NEW DELHI :
The nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the accompanying labour shortage and supply chain disruption have shown how several Indian businesses are severely dependent on humans to perform the most basic and repetitive tasks. Organizations that have automated their processes have managed to stay connected with their teams and customers, and avoided business disruption. In an interview for Mint’s Pivot or Perish series, Pandurang Kamat, chief technology officer, research and innovation at Persistent Systems Ltd, explains why automation is the key to building a resilient business and why it is needed more than ever in a post-covid world. Edited excerpts:
What new opportunities have the covid-19 lockdown created for automation?
Resilience has become the most important focus for almost any business.
Automation is a key tool that can help enterprises in building resilience.
Robotic or intelligent process automation not only automates processes that are manual, repetitive and rules-driven but also solves the resilience and cost aspect for an enterprise.
With the advent of covid-19, businesses like hospitals that have large back offices manned by humans are transitioning to automation by deploying conversational interfaces that can not only answer standard questions but can understand each customer’s context.
When it comes to screening, a lot of hospitals have deployed screening modules that have some element of automation.
The imperative to use automation has accelerated due to the covid-19 outbreak.
Has demand for automation increased due to the covid-19 crisis? Which sector is showing most interest?
Yes, demand for automation has definitely increased.
Automation forms the integral part of resilience strategy for any smart enterprise. What we have seen is a lot of healthcare facilities have adopted automation.
BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) has been the other big industry where we have seen a lot of traction during covid-19.
One of our customers in the BFSI sector wanted to roll out a digital onboarding service so that their customers won’t have to come to the branch.
We deployed an application for them that could scan documents, record KYC (know your customer) and help a limited set of back office agents in onboarding.
How can automation prepare enterprises for future exigencies like covid-19?
Automation is not always about bringing down cost and the number of employees. It is also about augmenting humans to get a larger output from smaller teams. It will allow enterprises to have 24x7 operations.
It also helps them move away from dependencies on a certain group of skilled people being present at a certain location.
Having distributed teams operating with the assistance of augmented intelligence is what automation brings to the table and this is why it will be adopted more and more.
How is AI taking automation to the next level and how is this combination relevant in the present context?
The first stage of automation was about replacing repetitive processes involving humans with an algorithm. Now, we are moving to the stage where we not only want to replace the repetitive processes but are also using intelligence to interpret and understand the data.
For instance, in a large business that has been getting invoices from different types of vendors and in different formats like PDF or paper documents, in their invoice automation processing pipeline, they will have to build intelligence that can recognize the different invoice types and fields and their role in the invoice structure and then populate their ERP system with that information.
Intelligence can also help in deciding actions that require both checklist and context-based processes.
Intelligence can be put in the pipeline to assist humans in making faster and more accurate decisions.
Cost would discourage many companies, especially smaller business, from automation. How do you ensure that they are not left behind again in the race to automation?
I agree that licensing costs are a challenge, especially for smaller organizations.
I think it is also a question of how service providers like us put an ROI (return on investment) picture in front of the customer.
This topic often comes up in our conversations with customers and we typically try to position it in terms of what kind of value they can derive and how they can amortize the cost around it.
Typically, there is the challenge of IT integration and time, and human effort required and that also needs to be factored in the ROI.