The demand for remote work capabilities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis is catalyzing the adoption of AI and Automation at an unprecedented pace.
Grocer Ahold says that COVID-19 resulted in a scarcity of people, creating an urgent need to introduce Robotics and Automation technology to assist with the cleaning of its stores and processing orders. The grocery industry is now quickly exploring ways to ensure faster automated self-checkouts that minimize human contact and keep shoppers and employees safe. However, with businesses rapidly mainstreaming Work from Home (WFH), the need for Automation is going to become stronger to ensure enhanced user experience, improved productivity, resilience, and reliable security.
Automation has always been important. The COVID-19 crisis has simply magnified the urgency with which we need to adopt it to enhance employee safety, ensure business continuity, address uncertainty to topline, focus on cost control, and reduce exposure to compliance risks as a distributed workforce accesses enterprise systems from a variety of networks, using diverse devices and applications.
Sample some of the acute business challenges inside secure corporate offices before the COVID crisis hit us:
- An average enterprise employee spent 12 hours a year over IT related issues (application fix, email issues, printer configuration)
- On an average, users had to wait between 20 minutes and 4 hours (sometimes even days) for Service Desk engineers to resolve routine issues
- 40% of incidents were self-serviceable, but user adoption was a concern
- On an average, Service Desk used to spend 100+ hours a year to compile and report compliance related issues
- On an average, IT users spent 20 to 30 minutes of their productive time in password recovery during account lock
- If a machine had turned into a state of non-compliance, it required an L1 support engineer to manually locate the machine and resolve the issue so that the employee could regain access to the machine
All the above problems just got a turbo boost when the entire workplace had to be moved into the pandemic new-normal of virtual and phygital "6-ft offices".
Let us examine my own company which has close to 200,000 employees. We achieved ~94% WFH enablement for 2,100+ onsite employees and ~95% WFH enablement for offshore employees within a week.
We achieved this by using our Automation and AI platform extensively to make “the new digital workplace” come alive at short notice, giving employees (and, of course, customers too) multiple capabilities. Some of the interventions included:
- Remote Worker – Ability to provide employees with self-help and self-heal capabilities for enterprise issues, making the WFH experience smooth
- Remote Continuous Compliance – Ability to deliver multiple industry compliance (PCI DSS, GDPR, HIPAA, NIST etc.) reports for hybrid cloud environments out of the box
- Remote Intelligent RPA – That can auto-generate automation workflows with only video recording as an input to accelerate automation deployments
- Virtual Health Assistant - Using chatbots, we enabled Do It Yourself solutions in response to common questions on standard operating procedures (SOP). This helped employees make devices and work procedures at home compliant and remotely assessable for enterprise-wide compliance.
Until recently, I was of the view that robots would be short on capabilities when compared to the superior dexterity of humans. However, as witnessed in the recent use of Spot, a Boston Dynamics robot in Singapore’s parks to help maintain social distancing, there is no question of how robots can be put to the use of humanityi. As costs of robots fall, they will become widespread and will fuel the reskilling of the workforce.
As the pandemic makes “contactless engagement” a reality, the bigger question is, “How do consumers feel about Automation technologies right now?” They perhaps feel a bit frustrated as regulations have (maybe for the better!) throttled the development of technologies like autonomous cars and delivery robots. These are the things that, from a consumer perspective, make the future real. Simultaneously, Automation has won the hearts of customers with in-store robots and the availability of personalized and contextualized information.
Automation technology is also improving with each passing day, with new add-ons like explainability of decisions made by the machines. These improvements build trust in users and make them more comfortable with the technology.
Having said this, the key need for enterprises is to have access to best practices as they accelerate AI and Automation for various objectives. Our detailed report on State of Automation 2019 lays out a playbook that organizations will find useful in charting their own course in the Automation and AI journey. Happy reading!