Shoring up automation in the path to the new normal

Shoring up automation in the path to the new normal

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on many businesses, and an entirely new set of needs and increased expectations have emerged overnight. With everyone forced to adapt to a virtual existence, demand for online and contactless interactions has heightened - leaving businesses to recalibrate and try new ways to drive loyalty and re-attract lost audiences.

Across industries around the world, the rapid execution of Work At Home (WAH) operating models, exponentially increased use of digital platforms for hiring, training and managing operations, use of chatbots and virtual agents for managing spikes in customer requests – all indicating a much higher appetite for organizational change due to the pandemic than already underway due to digital disruption. Clearly, if anything, the pandemic is accelerating the pace of digital transformation.

Embracing a digital workforce

In the last 5 years, businesses have benefitted significantly through the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across the enterprise. Today, we have natural language chatbots handling complex customer queries, voicebots taking orders via smart home devices, and back-office bots that process high volumes of transactions, with more complex tasks involving machine learning to make the bots more intelligent over time.

According to Gartner’s 2019 CIO survey, enterprise use of AI has grown 270% since 2015. IDC predicted that AI and cognitive technology spending will exceed $50B worldwide by 20211. As businesses adjust to the new normal, post-COVID19, the pace of AI and automation is expected to garner speed as companies look to embrace a digital workforce and reduce their dependence on a human one in order to be more resilient and future-proof.

Automating from the bottom-up

With insurers experiencing a 200 per cent increase in call volumes and claims[1], in the aftermath of COVID-19, it has never been more important for companies to connect concerned customers to the information they need, as efficiently as possible. AI is allowing the insurance industry to streamline the intake of claims and flag up fraudulent activity for an expert to review in more detail – utilising the expertise of an insurance professional, and making the claims process more efficient and streamlined. Similarly, across industries, there is a need to simplify, standardize and automate business processes, right from front office customer service, all the way to the back-office. Companies that jump straight into automation, without fixing broken processes first, more than likely fail to reap the full benefits of AI. Enterprises have used Lean Six Sigma (LSS) for decades to reduce defects, error rates and turnaround times by understanding root causes and eliminating non-value adding activities. Before we start an enterprise-wide automation journey, it is advisable to use LSS coupled with process and task mining tools at one’s disposal to streamline and reduce process variations.

Reigniting customer care

While speed is essential, maintaining the human element in an environment of social distancing plays an equal, if not more important role. In times of uncertainty, customers will need complex questions to be answered, and anxieties to be settled. Older generations, in particular, currently facing a digital divide, will be experiencing increased anxiety and agents should support in allaying worries and accessibility issues. AI has the ability to recognise when empathy is required to resolve a customer issue and can highlight the request to a human agent. Once again, in order to truly benefit from automation, one must go back to the drawing board and redesign enterprise systems and processes by putting the customer at the centre of the design. Design Thinking has emerged as a powerful methodology to empathize with customer needs and to develop, test and implement quick solutions to address the need.

Overcoming remote working concerns

As we progress into the post-COVID-19 phase, remote working could become the new norm. In a bid to boost employee productivity and reduce office costs, more businesses will consider a permanent shift towards Work-At-Home models. Keeping remote employees both engaged and productive, however, will be particularly challenging for companies.  AI-based platforms that understand human behaviour and give nudges or positive reinforcements to workers on areas that they need to focus on during their daily routine are starting to see traction.

Business leaders also have serious concerns over vulnerable endpoints for remote workers, ensuring employees do not hold valuable, highly-sensitive data on their remote devices. Here again, AI use cases are starting to emerge of computer vision based platforms that help mask sensitive PII data so that these do not fall in the wrong hands.

Nearly three-quarters of business decision-makers believe the shift to remote working since the outbreak, has increased the likelihood of a cyber-breach[2]. Playing a pivotal role in the fight against fraud, machine learning algorithms can be leveraged to monitor and reveal potential data breaches in real-time. Companies should, therefore, start exploring all the different ways in which AI can add value to make the remote working models, safe and resilient.

The future state

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a true test of businesses’ ability to adapt. While many small and medium enterprises are already severely impacted and start-ups starting to wind up, even larger businesses, that have stood the test of time, are being seriously tested. In order to build a resilient company of the future, organizations should accelerate the pivot to AI. Business leaders driving digital transformation need to evaluate their entire value chain and shore up automation in the path to the new normal.

This article was first published in ITProPortal on May 29, 2020.

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