The pace of digital transformation is picking up around the world, buoyed not only by the events of the last 18 months but also by the emergence of the digitally savvy consumer. Increasingly, businesses are turning to automation or evaluating approaches such as hyperautomation as they seek to pull ahead of the competition by lowering costs, doubling down on innovation, and increasing customer-centricity.
But is automation truly required for successful digital transformation (DX)? According to Purushothama Shenoy, chief technology officer at IBM Singapore, DX is about creating new business opportunities by adopting a customer-driven, digital-first approach across all aspects of the business. And technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, the cloud, and other digital technologies are enablers to faster and smarter decision-making.
Why automation and why now
“When you consider how digital transformation will create new business opportunities, you will see that automation will play a very significant role in digital transformation. We started the journey by moving from paper to digital. Now, the question is how we can leverage these digitalized assets, make sense out of it, and come up with insights in a much more sophisticated way using data, AI, and automation,” said Shenoy.
Automation can hence deliver exceptional customer experience, allowing businesses to quickly pull ahead of their competitors. Shenoy pointed to the Singapore Personal Access (Singpass) digital ID and MyInfo system as an example of how automation, in general, can move the needle on customer experience – even as it delivers better security.
“I just opened a trading account the other day. It's directly integrated with Singpass, so I don't need to even fill in any data. All I need to do was to log into Singpass, authorize access to a list of information that they require, and the relevant data information is pulled straight out to create my trading account with seamless onboarding experience.”
“If you look at it behind the scenes, there is a lot of automation happening to make this work. But as far as experience as a customer is concerned, I merely clicked three buttons, authenticated myself, and I get a message a few moments later that they will get back to me regarding my new account – and this confirmation can happen within the same day.”
When going slow is not an option
But surely organizations can build more customer-centric applications without the need to harness automation? To underscore the fact that the competition is not standing still, Shenoy pointed to how quickly startups are entering certain fields such as FinTech.
“Let’s say you are a bank still using a traditional approach of mandating a form that must be printed out, filled up, and mailed in. Then having the customer wait for three, five days for a credit card application to be processed. As a customer today, you can be sure I will be looking for an alternative. Maybe that was the system at one point in time and there wasn’t a choice then. But today, customers have a choice.”
Crucially, a new generation of younger customers who grew up with smartphones and always-available Internet access will have significantly higher customer experience expectations and differing preferences in how they want to communicate with their brands. “Maybe they don't even want to click a button; they might prefer a WhatsApp chat or communicate through an in-app chatbot.”
There is also employee productivity to consider.
“For enterprises with a sales team, you want them to focus on clinching the sales you hired them for and submitting the relevant forms online, rather than spending time in the office filing paperwork. It’s really about employee productivity and enabling your employees to tap their core expertise rather than performing mundane, low-value, repetitive tasks.”
Moving beyond automation
Shenoy noted that even businesses that have already implemented automation can gain further benefits by doubling down on it through hyperautomation. Defined as the implementation of an end-to-end automation toolchain that can address the most complex of business processes, Gartner says organizations will lower operational costs by 30% by combining hyperautomation technologies with redesigned operational processes.
He envisions organizations moving beyond a piecemeal approach to automation by leveraging a platform, as well as leveraging the power of AI. “It is a fact that there is no automation without integration. You need to integrate multiple systems to derive maximum value from automation. Getting to the next level of automation happens when we gain this kind of integration out of the box.”
The final step would be using AI to the ability to bring automation to the next level, including enhancing existing business processes.
“If you look at robotic process automation (RPA) or business process automation (BPA) today, most of it deals with structured data – whether form data or CSV data. It's easy to do automation with structured data, but less so with unstructured data. Imagine an AI bot that brings not only structured data, but unstructured data to do automation. By using technologies such as natural language processing (NLP), AI can look large volumes of unstructured data into structured data to deliver greater insights and capabilities.”
“Let’s say we have a bank where all loans under SGD500,000 were automatically approved by a manager over the last one year. With AI, we can identify this to recommend ways to optimize the business process. For example, why not automatically approve loans that meet the criteria to accelerate the process? Instead of two people approving the loan, now it’s only one person.”
So how can enterprises get started with automation and hyperautomation? Shenoy recommends businesses adopt a Discover, Decide, Act, and Optimize methodology.
“Businesses cannot benefit from automation without first going through a process of discovery and deciding which process to automate,” said Shenoy. “Look at your existing processes and choose those that you think are going to have the biggest return on investment.”
Not everything can be automated, so businesses will need to be pragmatic, he cautioned. Moreover, businesses might be at varying levels of readiness: “Enterprises might be at different levels of maturity. Some might be in the Discover phase, some people are in Optimize phase, some people are on the Act phase.”
“One of the biggest advantages of automation is doing the same thing in an extremely consistent manner. With automation and AI, we can quickly process voluminous data and mundane tasks to gain insights and deliver recommendations. After which the human comes in to make the decision. Let the humans focus on critical thinking and human-centric tasks,” summed up Shenoy.
Paul Mah is the editor of DSAITrends. A former system administrator, programmer, and IT lecturer, he enjoys writing both code and prose. You can reach him at [email protected].
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