Several decades of enterprise IT investments have been made with one idea in mind: to help organizations do more with less. 

But things are changing. With customer expectations rising, employees wanting to work for progressive businesses, new technologies, increased awareness of risks and investors looking for a genuine competitive edge, the pressure to be at your best is always present. 

Today’s technological advances – those that form the bedrock of Business 4.0, such as automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) – allow businesses to continue to grow and remain competitive. In recent years, it has become clear that the organization of the future will be one driven by the opportunities these create. 

Harnessing the possibilities of AI and automation could help organizations meet and exceed the expectations of all their stakeholders, through more agility, resiliency, and responsiveness. However, becoming an enterprise powered by AI calls for cultural change as well as investment in technology.

Employees will still be an essential part of the equation; however, ensuring they remain happy and productive will mean creating an environment where AI is not seen as a threat but is regarded as a trusted and useful tool.

AI must be regarded as a tool, not a threat. Source: Shutterstock.

The Power of Automation

Studying the transformation of a very manual business to one that is deploying AI helps demonstrate the impact of automation. 

“Consider the following scenario and see how AI and automation are impacting both business operations and customer experiences,” says Arunava Bag, Regional CTO of Digitate, an autonomous enterprise operations software venture of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). 

“A delivery business has several large retail customers. It handles all their e-commerce orders. In the early days of online shopping, the delivery company would have been mostly dependent on manual processes. They would plan drivers’ routes and calculate the number of drops per day by hand. Drivers would be given a print-out of their route, itinerary and the drops they would be making.”     

The end customer knows which day to expect their delivery, but not what precise time window; they might spend hours waiting. If the driver faces an unexpected delay, that could throw off a whole day’s workload.

“But a data and AI-powered delivery business can analyze the best routes and change them if traffic or weather conditions become problematic, thus ensuring delivery timelines,” Bag continues. “It can also notify both the driver and the customer in real-time, keeping everyone informed of changing routes and delivery-time expectations.”

And, if a customer needs to, they can request a change of delivery on the fly, saving the driver time, keeping the parcel safe, and avoiding a costly failed delivery. This has the added benefit of helping strengthen the customer’s relationship with the retailer, likewise the retailer’s relationship with the delivery firm, and potentially offering a new business opportunity – where flexible delivery times and change options can attract premiums.

AI has turned deliveries into a sophisticated process rather than a guessing game. Source: Shutterstock

A Focused Transformation

Traditional business operating models are developed around processes that dictate the start and endpoints of every activity. Instead, a model that pulls in insights based on data will allow for people, resources, infrastructure and analytics to be used to better effect.

“Gut instinct and intuition have always played a part in making decisions. Adding data into the mix means those are based on organizational intelligence,” Bag explains. 

The more data is used to predict scenarios and inform decisions, the more accurate and reliable those decisions are likely to be. Sales figures, customer feedback, machine performance, product returns and more can all be analyzed and fed into a cycle of improvement.

Many manual operations can be completely automated. But many more will be suitable for partial automation, where elements of manual processes are augmented with the application of AI and human intervention. That can leave people with more time to devote to activities that add significantly more value to the business, and which can’t be so readily automated.

Job roles are going to change though – it is unavoidable. New roles will emerge from these transformations. For most people, the job they do is defined by a series of tasks and outputs – how they utilize their time at work and this inflexible outlook is at odds with an AI-transformed organization.

Many manual operations can be completely automated. Source: Shutterstock

A Supportive Culture

A data-driven and AI-powered enterprise will contain many more ways to add value to the business than simply churning through a to-do list of functions. For many people that will be a welcome change.

In a typical finance office 20 years ago, you would have found a team of people sifting through piles of paper invoices that needed to be entered into a ledger, processed and eventually paid. This repetitive task is the perfect candidate for automation. As for the people who no longer need to process paperwork, they could be diverted to work on credit control tasks, for example – helping safeguard the organization’s cash flow.

“Rather than focusing on tasks and outputs, the attention needs to shift to outcomes,” Bag advises. “Determine where people’s efforts are most likely to add more value and focus there.” 

Accepting that some people may be anxious in the face of so much job-related change will be an important part of building a more open and positive culture.

“Make it a priority to talk to them about how roles, jobs, and the organization as a whole are changing,” Bag concludes.

It may have become a cliché to say that people are the greatest assets of a business, but that is a truth and they must not be overlooked as AI begins to play a bigger part. 

The right combination and balance of people and automation will leave an organization in a much better position to be responsive to market and customer needs – and secure its future. But only if we all remember that people are at the heart of our businesses and central to their success.

Digitate is a software venture of TCS. Launched in 2015, Digitate’s ignio™ is an award-winning solution that reimagines enterprise IT operations with its unique and innovative design that blends artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced software engineering to quickly and autonomously resolve issues when they arise, and preempt incidents wherever possible. ignio has been adopted by large, global enterprises, mostly Fortune 500 and Global 2000 corporations, which are leaders and innovators in their respective industries.