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Taking the Bot Out of Humans

At times, when I walk into open office spaces, I see people feverishly typing away as they remain glued to their computer screens. Almost mechanically, they seem to be “forcing” the output which is proportional to the time spent in its quest. A linear world where the rhythm is unmistakable – monotonous, and with a certain dreariness, which I can sense. I am not suggesting that all of them are engaged in repetitive tasks (with due respect for what they continue to achieve) but surely, a sizeable number would be working on rules-based processes using structured data. It makes a strong case for intelligent automation (IA) which will not only free up thousands of man-hours but also provide opportunities for bright human beings to be retrained so they can reach for higher realms which require greater application of cognitive skills.

To be fair, intelligent automation has found its mark across several industries, particularly through RPA adoption. Yet, substantial gaps remain in AI incorporation. Essentially, rule-based workflow management tools are more widespread. Whereas, cognitive applications (AI, Deep Learning) which are capable of making human-like judgements, are few and far between, in workplaces. It comes as no surprise then, the global average of IA deployment is only 10% but encouragingly enough, India is among the highest at 17%.  Increasingly, the case for enterprise automation is being strengthened on value creation terms, a distinct shift from mere cost excellence or output optimization.

At the heart of value creation is customer experience and how the bar can be raised continually. In particular, enterprises with mature RPA engagements have started to deploy AI, as we see chatbots and virtual assistants deepening the level of customer engagement. This has still to pick up, as AI’s share of the overall Intelligent Automation is comparatively low. Says Kapil Uniyal, Vice President and SBU Head, Global Infrastructure and Cloud Technology Services, Birlasoft, “Investments within the intelligent automation domain are constantly rising. The ultimate business imperative should be to attain a critical inflexion point between delivering excellent user experience and proactively lowering the Infrastructure cost overheads for the enterprise.”

Let’s look at IBM’s Watson – it’s one of the first names that comes to mind when one is on the subject of Enterprise-ready AI. Watson has come to characterize this whole idea of “unlocking value through data”, and is doing so in profound ways to free up employees’ time from repetitive tasks. For instance, new drug discovery, in any case, will take many years but you don’t want your best employees to keep hunting for data but rather act on the insights. Watson has AI capabilities which can easily process millions of data points to bring back the focus on areas that matter most.

When there’s Watson, can Holmes be far behind? Wipro ensures that India is right on cue. One of the daunting tasks before leaders is about selecting the right vendor(s), especially the home-grown ones to get the roadmap right including subsequent implementation. Typically and given the outreach and experience in working in diverse verticals, Holmes delivers on three counts – the 3E’s – Economics, Efficiency & Experience.

For service providers, it’s imperative that the customer is at the nucleus and not technology. Too often, there’s a near-obsessive need – understandably so – to convey the power of a certain technology without paying adequate heed to the specific needs, design element and willingness to explore the partner ecosystem. This is a recipe for disaster. Harsh Vinayak, a senior leader at NTT Data has an interesting observation to make: “20% of bots fail as infants and by Year 3, only about 10% are there. One has to always remain mindful while doing the cost-benefit analysis.”

Humans are fearful or resentful of things they don’t understand. We have entered into an age where “digital workforce” is the reality. It’s not only about how many people who work for an organization but if you stretch the argument a bit, it’s equally about the number of “bots on the rolls or being outsourced.” One can never over-emphasize the role of Change Management and allaying the fear of job losses. In theory, it sounds logical and easy but in reality, it’s not while making the transition. A leader has to be prepared to answer that never-ending question from a different set of individuals, and often a mind-numbing volley – “Is my job next in line?”

For employees today, there’s no escaping the pathway of continuous learning. Techies are used to working in an environment where classical bits of information exist in either the binary states of 0 or 1. Not intending to give you a primer on Quantum Computing, but soon we will have to deal with quantum bits or qubits, which use the quantum mechanical properties of superposition and entanglement, and can exist in a superposition state of 0 and 1. At best, it’s a few years away before it comes into the mainstream. Again, this is not an intent to single out techies – users are impacted just as deeply. In fact, there’s a prevailing thought right now that computer coding is made mandatory – almost like learning a second language.

It’s time we truly respected human intelligence to create an environment where employees across levels, don’t merely exist as robots which perform a single task only.

 

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