Smart hands, smart machines to power next Industrial Age
By Robert H. Brown July 21, 2015
- Processes are increasingly operated by smart machines and code, not humans
- But humans and digital processes together will create a more responsive enterprise
ADVANCES in technology, automation, interconnectedness, user experience, process analytics and machine intelligence have finally aligned to redefine and reshape the very nature of work.
This increasing digital intensity of work has brought us to a profound inflection point, changing the way a company operates. The way critical business services are sourced and, more importantly, delivered, will no longer be like before.
Over the next decade, disruptive changes are forthcoming and are akin to the magnitude of a second Industrial Revolution.
Digitally-fuelled automation is likely to engender industry-wide change everywhere, and the impact of seemingly magical advances in connectivity, robotics, biology, and processing power will absolutely re-shape how we work and live.
This is already happening, just as it has in the past. However, humans won’t be rendered as redundant in the equation.
Instead, envision a near future where functions become intelligent through technology, allowing humans and digital processes to put their heads together to create a more intuitive, more responsive enterprise.
Through such collaboration, enhanced business results will be delivered via new digitally encoded processes.
Future movement of people, goods and info
Business entered the Industrial Age for good in the mid-19th century. The first transcontinental railroad heralded the shift from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age, creating new, unforeseen functions, jobs and economic possibilities.
People could get other people, goods, services, things and most importantly, information, from point A to point B in a radically more efficient and effective manner.
History repeats itself and we are at a similar crossroads once again. Robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) – many buzzwords are used about automation.
Effectively, they point to the same theme: Processes are becoming digital, instrumented, analysed, and increasingly operated by smart machines and code instead of humans. This is comparable to the 21st century version of rails, steel, telegraph poles and locomotive engines.
In Asia Pacific, business intelligence/ analytics, cloud and mobile are ranked the top three technology priorities in 2015.
In fact, 75% of chief information officers (CIOs) in the region recognise the need to refashion from a ‘control’ to ‘visionary’ leadership style in the next three years in order to succeed in digital business, according to a Gartner study.
The conscientious move towards digital entails multiyear changes in information, technology, business processes, business models and talents – including embracing SMAC technologies (social, mobile, analytics, cloud) and evaluating technologies such as thinking machines and IoT.
Metaphorically, we see signs of the digital track being laid and tunnels being blasted all around us, as sensors and wearables instrument process, and mobility and social media apps integrate, the digital and physical worlds with application programming interfaces (APIs).
Just like the railroad, the impact will be at a scale not previously seen before in the history of business.
And just like trains on a railroad need a destination, business processes – digital or otherwise – need to support a business strategy; helping smart people make smarter decisions in support of differentiating activities.
Connecting industry value chains
On the road to 2020, there are already evident signs of a powerful interplay of knowledge workers and digital processes. This is especially true when you look at middle-and front-office processes within industry value chains.
Healthcare institutions are rapidly engaging patients beyond the doctor’s office to drive value-based care models – for example, combining wearables and interactions from daily smartphone app reminders and tips or weekly calls from a remote nurse or even real-time alerts from a virtual coach about maintaining blood sugar levels.
Many of these interactions initially will be with healthcare consumers who are already activated and generating patient ‘Code Halos,’ that is, the digital data that surrounds people, devices, processes and organisations.
By embracing these models, consumers and healthcare organisations can begin proactively transforming their patient care through monitoring, predicting, preventing and counteracting disease, while improving quality and cost models.
This approach will not only enable the healthcare industry to enhance ongoing cost containment measures, but it also represents an opportunity for payers to step forward and match individuals’ efforts to manage and be accountable for their health.
This closes the circuit for empowered healthcare consumers.
Furthermore, digitisation, automation and Code Halos help improve results of clinical trials, increase accuracy of clinical trial yields as well as improve judgment and decision-making of physicians, such as avoiding inappropriate combinations of pills when prescribing medications to patients.
All of these advances help accelerate and improve the precision of regulatory approval for new and powerful drugs, as well as enhance patient care delivery.
Digital value chains can reform processes
Sometimes, ‘doing analytics’ or merely automating an existing process falls short. Prompted by innovative competitors, a full digital re-think for making money and meaning may be crucial to transform core processes in the future of work.
Truly digital processes can use Code Halos to automate processes right from the outset, but the real prize is the data produced as a result.
Information and meta-data in digital process value chains are inherently ‘born as digits.’ As physical value chains digitise, process feedback and analytics become instant; open process loops are closed faster and insights come faster, whereby traceability, tracking and auditability are enhanced.
Today, delivery models such as business process-as-a-service (BPaaS) probably come closest to making the promise of making digital processes a reality.
While many BPaaS offerings are almost entirely automated, their outputs are leveraged to help process and knowledge workers make quicker, more informed business decisions, using a model that’s typically less costly than traditional sourcing options.
By automating systems to better sense, predict and deduce the data they consume, employees can work heads up, not down, with intelligence from digital processes supporting their own knowledge and experience.
The ability to capture information about the movements of people, goods, information and services through space and time is allowing leading-edge businesses to re-imagine processes as digital from the outset.
Consider the Internet of Things, in which sensors are beginning to totally digitise and automate processes in a straight-through data flow.
Those companies that harness these types of digital technologies to recombine and drive innovation in their business processes will out-compete those who can’t – or don’t – for years.
For example, a biotech firm searching for cancer cures can use robotic mass-spectrometers that work round the clock to generate volumes of data analysing blood and tissue. Skilled biochemists use the math produced by the machines as a powerful tool that generates a hypothesis, allowing them to investigate its true viability.
Steps towards the future of process
Business process leaders can take practical action now to get their digital process train on the right track:
- Analyse your company at the process level: Review in detail your processes as they exist today (new product/ service development, sales and customer relationship management, operations, etc.). Infuse a digital process plan, including the applicability of Code Halos, by re-imagining moments of customer engagement or constituent journeys. Target tangible process metrics: Cost-per-claim, clinical trial yield, healthcare unit cost, fraud prevention rates, etc.
- Perform an automation readiness assessment: Map processes to a level of detail that includes inputs, process and outputs. Scan the market for tested and ready-to-implement technologies that have established tangible proof of success. Apply intelligent process automation technologies that are minimally invasive to operating environments today, but keep your eye on the prize for where digital process transformation makes most sense tomorrow.
- Help humans evolve toward the work of tomorrow: Start by giving employees access to digital processes and machines that help them do their jobs better, smarter and with more meaningful impact to the business. It’s not about the number of people tied to ‘doing the process’; it’s about outcomes and making smart people even smarter.
Whether your organisation completely digitises its business processes or takes a one-off approach, advances in foundational information technology, process automation and analytics, as well as machine intelligence, will unleash the potential for more productive and innovative ways of working.
Don’t wait to get to the future of process. Start today, by imagining how the future of work will look tomorrow when digital machines, information and processes help humans do their jobs better, faster and with greater impact.
Robert H. Brown is the assistant vice president of the Centre for the Future of Work at Cognizant.
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