Automation & Business Success
C-level executives come together to understand the role of automation in driving digital transformation at a BW-Avaya India round table recently.
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BW Businessworld in association with Avaya India and Avaya’s partner SEC Communications organised a roundtable discussion in Bengaluru inviting select few C-level executives from a broad range of industries to understand the role of automation in driving digital transformation in the modern enterprise. Automation is one of the most popular outcomes of digital transformation. But is it possible to look at automation as an enabler of digital transformation? We explored this central question and few others.
Automation – threat or an opportunity?
The human nature manifests itself in all areas of life. Fear is an intrinsic part of the human psyche. If the aliens were to land on our planet — for almost all of us the first question would be to know if they pose a threat. We see this in our popular culture too, in movies and all. The question about job loss always accompanies the conversation around automation and this is also a result of our tendency to evaluate threat. But the history of automation is full of instances which prove that automation has helped elevate human lives cumulatively. And no one else captured this essence of automation in more better words than Janaki Krishnamoorthy, Director, SEC Communications who said, “Automation is moving up in life.” SEC Communications is a partner of Avaya. The company has its lineage going back to the founder of telephony, Graham Bell and Bell Labs.
John Philip, Director of Sales at Avaya echoed the same and said, “I meet a lot of diverse businesses and the theme that all are talking about is doing things better and more efficiently.” Meena Ganesh, MD, Portea drew upon the opportunity from her line of business said, “Digital Technology such as automation presents an opportunity to shift from population medicine to personalised medicine.” She further added, “Digital technology enables automation of things that were not possible before and this according to me is driving the rise of totally new businesses which did not exist before.”
Pavan Kumar, SVP – Global Indirect Business, Altair said, “Automation is a knowledge capture mechanism especially for companies like us which are into creation of intellectual property. Expanding on this Pavan said, “Automation is an opportunity to capture and retain knowledge held by employees. Typically, most of the ideas that employees have don’t get documented. It is important to document the whole cause effect relationship that went into the design of the software tool. Automation projects by default capture all these aspects related to tasks you choose to automate. This knowledge can be accessed or reused in the future and informs decision making.”
Speaking about fostering innovation, Gaurav Mehrotra, VP Engineering, Innoviti Payment Solutions said, “It also helps the employee reclaim valuable time giving him a better work life balance and opportunity to innovate.” Jaya Janardanan, COO/Head IT, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank speaking of the impact of automation on the ground added, “In general, employees don’t lose jobs because of automation. Organisations get an opportunity to redeploy them in other areas.” Complimenting Pavan, Sunil Salimath, Technical Director, Manhattan Associates said, “Automation helps in building a knowledge base. Automation mitigates risk from employee attrition.” Rajesh Nair, VP – Telecommunications and Media, CGI speaking of automation as a management tactic said, “Only when organisations are forced to automate then they look at the complexity of their existing business processes.”
Automation has solved business problems in the past and therefore businesses will continue to look for automation to solve their current challenges.
But what is automation?
This is a rather philosophical question but it’s very important to place the what before the why. This is what the delegates said.
Ashutosh Nigam, Director – Global IT, Ness Digital Engineering said, “Automation is any process of procedure with minimal or no human intervention to provide a value add in terms of cost, quality, safety and precision.” Avnish Mehta, Director – Digital Transformation, Collabera Technologies said, “Ability to perform repeatable tasks at a scale without any human intervention is automaton.” Gaurav Mehrotra, VP Engineering, Innoviti Payment Solutions said, “Automation takes care of the repeatable aspects of the business process with employees having to deal with the exceptions only.”
Is automation a buzzword or a reality?
The primary driver of automation is cost reduction. The secondary advantage is that automation frees valuable time for chasing innovation, conducting experiments for achieving the end state in the digital transformation projects and above all to direct more resources on mission critical tasks. This is what the delegates said.
Bhavesh Vora, Technology Evangelist, Avaya said, “The prime driver of automation is cost reduction and delight the customer at the same time. Physical and digital are two ways of doing things. Automation happens when we take the digital route. Physical methods improve employee and customer bonding and the digital way gives a lot of customer and employee insights. Replacing or augmenting digital into a physical interaction can bring a lot of insights which would have been otherwise lost. Adoption of digital means of interaction creates data and having data brings the potential to automate. There exists a potential to automate the processing of data to gather insights and the eventual automation of some aspects of the business process on the back off the insights learnt. One of our customers have a call center catering to huge volumes of interactions. All the calls get recorded but the quality process is manual. Somebody has to listen to the calls to measure the quality of calls. A team of 50 – 70 call quality professionals listening into 5-10 per cent of all the recorded calls cannot do justice. So capturing data, recording calls is not enough as you also need to evaluate them. Avaya has brought a market solution that enables automated call monitoring listening into every conversation. This enables 100 per cent call quality audits with recommendations for the business on agent performance and customer satisfaction. This is one of the first implementations of such an AI system in India which helps in reducing the costs and ensuring you get all the insights from your data.”
Rajesh Soni, Director IT – Yodlee India said, “We have deployed tools to observe areas that can be optimised using automation. This helps in keeping control over the costs by bringing down the man days and the process durations.” Jaya Janardanan, COO/Head IT, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank said, “Our field officers would source about 30 loan applications in a day, but the same number has gone up to 80 to 95 in our journey from paper to paperless digital. Cost reduction, customer experience and accuracy are key factors in operations and automation is critical to achieve it. Regulations mandate us to do a few things digitally which as a bank we need to do. But there are areas in banking which cannot be digitised where wet signatures of customers on documents still are critical for any sourcing or lending. This is where the concept of ‘phygital’ comes in.” Sunthara Rajan, Head – Business Solutions Group, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank said, “We have 6000 customer relationship officers and if they work on 10 loan applications per day then that becomes 60,000 manual entries per day. We have automated 50 per cent of the data entry using OCR based automation which has led to 60-70 per cent productivity improvement in front office operations. This means we can have more resources focusing on other activities such as collections and repayments.” Pavan Kumar, SVP – Global Indirect Business, Altair said, “Automation can also lead to innovation as employees can make time to run experiments and pursue research in areas they care about.” Jacob Peter, VP – IT, Robert Bosch Engineering summarising the conversation said, “Automation is not a buzzword but a constant. Instead we see automation becoming pervasive. We are in a everything-as-a-service world and it is automation upon which product-based companies will have to depend in their product to service transformation journey.
Automation to improve employee experience
Is automation helping employees? We asked this question to the delegates and this is what they said.
Pawas Chandra, Director IT, WeWork India said, “Companies big and small are looking at automation to understand employee engagement time to create futuristic workspaces. Bhavesh Vora, Technology Evangelist, Avaya drawing from decades of IT experience said, “Enterprise grade video conferencing has saved a lot of employee time giving them flexibility to plan their work and life.”
Speaking of some of their customers, John Philip, Director of Sales, Avaya India said, “We have delivered intelligent automation solutions to a top healthcare organisation where in if the vitals of a patient go down then in real time the doctors and nurses get informed and technologically it is now possible for them to pay attention from remote sites. Another customer, a top software organisation has implemented voice biometrics to improve the employee experience within their global facilities will full integration and backend incident management systems to improve service levels.” He further added, “Employees can do more if the HR managers have data around how their employees work. Automation can off course improve productivity, but the data footprint of automation solutions also has a lot of value hidden within it which can be mined for incremental gains in productivity.”
Automation for better customer experience
Automation is the form of chat bots and IVR and digital portals have become popular. We see a lot of automation happening within the marketing space. Avnish Mehta, Director – Digital Transformation, Collabera Technologies said, “AI driven automation enables personalisation at a scale for the customer.” Bhavesh Vora, Technology Evangelist, Avaya bringing our attention to the back office and said, “Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai are huge hubs for back offices. There are only about 20 per cent employees in the front office. So, we can say that 80 per cent of the work happens in the back office. But we see there is a lot of focus on the front office and to compound the problem most of the companies don’t have a good visibility into their back offices. Back office process automation automatically improves customer experience.”
Getting automation right
There are limits to everything and so is true about automation. Many automation projects fail. We asked what is that companies should watch for. This is what the delegates said.
Bhavesh Vora, Technology Evangelist, Avaya said, “Digital transformation is a slow process. But the journey must begin now in finding the right use cases to get the ROI. Patience is important when you are making changes to your business model. It’s all about reducing the costs and making your employees more efficient and productive.” Pavan Kumar, SVP – Global Indirect Business, Altair added, “Are our regulatory organisations ready to accept a decision taken by an AI algorithm? So, there will be areas which cannot be automated as the liability arising from errors in automation is not yet traceable.”
Rajesh Nair, VP – Telecommunications and Media said, “Organisations have to be very diligent in picking up the right use cases for automation. This is a leading indicator of low returns from digital investments. He further added, “Addressing the needs of the end user while designing the automation will make it intelligent.” John Philip, Director of Sales, Avaya India said, “Automation needs scale to deliver significant benefits. Not all automation is the same when it comes to returns. Some can fail and therefore you must continue doing POCs and experiment before you take them to production.” Jaya Janardanan, COO/Head IT, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank said “It is important for organisations to ‘think and act’ versus following the trends to achieve meaningful results from digital investments. This is often a rigorous process. Ideas should be prosecuted to identify gaps.” Pawas Chandra, Director IT, WeWork India said, “High quality automation which is also meaningful in the context of the business realities needs quality leadership.”
It is amply clear that businesses look at automation as an opportunity to reduce costs, improve customer and employee experience. Automation has always been the barometer of societal progress. Automation reclaims valuable time of the organisation making it available for pursuing digital transformation. Businesses overall have always sought opportunities to automate wherever possible. Consumer in India is big at 1.3 billion and only scale offered by automation can help companies retain customers and grow customer base. Superior employee experience contributes to the overall quality of life Indians will enjoy, something not captured by the economics of today but a significant leading indicator of health of a nation. One word that summarises all the contemporary conversation among the business executives on the topic of automation is “optimism”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.