the ConversAItion: Season 3 Episode 20

Unlocking the potential of intelligent automation with Pascal Bornet

Author and renowned thought leader Pascal Bornet joins The ConversAItion to discuss the growing role of intelligent automation in business. He breaks down what it is, how companies can successfully implement it (and why they should) and how it could help save as many as ten million lives a year. Pascal can be found on Twitter @pascal_bornet.
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“Implementing intelligent automation has always been an issue of competitiveness, because if a company doesn’t transform itself, competitors will. Nowadays, with COVID, it’s no longer a matter of competitiveness; it’s a question of survival for businesses.”
Pascal Bornet

About Pascal Bornet

Pascal Bornet is the author of “Intelligent Automation: Welcome to the World of Hyperautomation” and a 2019 LinkedIn Top Voice in Tech. Previously, he was the founder and leader of the AI and Automation service line at McKinsey Digital Labs, and the Artificial Intelligence and Automation Leader at EY. Pascal is a renowned speaker, author and thought leader who earned his MBA from UCLA and the National University of Singapore. He can be found on LinkedIn here and Twitter here

Short on time? Here are 5 quick takeaways:

  1. Intelligent automation can free up employees’ time and make them “super human.”

    Pascal’s area of expertise is intelligent automation, which he describes as the people, processes, methods and technologies that aim to automate end-to-end business processes, specifically for knowledge workers.

    Intelligent automation targets repetitive transactions and activities that most knowledge workers do every day—like data entry and sending emails. This allows employees to refocus on value-add activities, like creativity, brainstorming and connecting with others. Pascal also believes that intelligent automation makes employees “super human” by producing insights they couldn’t have developed themselves—like information gathered from analyzing millions of data points instantaneously.

  2. Intelligent automation has become widespread in just a few years.

    Intelligent automation is a recent phenomenon; the term was officially coined in 2017. Yet, it has already become widespread in business practices. Pascal cites a recent Deloitte survey that found that more than 50% of businesses globally have begun implementing intelligent automation in at least one division or process. 

    But despite the promise of intelligent automation, and businesses’ eagerness to implement it, only 15% have been able to use the technology in more than three functions or divisions, according to a survey by McKinsey. For companies today, the Holy Grail is determining how to scale the power of intelligent automation.

  3. COVID-19 elevated intelligent automation from a question of competitiveness to one of survival.

    According to Pascal, COVID-19 has increased the role and importance of intelligent automation in business. Before the pandemic, implementing intelligent automation was a question of gaining a competitive edge. If one company didn’t implement it, they could bet on their competitor doing so instead—resulting in cheaper products, better customer experiences and greater market share. 

    During COVID-19, deploying intelligent automation shifted to a matter of survival. Businesses that don’t rethink their existing processes, or are unable to do so, will not survive the crisis. 

  4. Leaders in intelligent automation share five key success characteristics.

    In research for his upcoming book, Pascal and his co-authors uncovered key commonalities among leaders in intelligent automation. There are five shared success characteristics among companies that lead in digital transformation: putting people at the center of transformation, strong sponsorship from management, effective change management, leveraging technology to implement technology and democratization of technology.

    He notes that, ironically, implementing intelligent automation is typically very human resource intensive. But leveraging technology, like process mining or automated machine learning, can accelerate the process. Additionally, democratizing technology through Low Code platforms or robotic process automation (RPA) allows anyone, with no technical background, to design intelligent applications, participate in the overall transformation and feel a sense of ownership over its success. 

  5. Intelligent automation can address some of society’s biggest challenges, including hunger, disease and climate change.

    In his new book, Pascal was interested in determining the full promise of intelligent automation if it’s delivered at scale, globally. He believes that it can be implemented to solve some of the most pressing and difficult problems in the world, including challenges related to education, health, famine and the protection of our planet.

    He sees particular promise in the medical industry by deploying intelligent automation to improve drug discovery, clinical trials, diagnosis and managing preventable diseases, particularly in developing nations. Ultimately, by his calculation, intelligent automation can help save a staggering ten million lives annually—20% of the 50 million lives we currently lose each year. 

Read the transcript



Hi! And welcome. I’m Jim Freeze, and this is The ConversAItion, a podcast airing viewpoints on the impact of artificial intelligence on business and society. 


On today’s episode, we’re joined by Pascal Bornet. Pascal is an author, a LinkedIn Top Voice in Tech, and an expert in Intelligent Automation. 

Pascal has 20 years of experience spearheading digital transformations for notable firms like EY and McKinsey & Company. At both organizations, he founded and led the AI and Automation service practices. He is a recognized thought leader on AI and automation, and a co-author of the recently published book, Intelligent Automation: Welcome to the World of Hyperautomation

Pascal, we’re so excited to have you on the show. Welcome! 

Pascal Bornet Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Jim Freeze We’re thrilled to have you. So you’ve had quite an impressive career, McKinsey and EY, but I actually want to start off today’s episode by discussing your most recent project, your new book, Intelligent Automation. For our listeners can you tell us what Intelligent Automation is and where the term derives from?

Pascal Bornet Yes. So I’m used to explaining it very simply telling that it’s a combination of methods that involve people, process, technologies, organizations. So a combination of methods and technologies. Technologies included are as wide as robotic process automation that we call RPA, machine learning, Low-Code platforms, deep learning and so on. Okay, so this combination of methods and technologies aim at automating end to end business processes. When I say business processes, I’m talking here about the processes that are performed by knowledge workers. So basically employees like you and I, who are using their brain to create value as opposed to people in the manufacturing companies, for example, in the industrial sector using their hands and legs to produce value. Okay, so mainly this type of automation happens on computers and basically working hand in hand with knowledge workers, intelligent automation helps to take repetitive transactions and activities that most of us are doing every day–data entry, sending emails, unproductive activities, that intelligent automation can do for us so that we can refocus on more value-add activities, like thinking, like connecting with the others, like creativity. 

And on top of that intelligent automation helps to make us super humans, in the sense that it gives us the extra capacities, for example, to generate insights from millions of data in just a few seconds. I used to give this example of a medical doctor who’s able to give in a few seconds a diagnosis from seeing an x-ray, understanding whether there is or not a tumor on the x-ray with the support of intelligent automation.

Jim Freeze I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt that I use my brain. Some of my colleagues would disagree, but I appreciate that. Can you talk a little bit about the uptake of intelligent automation? How widespread is it becoming?

Pascal Bornet According to the latest Deloitte Survey, more than 50% of the companies around the world have started to implement intelligent automation in one of their divisions or processes. So that’s how big it is today. I want to mention that intelligent automation is extremely recent. It’s been coined officially in 2017 by IEEE. Knowing this, it’s been really five years that intelligent automation has been available to companies. So when you see that already 50% of the companies are using it or have started their journey into intelligent automation, this really shows that there is an appealing promise there. That said, out of those 50% of companies, only 15%, one five, have been able to use it in more than three functions or three divisions. This is according to a survey by McKinsey. So this shows that today’s Holy Grail and today’s focus of the companies is about scaling intelligent automation.

Jim Freeze You actually anticipated my next question, which was, it doesn’t surprise me that lots of companies are maybe in the experimental stage, or kind of their early adoption of intelligent automation. But I’m curious if there are some examples of companies who have really done it at scale and are getting some real benefits from it.

Pascal Bornet So just a few of them have been able to get there. And based on the research that we did to write the book, we’ve identified a few leading practices that those companies had in common. They had not only put in place the, what would say, common success factors in digital transformation, which are putting people in the center of the transformation, which are getting us a strong sponsorship and governance from management, a strong change management as well. So those three things are kind of common across all digital transformations. On top of this, those companies that have been able to succeed the transformations have been able to use technology to implement technology.

And when I say that I’m thinking of, for example, process discovery, process mining, automated machine learning, automated maintenance of applications. So basically the issue that we see in those transformations today is very ironic in the sense that implementing those digital intelligent automation transformations is extremely manual today, extremely human resource intensive.

Jim Freeze Indeed they are.

Pascal Bornet What if technology could help us to increase the speed and increase the scope of those transformations? So, that’s the fourth point that I want to mention when I say technology helping to build technology. So technology to help implement intelligent automation. 

The last and fifth point, those companies that have succeeded have been putting in place some kind of democratization of technology, which is about using technologies that require a minimum amount of skills from people to design and develop intelligent applications. Think of it like Low-Code platforms, like some form of robotic process automation, those technologies can be used by anyone in a company, any business user with very limited training education, with no specific background or skills in coding, for example.

And the impact of this type of technologies is that, not only you have more workforce in the company to implement those transformations, but also because people are involved in transforming the company, in transforming their own day-to-day work, in improving their day-to-day work by automating some part of it, augmenting some other parts of it. Because they can do that, and they can really participate in the transformation, there is a form of ownership that is created and those people participate in the shift of the mindset of the culture of the company to more automation, digitization, intelligence.

Jim Freeze It’s very, very interesting. You’ve done a nice job of kind of articulating the benefits to companies that are implementing intelligent automation, but I’m wondering, and I ask this question from the perspective of Interactions with the company I work for, where part of what we see with a lot of our customers is the primary reason they’re implementing automation artificial intelligence is because the benefits, not necessarily just to them, but the benefits to their customers. I’m wondering if you’re seeing some of that in your research where some of the implementation and what’s driving it is benefit to a company’s customers?

Pascal Bornet Yes. Definitely. That’s extremely important. Our research has shown that very often companies don’t even know that their clients are not satisfied, or don’t even know why they can’t attract more clients. Our research shows that more than 90% of the clients that are not satisfied, don’t even tell it. And out of those people, 90% will not come back. So meaning here there is really a black box that companies are trying to understand, which is extremely critical for them because we’re talking about the revenue here.

Jim Freeze Yeah. A simple example we like to give is, if I call into a company I do business with, and their mantra is we always want to ensure that you can get to talk to a human, that you can get your issue resolved by talking to a human. If I have to wait in a queue for 20 minutes to resolve something that I could have done in 30 seconds with automation, I’m going to take automation every time

Pascal Bornet Exactly, exactly. So intelligent automation in the form of, and here we have all the technologies, all the range of technology that you can have under the umbrella of intelligent automation can be used to help client experience, starting with smart workflows, intelligent chatbots, the collection of data from clients and the creation of insights from it, and the capacity, as an outcome to create an omni-channel connection with the clients that is available 24/7. A connection from which we use the data and the insight to create more products to be helpful in the innovation of services.

This is really where we can drive a lot of value. From my experience, using intelligent automation, the portfolio of technologies and methods, you can increase by 50% the satisfaction of clients. And I’m thinking here about percentage points in satisfaction. And you can decrease a lot the workload from the customer service teams in the range of 50% as well. Meaning you can have those people deployed to more value-add activities, managing relationship with clients on a one-to-one, managing the exceptions and you can have as well, with the use of technology, intelligent chatbots, platforms, Q and A spaces, the capacity to answer those questions from clients 24/7.

Jim Freeze Yeah. There are a couple of other things I’m really interested in pressing on this, what you said which is some what I’ve read noted that intelligent automation increases the resilience of our health and economic systems. And that obviously seems very important in the current circumstances. So how do you think the value of intelligent automation has changed or grown in the context of the pandemic?

Pascal Bornet I think it has definitely grown. I think it has always been there, because any company has to grab the capacity in efficiency growth that provides intelligent automation. It’s in the range of 20 to 60% efficiency increase that you can get from intelligent automation. So it has always been here and  it has always been a fact of competitiveness, because if a company doesn’t transform itself using intelligent automation, the competitors will do it. And they would gain more market share, because they would sell products cheaper and better with a better customer experience and so on that they would definitely gain market share.

This was in the past. So it was a factor of competitiveness. Nowadays with the COVID issues, the crisis that is ongoing, it’s not anymore competitiveness issue, it’s becoming vital. Okay. It’s becoming a question of survival of businesses. And I think all the businesses that have currently survived, or haven’t been able to thrive even in this period of crisis, definitely have used intelligent automation. The one which have not used, either have already failed or are just surviving with the subsidies from the government. And just to illustrate that point, any company that is not able to sell digitally to clients, to sell online to clients or to create revenue basically, in a period where nobody can come physically and buy your product, any company that has not been able to automate cash collection has not been able to get a cashflow in.

And many companies have died just because they’ve not been able to collect money, because the money they used collect is either cash or checks, but not something that is digitally manageable. And many companies have had to discontinue their operations just because their people were not able to work remotely. And again here, thanks to intelligent automation companies that have been able to thrive, have been able to motivate their people remotely, have been able to allow them to work and produce their day-to-day value remotely. It’s really impacting the whole chain of value in a company.

Jim Freeze I love how you characterized it from going from a mindset of being more competitive, to one of survival. I think that’s a great way to characterize the mandate, which kind of leads me to kind of some predictions come my last questions. You’ve made some notable predictions that I’ve seen online about the impact of intelligent automation on our world. You talk about its ability to save lives, enhance education, and even eliminate hunger. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you think it will take to get to that point?

Pascal Bornet Yeah, so as part of the research we did while writing the book has been, what can be the promise of intelligent automation if we push it at full scale in our world? What can be the impact on lives? What can be the impact on the rest of our world, and especially education, health and famine and the protection of our planets I mean, just to talk about the most pressing issues of our world. Ten plus million lives per year, is the outcome of our research in terms of what can be the impact of intelligent automation, especially in the health and medical industry.

Going from drug discovery, clinical trials, diagnosis, and managing disease from preventable sources, especially in developing countries. And managing the issue around the world of lack of physicians, for example, our world is lacking more than four million physicians. So all those issues can be supported by intelligent automation. And I won’t go into the detail now, but the outcome of this calculation is ten million lives per year, knowing that our world loses 50 plus million lives per year. So that’s 20%.

Jim Freeze That’s a material impact. And that’s actually the kind of news we need to hear in the environment that we’re all operating in. Pascal, thanks so much for joining us on this episode. It’s been fascinating to take a deep dive into intelligent automation. You’re obviously very passionate about it. And the impacts on businesses and society are profound. We really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.

Pascal Bornet Thank you very much, Jim. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my passion, as you said.

That’s all for this episode, and this season, of The ConversAItion. A big thank you to all of our fascinating guests, and to all the listeners tuning in. We hope you’ll join us again in Season 4.

This episode of The ConversAItion podcast was produced by Interactions, a Boston-area conversational AI company. I’m Jim Freeze, signing off, and we’ll see you next season. 



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