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Resuscitating Success Amidst COVID-19 Crisis With Intelligent Automation

The COVID-19 pandemic is only spurring it further as organizations realize the endurance and competitive capabilities that intelligent automation can grant to their operations & workforce.

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The modern concept of automation is said to have taken birth during the first industrial revolution, in the minds of economists who imagined a world run by faster & more efficient machines. While it began as robots that can perform basic and routine jobs unsupervised, the current iteration of automation has transformed how people and organizations work.

The usage of automation in the mainstream business process is not new, but with the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it is becoming a sought-after technology that companies are looking to adopt - to continue fulfilling their service commitment levels.

Traditionally, enterprises have been digitising and automating their business operations and/or IT operations for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it helps with enterprise value creation and therefore, organizations can differentiate deeply from their peers. Secondly, it helps transform and optimise the workforce so that they can be leveraged for higher-value work. And all of this at scale, by which companies can realise the economic advantages.

To put it simply, customer experience and workforce skills will continue to be crucial for companies from a competitive advantage standpoint, to not only weather the current pandemic disruption but also to capture growth in a recovering market.

Adding to this equation are signs of progress in artificial intelligence (AI) that are spawning a new phase of automation. Intelligent automation is about infusing AI and using the advancements in technology, to change the way enterprises operate to optimize processes, personalize customer experiences, and enhance decision-making.

Why is this so relevant now? 

Learnings from the disruption by COVID-19 have signalled a need to accelerate the investment in automation and digitization. These mission-critical initiatives are now being fast-tracked to be deployed with intelligent workflows supported by data and demand insights.

Only those with the boldest vision for intelligent automation will emerge stronger in the 'new tomorrow' and get the most benefits. Not just because they will give intelligent automation more work to do, but because they understand the transformational impact that growth combined with efficiency can deliver. And they are preparing to address the human and technology workforce partnership.

Automation for core IT operations
Extending beyond the business process, intelligent automation can play a vital role in IT operations as well. Gathering all information, correlating incidents that are occurring in the IT stack (hardware, software, middleware and applications), looking for patterns, and harnessing past knowledge for resolution - which all seem discreet activities in the current pandemic-stricken world - can be brought together by leveraging AI and quickly highlight probably causes of an outage. In some cases, where the resolution seems straight forward, the automation facility can be extended to execute the steps of resolution.

The whole area of automation has gained prominence so much that now product designs are influenced by requirements arising from the need to automate. Observability, therefore, has become an important design criterion, as is the ability to automate.

Does it change the way I work?

The use of automation along with AI and a spectrum of exponential technologies are changing the way humans and machines interact, in terms of who analyses data, who makes the decision, and who performs tasks within a workflow. Deploying intelligent automation across the enterprise and ecosystem, builds a more adaptable business, one that is able to rapidly respond, pivot, scale up or down, and adopt new operating models.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is not necessarily the fittest, fastest, or strongest that survives - but the most adaptable. Leveraging AI to do email triaging, help desk ticket management, etc. are great examples of how Intelligent Process Automation can be implemented. So, any business process which has a fair bit of repeatable steps are great candidates for automation, and AI only strengthens the whole process bringing in more accuracy with better customer experience.

Where do we go from here?
Companies are beginning to understand that implementing intelligent automation is a journey. As they start embarking on this journey and make progress, they can realize higher levels of process maturity, thereby improving business value generated.

As a first step, a company may want to begin with digitizing their operations with low-code, cloud-ready containerized automation software. Automation of existing Business Process Management (BPM), content and Operational Decision Management (ODM) is just not enough: one may want to use low-code technologies to enable digitization at scale across the organization. This is where cloud technologies come in handy, for quick and flexible establishment of automation enterprise-wide.

Second, apply AI in practical ways so organizations don't need a team of data scientists. Projects like Document Understanding, suggestions for Next Best Action are all low hanging fruits. These build on the existing Digitization efforts with several tools.

Third, I call this as a 'Hyperautomation' phase, where businesses look to optimise the hybrid workforce. This step is about continuously optimizing the workforce and make them become a hybrid workforce. With this, organizations can deploy their people to where they matter most and thus deploy Digital Workers whenever a greater level of productivity can be achieved.

To sum up, automation - with technology as a catalyst - has evolved to a level where it is indiscernible for an average end-user to detect its very existence in the products and services they consume. The COVID-19 pandemic is only spurring it further as organizations realize the endurance and competitive capabilities that intelligent automation can grant to their operations & workforce.

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.


Tags assigned to this article:
Automation COVID-19

Subram Natarajan

The author is Chief Technology Officer, IBM India/South Asia

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