The Intelligent Automation opportunity in emerging economies
Terry Walby, is the founder and CEO of Thoughtonomy, one of the global leaders in AI, ranking #4 in Tech Track 100 2018, revolutionising financial services and the insurance sector with AI. Here he shares with us how Robotic Process Automation is helping businesses in Africa grow and scale where there is a shortage of digital skills, but also to grow without huge people investment at such early stages:
The new drivers for automation
Automation is no longer simply about cost efficiency; it’s about how organizations re-define the way in which work is resourced within their business, drawing on the unique strengths of both human and digital labor.
An effective hybrid human-AI workforce empowers businesses to drive enhanced customer experience, be more agile to respond to disruption, comply with ever-changing regulation, and pursue new opportunities that would otherwise be impossible with a traditional approach to resourcing.
Intelligent Automation (IA), which combines RPA with AI functionality, including capabilities such as Natural Language Processing which allow systems to interpret, translate and even converse using standard natural language, is now enabling businesses to automate a wider range of workplace processes than ever before, in a fast, effective and secure way.
We’re seeing financial services businesses (both large and small) developing and launching new products and services which are built exclusively on the use of digital labor, and examples of companies that are using their virtual workforce as a platform to expand their operations into new territories. By deploying digital labor within these smaller operating units, they can deliver a first-rate service to customers without having to develop a sizeable infrastructure which can be slow, cumbersome and prohibitively expensive, and they can navigate around skills shortages.
One of the major benefits of Intelligent Automation is that it means organizations can use their staff in a far more effective way. So rather than having highly-skilled (and hugely costly) talent tied up on executing repetitive tasks, businesses can automate processes to maximise the time these people dedicate to strategic, high-value work. People no longer need to act as the ‘integration layer’, manually transferring data from one disparate IT system to another (a major barrier to digital transformation) – this work is handed over to virtual workers and people can focus on driving innovation and customer experience.
Over recent years, I’ve seen first-hand the game-changing results that AI and automation can deliver to organizations of all sizes and across all sectors. It’s hard to think of an organization that could not benefit from Intelligent Automation in some part of its operations.
However, alongside social and healthcare, where it is already delivering huge benefits to frontline staff and patients, I believe that one of the most exciting areas for Intelligent Automation to make a really positive, sustainable impact is within emerging economies.
The Intelligent Automation opportunity for emerging economies
Intelligent Automation offers businesses in emerging economies a new opportunity to scale their operations in a fast, cost-effective and agile way, meaning a lower cost to serve customers and more efficient outcomes. It enables them to compete effectively with global players who may have been established for many years as global operating centres or lowest cost resource providers.
This is particularly true for fintech businesses, most of which are unencumbered by the legacy IT issues which slow down the transformation and expansion of larger global financial institutions. Fintech businesses operating in emerging economies can put Intelligent Automation at the core of their resourcing models, deploying a hybrid human-virtual workforce to scale quickly whilst keeping costs down, and to navigate their way around skills shortages in areas such as coding and software. They can steal a march on the established players and press ahead with greater agility, innovation and speed.
At a broader level, Intelligent Automation has the capacity to re-shape and grow economies. For instance, we’re seeing a real opportunity for Africa to establish itself as a global centre of excellence for high-quality service delivery and customer experience, building on its existing and much-deserved reputation in this area. Rather than competing on cost as an offshore destination, embarking on a race to the bottom in terms of cheap labor, Africa can forge a new identity as the region that provides first-rate customer experiences and the leader when it comes to setting up high quality, customer-centric business processes and functions.
From my experiences within Africa, working with partners and clients across a range of sectors, I have been struck by the way in which African organizations are so receptive to innovation and how they embrace new ways of thinking. This, combined with its fast-paced vibrant cultures and hard-working, dedicated people, puts Africa in a great position to compete on quality rather than cost.
Maximizing the value of Intelligent Automation
In order to take advantage of this opportunity, organizations and government bodies in emerging economies need to identify and develop the skills and talent they need to succeed, and then invest in these areas now. This means focusing on creative skills and critical thinking across the workforce, to exploit new opportunities and react quickly to market disruption. It also means focusing on forging ever closer relationships to deliver service excellence at every stage of the customer lifecycle. And of course it means being bold when it comes to embracing new technology.
For leaders of disruptive fintech firms, there needs to be a strategic approach to Intelligent Automation, starting with smaller, rapid deployments to prove the value and then scaling up to focus on more strategic implementations of digital labor. It’s important that these programmes are backed at the most senior levels of the organization to maximise the benefits and also to ensure that automation aligns to and supports the overall strategic direction of the business.
The success of IA depends in large part on the willingness of operational staff on the ground to embrace automation and recognize the benefits it can deliver, not just to the organization, but to them as individuals. It is therefore essential that business leaders positively communicate the full potential of digital labor to enable individuals and organization to do and achieve more.
Intelligent Automation will empower emerging economies to compete on a new level, harnessing leading edge technology in order to unleash the full value of the skills and strengths of their people. It’s an exciting opportunity that must be grasped with both hands.