It often takes a crisis to uncover suboptimal processes, system failures, or better ways to communicate, learn and create. COVID-19 is bringing the digital workforce to preeminence as businesses seriously consider how to optimize their operations while finding new and meaningful ways to engage with their customers. This article paints an excellent picture of how automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can step in to help with the more routine tasks while boosting human efforts across the enterprise.
As the pandemic forces many staff to work remotely, it is shaping the future of work – with more AI-enabled digital tools being incorporated to equip employees with ways to automate and enhance business processes.
Surprisingly, an IDC survey only last year revealed that almost one-in-three office workers would not delegate any work to AI (27 percent). A third meanwhile did not feel AI could do a better job than them on any task (32 percent).
What about software robots?
Fast forward a year, and the change in working behavior means employees’ fear of robots taking their jobs is subsiding. Companies are now realizing the benefit of assistance from “digital workers,” aka robotic process automation (RPA) software robots.
These so-called bots augment tasks and help employees expedite customer-facing and revenue-generating processes, such as onboarding, accounts payable, claims, shipping and logistics, and customer inquiries.
The IDC survey did confirm that workers would be happy to hand over “boring” jobs like data entry, electronic filing, and reviewing long documents. “Happy to hand over ‘boring jobs'” is fortunate because it’s clear the advent of AI, machine learning, and advanced cognitive technologies means more digital workers will be joining the office.
The IDC white paper revealed that the number of digital workers entering the workforce is expected to leap by 50 percent by the end of next year.
So what is the impact of the pandemic? Will we be seeing even more digital workers in the enterprise as a result? It seems so. However, is now a time to review change within your business?
Do your processes already work well — and is it time to change?
It can often take a crisis to realize broken processes, failures in a system, or better ways to achieve things, learn and create.
Indeed, many organizations “think” they know how their processes work, yet it is far from reality. Rather than rely on a manager’s assumptions, opinion or bias, there are cloud solutions that provide an in-depth visualization and analysis of processes.
Tools to evaluate current productivity and processes.
These tools have the ability to evaluate your current processes in their “as-is” state so process automation teams can clearly set ROI expectations, assure agile service delivery and ensure that automation efforts do not produce any unintended consequences.
The healthcare industry is a prime example of the importance of process intelligence tools during this pandemic when the flow of information from different sources is critical to speedy and effective patient care.
Consider the challenges posed by a process’ scope such as orderly and efficient patient flow, timely processing of a lab test or the reading of a chest X-Ray. Accurately processing a treatment plan or the performance of many hundreds of other processes executed thousands of times daily is critical.
The challenge is aggravated since, in many of these examples, the information (data) related to the execution of each step may be stored across multiple different systems (EMR, LIS, RIS, PACS, ERP, etc.). Consequently, there is no central application that can provide a comprehensive view of the process histories.
With actionable insight into processes, healthcare leaders can make data-driven decisions and strategically optimize daily operations.
The same goes for many business-critical processes in an organization, which has suddenly become more crucial in this time of social distancing.
The influx of remote workers has shined a spotlight on specific processes that threaten the continuity of business, especially as they relate to content-centric processes. Think of all the invoice processing, customer service requests, account openings or inquiries, and claims being filed.
Having access to these documents and systems and ensuring no interruption in service is critical to an organization’s bottom line. These types of forms and business processes would normally require manual input or monitoring. But the use of digital workers augments the human worker with digital intelligence to expedite processes.
Which business process in your organization is a candidate for automation?
All business processes are not created equal, some are critical to the survival and growth of your business, while some are not. Some consume costly resources — some do not.
There are a few qualifications that make a process a good candidate for automation.
- The process follows rules-based logic, rather than human judgment-based decisions
- The process is repetitive and may be prone to human error
- The process follows a clear set of instructions
- If there is input data, it is digitized or can be with methods such as OCR
It is important to note that the majority of processes that represent automation opportunities depend on unstructured data (e.g., invoices, orders, application forms, etc.), which is not a core capability of RPA products.
Unstructured data is even more significant when you consider that 90 percent of enterprise content is unstructured, and growing up to 65 percent per year, according to Cognilytica. The ability to understand this trove of unstructured data requires that document capture technology must be seamlessly integrated with RPA digital workers to transform unstructured data into structured content to be used in business processes.
Should Digital Transformation Projects Pause?
At emergency times like this, organizations realize they cannot afford to halt digital transformation projects, or they risk not being agile enough during the next crisis and delivering poor customer experiences.
Many executives are currently safeguarding their projects by leveraging low-code cloud solutions that will identify process bottlenecks, power automation, and infuse AI.
It’s the same scenario for sophisticated mobile capabilities, such as mobile web capture, SDKs, and mobile PDF productivity tools, which have become a top priority as offices, stores, and banks close, leaving much of the interaction via smartphones.
To maintain business continuity now is a time to reevaluate your company’s mobile strategy.
Providing customers with a frictionless mobile onboarding experience – from account openings, registering with a healthcare provider, applying for a credit card, or to gain an insurance quote – is no longer an added bonus.
You must provide a smooth, seamless, fully integrated customer experience starting from their very first interactions. That means being able to move easily from one channel to another, ensuring the process isn’t too lengthy, reducing typing requirements, and not having to download a native app to complete the process — otherwise, you risk abandonment.
What about mobile processes?
Also, evaluate how seamless your mobile processes integrate with back-end systems. Most consumers have a smartphone in their pocket, and by 2025 millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce, which means onboarding processes will need to reflect the new mobile generation who are embracing the future of work.
Businesses understand they need to meet their customers where they are and engage with them in the most personalized way possible. In essence, this will determine their survival in a highly competitive digital transformation market landscape, and this unprecedented time when social distancing is raising digital expectations on all forms of technology.
Should you invest now?
According to a research firm, IDC technology workers with AI skills are being spared the current wave of layoffs and actually may see employment opportunities. IDC estimates that the number of AI jobs globally could increase by as much as 16 percent this year, reaching 969,000, driven by stronger demand for AI workers as companies contend with the impact of the pandemic and prepare for the future of work.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are emerging across the globe.
Along with AI and ML, workers are finally ready to augment their work with digital workers. Within enterprises specifically, RPA, for example, is ultimately about using software to automate repetitive, high-volume process tasks that would have once required a human effort.
It shifts the worker to more intellectual work. Instead of people spending hours completing manual repetitive tasks, they can leverage RPA to focus on work that requires human ingenuity and creativity.
The good thing is that employees now working remotely are getting used to relying on digital tools and embracing their new assistants. As they become more familiar with these tools, they’ll be more open to incorporating solutions that augment their work.
No longer will there be a fear AI will replace them, and they will be open to how AI can enhance their roles with content and process intelligence, which will be a fundamental part of the future of work.
As more states and countries order shelter in place, ban social gatherings and push for zero-touch options for picking up essentials like medical and food supplies — we are having to adapt to getting work done through virtualization.
What this ultimately means is that work from home, and social distancing is a new paradigm for social and business interactions, where the point of both is to eliminate as many at-risk interactions as humanly possible.
Accordingly, we already are seeing how digital transformation can become the umbrella for making this work. Where safe distance, even isolation, are mandated to help flatten the curve of this virus, AI, digital workers, and virtualization technologies, including accelerated use of mobile and app-driven interactions, will become a necessity in doing business today.
The enterprise, as we know, it will never be the same again. Don’t miss the AI train — it’s time to look to the future.