A recent Gartner survey identified the top three business priorities in 2021 as: growth, workforce and organizational resilience and sustainability, and investment in digital capabilities.
All of these priorities are driven from technology enablement. Digital technologies played a paramount role over the last 18 months in keeping workers functioning and maintaining business continuity, from remote working tools and automating processes to contactless, seamless transactions. While all these objectives were in place before COVID-19, what changed dramatically is the emphasis on how we use technology to achieve these ends.
Which digital initiatives — nay, innovations — implemented during the pandemic will have the most lasting impact? Over the past year we’ve had the rare luxury of observing technology trends taking shape. A few are already changing the game for every organization’s digital transformation priorities.
Viewing Hybrid Work Models Through the Process Lens
With more companies either keeping their workforce remote or switching to a hybrid model, industry leaders should reflect on when they accelerated their digital efforts to adapt to remote working and making virtual experiences work. Which technologies helped and which didn’t? What digital strategies helped improve operations, user experience and customer service? What can they learn from those that didn’t?
Consider your company, customer and employee goals and journeys and how they define your processes. Then evaluate your current operations and processes to decide the best way forward. Base your approach on facts rather than assumptions or how things have always been done. Process mining and discovery tools can help you analyze the multiple processes within your business — and most importantly, discover how people and content interact with them — and deliver a digital twin of your processes to gain greater intelligence of how your processes are performing as journeys.
To improve business processes, employee productivity and customer satisfaction in demonstrable ways, some organizations are using process intelligence tools with robotic process automation (RPA) platforms to identify which processes are best to automate. Too often, however, leaders guess which processes to automate rather than first having any real visibility into how operations and workers are performing and where automation can change outcomes. Fully understanding how new solutions impact employees and the entire business process can help you avoid frustrating employees and negatively affecting their productivity and, ultimately, the customer experience. Having a digital twin — a reliable digital version of a human whose job is to assist in making processes visible and actionable — of how your entire business and workforce operates can help you truly understand and evaluate how to move forward with a new way of working.
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Tapping Intelligent Automation as an Aid to Employees
Reimagining how employees work, and introducing intelligent technologies to assist them, is becoming a strategic initiative for many organizations. Enterprises are embracing AI solutions that create an intelligent digital workplace of skilled humans working with skilled digital assistants as part of this paradigm. Imagine a highly automated, self-learning, efficient and streamlined work environment. An intelligent digital workplace augments workers with technology ‘skills’ to collaborate, create and execute high value tasks, while putting innovation in their hands.
For example, it’s widely understood the digitization of content is just the beginning for automating processes and lessening repetitive manual labor on employees. With the high volume of documents and data employees work with, companies must also be able to generate value from them. This includes turning unstructured content into data that can be easily accessible by other systems to quickly generate business decisions. More importantly, AI is making processes smarter by its ability to read content and see and act upon it in ways that trained, skilled humans do (seeing things that data field extraction and loading approaches alone often miss).
Using content intelligence technologies such as natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML) and optical character recognition (OCR) for intelligent document processing (IDP) along with process mining tools together yields better data for automation systems that rely on it. And adding skilled insight on content and process will help make informed decisions (requiring context, intention, specialized knowledge and experience) that change outcomes. Better data is a clear outcome, but the ability to apply skill and knowledge to fill in the blanks where data is missing, conflicting or indeterminate is another benefit. This AI-enabled approach gives both human and digital workers the ability to detect changes and pinpoint patterns within processes proactively, immediately spotting and resolving issues that delay customer service responses, lead to noncompliance and impact delivery of service.
As these solutions advance, intelligent digital workplaces will soon be able to extend these capabilities from systems-of record repositories to points of engagement through smarter applications.
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Employee Experience as a Driver of Business Innovation
Employee experience has increasingly become a contributing factor to business innovation and success. Employees want a work culture that distinguishes between productivity and busy work, and to be challenged with valuable work that will have an impact on the organization.
At the same time, the emerging issue of talent scarcity means there needs to be a bigger focus on tech enablement.
To address the talent shortage, enterprise automation has quickly begun to shift to low/no-code platforms, giving knowledge workers more access to the power of AI without the heavy infrastructure required to support it. Forrester suggests that the increased interest in low-code platforms alone is driving approximately 50% annual growth, with the market anticipated to rise to over $15 billion in 2021. Low/no-code platforms can make highly complicated technologies, such as IDP, easy to use, and deliver cognitive skills for RPA robots, automation systems, chatbots and mobile solutions. It empowers the everyday worker to have more direct control of intelligent automation initiatives without being an expert on ML or having to completely rely on IT. Additionally, it almost completely eliminates the need for manual coding and speeds up deployment, making it a popular option for organizations increasing their investment in digital transformation and becoming agile organizations.
While many new technologies were introduced over the past 18 months, solutions that augment a hybrid workforce, accelerate intelligent automation and empower employees are here to stay. Digital transformation will always be a driver for shifting from economic recovery toward profitability, but it’s important to understand the state of your processes and having control of your content before you begin.
Anthony Macciola is Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company, where he leads the company’s AI vision and strategy. He holds more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing, and process automation, and advocates their use for changing the future of work, improving the customer experience, maintaining business continuity, and achieving process excellence.