Viswanath Ramaswamy is a Vice President, Technology at IBM Technology Sales, India/South Asia
IT automation is no longer uncharted territory for businesses–it has pervaded most industries as automation software becomes commonplace. Globally, many companies are deploying foundational automation to handle basic and repetitive activities while some are using advanced automation that enables humans and machines to combine forces for more complex processes.
However, few innovation-led companies are supercharging automation with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to build intelligent automation, deployed across their organisation for a competitive edge. In intelligent automation, intelligent machines or computers using cognitive computing abilities such as reasoning and learning can take complex and mission-critical decisions themselves with minimum human intervention. The age of intelligent automation or automation 2.0 is dawning on us, accelerated by the Covid-19 induced disruptions.
The rise of intelligent automation
In the times we live in today, businesses need to keep their operations responsive, dynamic, and interconnected to their workflows and the ecosystem. To achieve this, they need visibility across the organisation and real-time insights, capabilities that intelligent automation provides. Infusing AI into automation can drive innovation and efficiencies and help save costs by applying AI to automate IT operations and incorporating Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) into decision-making and transforming business processes into intelligent workflows.
Intelligent workflows connect data from disparate systems, streamline processes and generate actionable insights; accelerating service delivery for improved experiences amongst customers, employees, and users; as well as help improve bottom-line results. As per a report, Automation and the future of work, by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), about 80 percent of companies ramping up intelligent automation expect to perform better than their competition in terms of profitability in the next three years.
Further, intelligent workflows can enable the knowledge workers to focus on high value and complex tasks rather than performing mundane and redundant activities, saving time and resulting in greater work satisfaction. According to a WorkMarket report, 78 percent of surveyed business leaders said automation could save up to three work hours every day. The IBV study cited earlier revealed that 90 percent of executives whose companies are scaling intelligent automation said that it creates higher-value work for their knowledge workers. Most importantly, intelligent automation can make businesses adaptable to disruptions and gear up for the future of work.
Given the enormous benefits, what are the actions that businesses can take towards the adoption of intelligent automation?
Roadmap for embracing intelligent automation
The first step for companies looking to adopt intelligent automation is to digitise all their work and create intelligent workflows using a wide range of automation technologies. They should digitise work before infusing AI. With AI and cognitive solutions, they can detect hitherto unidentified patterns and use insights to boost responsiveness. The next step is to understand where they can use AI for process optimisation. Businesses should identify gaps in operations and knowledge workers, evaluate key performance indicators and identify inefficiencies using AI before optimising processes with automation. They must follow the principles of ‘Explainable AI’ so they can explain the reasons behind the conclusions and decisions by their AI systems to the people who are affected by it.
As a next step, companies need to put new operating models in place that can enhance customer and workforce experience using intelligent automation for competitive differentiation in the market. Using customer and workforce insights, they should aim to improve their responsiveness in resolving issues and service delivery.
However, the most important aspect is the orientation of the workforce–educating them on the benefits and capabilities of intelligent automation so they can augment the organisation’s core strengths and focus on higher-value work. Businesses should keep skilling the workforce in line with advances in technology even as they deploy low code or no code tooling methodology to support quick automation for redundant tasks. They should also use the ‘AI to build AI’ approach to solve the shortage of data scientists and industry experts–AI can automate the creation of ML models and control its life cycle management. Knowledge workers can choose the ML models they want to deploy for intelligent automation.
To conclude, in the age of AI, intelligent automation is the way forward for companies to transform and differentiate themselves vis-à-vis their competition. For instance, intelligent automation is helping the retail and consumer products sectors to improve their efficiencies, enhance customer experience and cut costs, besides fostering new ways of doing business with more operational agility. The era of organisation-wide intelligent automation beckons businesses.
The writer is a Vice President, Technology at IBM Technology Sales, India/South Asia