According to a survey by The Shared Services and Outsourcing Network 2020, around 90 per cent of global shared service organisations are at some stage of their journey towards implementing Intelligent Automation. This technology, which takes care of mundane, repetitive tasks and frees up human potential for higher value jobs and superior customer interactions, has been gaining the attention of such centres and enterprises in India and across the globe. In fact, India-based global centres have been the pioneering adopters of intelligent automation over the past four to five years.
To discuss the next big opportunity for automation enterprises and explore where intelligent automation of shared resources is headed, Automation Anywhere and CNBC TV18 hosted a webinar under the banner ‘Future Ready India’, a unique series that deep dives into the many facets of Intelligent Automation.
The panel comprised industry leaders from the shared services space, including Sanjeev Ravindranathan, Director – Digital Solutions COE, AB-InBev; Altaf Patel, Director - Business Transformation, Tesco Business Services; Atul Pai, Vice President and Enterprise Controller Operations, Honeywell Global Finance Center and Milan Sheth, EVP IMEA Region, Automation Anywhere.
Moderated by Mridu Bhandari, Editor, Special Projects, Network18, the participants shared their views and insights on various issues under the broad theme ‘Automation of shared services’. They discussed how automation can transform functions like HR, IT, finance, sales and marketing, supply chain, amongst others, and what the future of these functions will look like, given that humans and bots will be collaborating to achieve common organisational goals.
“Many Indian Centres of Excellence (COE) that have been servicing global organisations and their global parent companies have demonstrated exceptionally high levels of Intelligent Automation adoption,” commenced Milan Sheth, speaking from Automation Anywhere’s experience of having partnered with these centres over the years. “These centres have the unique advantage of possessing domain knowledge, with strong process and data expertise. As a result, their ability to adopt and scale has been very high compared to centres in other parts of the world or even in other industries.”
He also pointed out that there are two large trends emerging, driven by some of these centres in India. The first is a move away from implementing Intelligent Automation in the back-office alone to executing it in the front- and mid-office as well and integrating it with the larger process automation journey. Another trend he observed is an evolution in the nature of deployment, which is now more cloud-led and AI-enabled.
Coming from the food and beverages industry, Sanjeev Ravindranathan explained how Intelligent Automation helps the backend in his industry, through automation of the supply chain and other functions. He commented on how it increases efficiencies, reduces costs of shared services and enhances employee experiences. He also shared, “As a traditional beer company whose genesis dates back to the 16th century, over the years we’ve expanded through amalgamations and mergers. The traditional go-to-market route in beer is typically through wholesalers and also through downtown pubs. However, the pandemic taught us that we had to change our go-to-market strategy and digitize the way we go to our consumer.”
Another insight that he shared was that implementing intelligent automation in bits and pieces cannot be very effective. To work smartly, intelligent automation needs knowledge in the form of data. “We’ve embarked on a journey where we look at the entire stream of processes that we operate to see how by digitizing an activity we actually make it a data collection warehouse,” he expressed. “Through all the data we’ve acquired, we’ve been able to study consumer behaviour and patterns in much more detail. We have used intelligent automation to create an amalgamation that allows us to automate the transactional pieces. It also aids and augments human decision making. This is a model we want to operate even in a post Covid scenario.”
“Digital transformation is like oxygen today; you can’t survive without it,” said Atul Pai. He explained that while everyone was at their own digital maturity level, Honeywell, being a premier industrial software company, had the benefit of being digital very naturally. “We started our digital journey a decade ago and intelligent automation is a pivotal enabler to our digital footprint.” He explained how the intensity of intelligent automation implementation gained momentum at his company. It began with a quest for accuracy, consistency and meeting timelines more precisely. Then it ventured into achieving process efficiency, reducing cost-to-serve and finally, it migrated into ‘driving new insights’ or managing anomalies, through intuitive decisions with data. “Now we are using that same data to build disruptive business models – cognitive tools, intelligent automation, and bots, while correlating data across verticals. We’re on a journey to improve experiences for all stakeholders – customers, vendors, employees, managers,” he shared.
Narrating how Tesco’s digital transformation has been led by intelligent automation and how it has translated into serving its shoppers better every day, Altaf Patel said, “Our RPA journey began about two and a half years ago and today, we have close to 300 processes automated. There has been absolute clarity on this transition in terms of ambition, intent, leadership and strategy. During this transition, we have been able to generate productivity and efficiency gains, without laying off people. On the contrary, part of this greater efficiency is from the contribution of higher value work that came from repurposing our people.”
He explained that at the start of the journey, the greatest challenge was building a positive mindset with respect to the transformation and forming a cultural alignment to what needed to be done. “There is sometimes a fear that implementing automation will take away jobs; that has to be allayed upfront. At another level, enterprises face a challenge of technology alignment. In an organisation like Tesco, there are a lot of different organisations and teams. As a result, a lot of technology alignment was due.” He also pointed out that it is crucial to ensure that the automation is relevant and remains so for a while, without cannibalizing other transformational technologies that have been planned.
The panellists went on to discuss how their organisations prioritise investments towards intelligent automation, given that there are many competing priorities when it comes to tech-led investments. They also touched on the need to integrate systems and make automation more all-encompassing, metrics for performance evaluation and what is the best approach towards automation now that enterprises are ready and willing to invest in it.
The importance of speed of deployment was underlined and the participants suggested that this could be enabled by cloud. The use of cloud, particularly in shared service organisations, could facilitate configuring, deploying and managing bots and enable integration with multiple AI components. They also shared their takeaways from their journeys to cloud automation.
Amongst many other view and insights, they talked about how as enterprises scale, the technology they choose must deliver economies of scale and how RPA in collaboration with data analytics could deliver business benefits and value creation that would come from analysing data efficiently.
While sharing their thoughts on the road ahead and how they envision the automation journey, they expressed how sectors like insurance, healthcare and life sciences, with complex paperwork and compliance issues, could adopt intelligent automation or RPA to deliver paper-free work flows. There was also a complete consensus that employees must be up-skilled and re-skilled to manage the transition to humans and machines collaborating.
Milan Sheth, from Automation Anywhere, concluded by describing some trends emerging in automation, such as the integration of data, voice and processing elements to take transaction automation to the next level, more deployment of intelligent automation on cloud than before and the use of AI algorithms to provide solutions to more complex problems, although intelligent automation could help solve these upto a considerable level. Effectively, he explained how cloud, AI and automation were coming together to respond to evolving market requirements.
Being an interactive session, the event closed with the participants responding to questions from the audience on the strategy that leaders should follow to make sure that disruptive digital transformation technologies are sustainable; the scope and feasibility of old-world companies, like PSUs, adopting automation and how secure automation of critical business applications would be, amongst others.
This is a partnered post.
First Published: IST