Digital Transformation And Automation

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The sudden and dramatic disruption in the economic activities due to COVID-19 earlier this year has forced enterprises to radically relook at their ways of doing business. The urgency led to accelerated Digital Transformation initiatives across all the industries worldwide. Enterprises looked at digital technologies to enable their systems and processes to connect with the customers to serve their needs while ensuring their safety.

Digital Transformation journey for any business or industry sector ostensibly starts by simplifying and streamlining business processes; and then incorporate digital technologies to automate as much as possible. It helps processes to be more efficient by reducing cost, time, resource requirements and in- creases speed and accuracy. Automation can free up staff from mundane tasks and can empower them to serve more customers without burning out. Automation also enables scaling as and when needed to meet the needs of business without much additional cost and effort.

Automation is not just focused on cost and operational efficiency; its benefits include safeguarding people from potentially hazardous situations and environments. Robots can help in doing dangerous tasks on the factory floors, in places involving heavy and dangerous machinery, in chemical and other hostile environments where human lives can be jeopardized and any error can lead to grave injuries or loss of lives.

With all its benefits for the businesses, however, the automation remains a controversial topic from the human workforce perspective due to the narrow focus of its scope and applicability towards replacing humans to do the job.

The fears become even more real when we hear about the new trends in automation ­ from RPA (Robotic Process Automation) that used simple fixed rules, to IPA (Intelligent Process Automation) that combines AIML for more complex decision making and process orchestration to Hyper-Automation that ultimately seeks to automate the whole organization by creating a Digital Twin of the enterprise. It does seem like that the goal of the automation is to create human-less enterprises. But how these technological advancements are used remains up to us.

During current times, the major economies have shrunk alarmingly and hundreds of thousands of people at all levels are losing jobs. This makes it even more important to understand how automation should be approached to support businesses and workforce in tiding over current crisis.

Automation qualitatively redefines the very nature of many tasks and, in the process, creates many newer jobs. The key point is, any productivity in-crease and subsequent growth leads to enterprises looking for newer markets, segments and revenue streams that ends up creating newer roles and jobs. Also, paradoxically, automation makes the newly aligned jobs of humans much more critical since any error or flaw in automated system can have magnified adverse impact.

Stages Of Automation
A typical automation journey for an enterprise goes through four stages ­ it starts by first automating simplest of the tasks like job scheduling, data processing or simple workflow execution within a system; for e.g. using Excel macros to process data or using shell scripts to automate some of the basic tasks. At the second stage, the enterprises move on to exploring more sophisticated RPA tools to automate backend tasks across systems or tools boundaries based on fixed-rules to help automate high-volume, predictable and repeatable tasks. The typical use case examples are Invoice processing, payroll management, re-source scheduling, system monitoring, employee or customer onboarding etc. So, far the tasks are mostly back office and independent with no-to-minimal inputs or interference from the humans.

In the third stage of automation, the fixed or static business rules are replaced by dynamic-learning based approach as well as more front-ending or user interactions. At this step, the big data and AI&ML comes into the picture to enable creation of bots and models that leverage massive data for analysis and predictions. Examples of such systems are conversational bots, personalized offerings of content and services, supply chain and inventory optimization, proactive maintenance monitoring and scheduling etc. The combining of RPA and AI/ML marks the evolution of RPA into IPA (Intelligent Process Automation).The fourth stage leads to prescriptive decisions-making based on Deep learning and more complex AI models. For example, autonomous vehicles and systems, fraud detection in financial sector or intrusion detection in cyber security and real-time actions to address them.

Key To Successful Implementation
For the smooth and successful implementation, the CIOs must plan and strategize their Automation initiatives carefully. First and foremost, the CIOs must align all the automation initiatives with business goals to get buy- in and sponsorship from the executive management and turn the whole initiative into a business-led one. This helps in scoring quick wins, earning advocates and expand the initiatives across the whole enterprise faster. Secondly, the CIOs must keep abreast of latest technological trends to incorporate them into their medium to long term planning. They also need to create robust KPIs and outcome metrices to track the success of the initiative. Third, the CIOs must plan to hire the right talent and upskill the existing re-sources to implement the projects as well as plan the trainings for the end users for the smooth transition to new processes. Finally, the proper, timely, proactive and adequate communication plan must be charted out to pro-actively inform all the stakeholders regarding the upcoming initiatives, their impact and to address their concerns, fears or queries.

Digital Transformation considers humans at the centre of its core objective. It includes all the stakeholders including employees, partners, vendors and not just the paying customers. Any automation initiative needs to look at the larger picture rather than with a narrow focus on operational efficiency to replace humans. While hard times necessitate the businesses to look for the ways to cut cost and stay afloat, any reduction in the workforce will ham-per the revival of economic activities which in turn will impact the business revival indirectly. It is time to imaginatively use technology in ways to support communities and societies at large while helping businesses as well.

Augmented intelligence coupled with Automation that lever-ages the cutting-edge AI/ML models while keeping humans at the driving seat is the way forward towards an empowered workforce and a prosperous community.