy and consistency to compliance-related tasks, protecting the business from risks associated with noncompliance.

Heightened employee satisfaction

Employees are happiest when they have the tools they need to perform well. Intelligent automation empowers employees with support to streamline their tasks, accomplish more, and make informed decisions.

Enhanced customer experience

Because IA has the capacity to improve essentially every aspect of your business, it also directly impacts the customer experience. Products can be released faster and with fewer issues, queries and support tickets can be addressed more accurately and quickly, and user needs can be more fully understood and met.

Because intelligent automation replicates the decision-making processes of actual human employees, there are few limits to its potential applications. Most industries either have already begun incorporating intelligent automation into their processes or are currently preparing to do so. Examples of business areas that have benefitted from intelligent automation include:


Intelligent automation allows automotive manufacturers to not only streamline workflows in production and procurement; it also gives them greater insight into current demand. This allows these businesses to adjust production rates in time with market fluctuations.

Banking and finance

Financial institutions are well suited to benefit from intelligent automation. Operations and processes involving assessing credit histories, scheduling payments, and providing financial services may all be partially or fully automated.


So much of healthcare depends on patients and providers being able to communicate effectively. NLP in intelligent automation reduces the need for living agents to interact directly with patients during the data collection and analysis phases. This makes it possible for providers to diagnose and treat more patients in less time.


Manually gathering data, calculating rates, and reviewing claims represents a major drain on insurance company resources. IA eliminates the need to invest large amounts of time or money into these tasks, automatically applying data insights while also helping ensure regulatory compliance.

Logistics and transportation

Transportation and shipment routes have a significant impact on business profitability. IA brings together all relevant information to plan the most optimal shipment, delivery, and transportation routes. Additionally, as AI drones and self-driving cars become more common, intelligent automation will play an influential role in ensuring products and people reach their destinations safely.

Real estate

There are many aspects of the real estate industry that benefit from intelligent automation—from improved data analysis and automation in property management and tenant support, to more effective payment tracking, to assistance in matching prospective tenants to the best unoccupied properties.

Possibly more than any other recent technology, intelligent automation has the capacity to completely change how businesses operate. IA promises a world of increased business efficiency, where every action is streamlined and every decision is based on the correct data analysis. But making that jump to truly cognitive automation demands the right tools and support. The ServiceNow Automation Engine is the answer.

Built on the industry defining Now Platform®, Automation Engine brings together powerful RPA components and capabilities, document intelligence, and out-of-the-box solutions—all through a single, centralized location. And that is only the beginning.

Schedule a demo to learn more about ServiceNow automation and the Now Platform, and get ready to put intelligent automation to work for your business.

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