Skip to main content

Q&A: How to Leverage Intelligent Automation to Drive Value for Portfolio Companies

4 Min Read

Meet Our Expert

Doug Shannon is a global intelligent automation leader with over 20 years of advanced technology experience, in both IT and automation roles. He currently serves as a council member with the Theia Institute, an organization focused on cybersecurity and AI tech leadership. He also sits on the think-tank Voice of the Customer in a Automation Landscape (VOCAL) Council. He is a Global Intelligent Automation Manager for a Clinical Research Organization. He previously served in roles at Cisco and Chevron, among other organizations.

Question #1: What is Intelligent Automation and Why Does it Matter to Private Equity?

Intelligent automation encompasses several innovative technologies that can revolutionize efficiency with robotics, processes and other tools. Public interest in AI and automation rose significantly in the past year, especially after OpenAI publicly launched ChatGPT in November 2022.  

AI and automation were previously understood primarily by academics, with little outside accessibility or knowledge. This changed when large language models (LLMs) allowed OpenAI and other companies to produce new AI technology, including chatbots that are able to communicate the nuances of the human experience. 

This further fueled existing digital trends in private equity. On top of other technological advances, AI and automation tools can help firms excel farther, faster. Many firms are now recognizing the value of new digital solutions that can streamline operations, cut costs and allow employees to focus on value-add tasks.

Question #2: What AI and Automation Tools are Gaining Prominence and Why?

Many firms are leveraging the benefits of robotic process automation (RPA), which can replace repeatable tasks. RPA can begin as a simple process that does not require AI, analytics or other advanced features. Many companies are building their own AI and automation solutions for their specific processes.  

The cost of robotic process automation can seem hefty at first, whether hiring internal or external expertise to help with the process. However, successfully executing automation plans can save time, boost quality and generate a greater return on investment for employees—freeing them up to do more valuable work. Accessible automation solutions and expertise make it easier than ever to explore your options. 

Experts anticipate additional advances in intelligent automation technology in the next five to 10 years, making it important for firms to develop a strong foundational knowledge of current digital tools. Adapting to new tech is easier for firms with institutional knowledge and an innovative culture.

Question #3: What are the Benefits of AI Technology and Automation for Portfolio Profitability?

There are wide-ranging opportunities for new AI technology and automation to support your firm’s growth strategies. Automation can help your firm identify synergies between portfolio companies. Overlapping tasks can be streamlined, resulting in cost and operational efficiencies. Building a successful automation ecosystem between portfolios can make integration an easier, faster and more profitable venture. 

Automation can also replace risky jobs that leave portfolio companies liable for worker injuries or complaints, freeing up workers to complete safer tasks that still generate value. This can subsequently improve worker satisfaction and productivity. Intelligent automation can solve many pain points experienced by portfolio companies, improving processes and procedures that may be hurting the bottom line.

Question #4: What Pitfalls should Private Equity Firms Avoid with Automation?

First and foremost, private equity firms, portfolio companies and employees must understand that automation does not replace human workers. Rather, intelligent automation solutions should complement human workers, taking over repetitive tasks that do not require regular human input. For example, seasonal work is often a prime candidate for automation, while highly creative tasks may not be well suited for automation. Laying people off prematurely will undoubtedly affect a company’s ability to successfully implement automation, ensure quality results and drive value over time. 

Firms who pursue automation for their portfolio companies should establish a “brave space” where employees feel empowered to ask questions, own up to failures and move forward together. Before presenting ideas or implementing solutions, firms should ensure that employees of all generations feel educated and empowered to use the technology. Your firm should clearly define the process before authorizing new AI technology or automated solutions. This could include internal meetings, business process mapping, governance documentation and more. 

Use the ACT model to gain input from your users, customers and employees about automation: 

  • Align: Leadership should be on the same page about the solution. 
  • Clarity: Leaders should provide context about the solution and its effectiveness. 
  • Transparency: Leaders should be open about how they selected an automation solution and the unknowns that lie ahead. 

Question #5: How Can Firms Successfully Implement AI and Automation Goals?

Implementing intelligent automation is not a quick process. Rather, it requires intentionality and patience over time to achieve the most effective results. Throughout the process, you should outline requirements for detailed documentation that outlines task steps. This will allow employees to optimize the use of automation, transfer knowledge to other employees and learn from mistakes. 

Before beginning the process, the first step is often initiating an open conversation with stakeholders about automation. If deciding to implement intelligent automation for portfolio companies, your firm should expect a three-year process that resembles this timeline: 

  • First year: Identify the team that will help with implementation. Build your governance, package and automation, and change controls as needed. 
  • Second year: This is when your portfolio company can hit the ground running. See how intelligent automation can solve small-scale pain points. Evaluate its effectiveness. 
  • Third year: You hit cost positive on your automation investment. The platform cost, licensing and team salaries should cost the company nothing. Enjoy the flexibility to grow your automation capabilities and make other investments. 

It is essential that firms embark on this journey with a positive attitude. A bad attitude can doom your implementation process from the start. 

Discover How Intelligent Automation Can Progress Your Portfolio Plans

Partner with Apex Leaders to find niche intelligent automation advisors to drive value for your portfolio companies.