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Let’s embrace AI now that the digital future has arrived

Falcon Bank had successfully implemented voice analytics in its front office. Its artificial intelligence (AI) driven system from Uniphore had flagged a gradual increase in unemployment insurance inquiries, a policy that pays out its holder’s salary for up to one year in case one is laid off. Bank executives took cognizance of this trend, partnered with an insurer to introduce this product and created a new profit stream within 90 days.

Meanwhile, the chief economist of this imaginary bank decided to relook at her economic models and forecasts, and then wondered if she was missing an oncoming slowdown. In response, the lender’s risk officers increased scrutiny of incoming loan applications. This is a living manifestation of “Data is the new oil”, an outlook that has swept how business is increasingly done.

The ability to sense trends from the noise of the ecosystem, trap valuable data and decipher it, and the capability to galvanize the organization to act on it will determine winners of the future. Data sensors, both electronic and human, now abound across the perimeter of the modern organization: in call centres, warehouses, trucks, salesforce management systems and human resource databases. Increasingly, intelligent automation systems from vendors such as AutomataPi and WorkonGrid help executives not just automate but also interpret and respond to events in the business processes of the company.

Just like the fictitious Falcon Bank, you too can sense customer requirements and identify unarticulated needs, respond rapidly and drive revenues. The era of ‘survey–analysis–action’ is behind us. Software can now analyse a customer’s tone of voice and facial expression and flag whether the inbound call is in the nature of a complaint or a sales inquiry; your informed response can shorten interaction time and deliver customer delight.

On another front, how does one balance the millennial workforce’s need for work-from-anywhere provisions with management impulses in favour of office-based work? Or identify those who contravene their employment contracts and take up second jobs on the sly? The answer, again, lies at the intersection of data, technology and process automation. Workforce management platforms such as Time Doctor help companies analyse employee productivity, whereas ones such as Whatfix can help with training interventions on demand. Whatever balance the company’s management decides to maintain, its engagement would become more transparent, structured and easier with the use of the right tools and data. Trust can also be engendered this way and the company can potentially aim to become a true talent magnet for the next generation workforce.

The pandemic as well as emerging geopolitics have forced organizations to reimagine their supply chains. India is pushing hard to develop a world-class domestic semiconductor industry and build local strength in this critical pillar of the digital economy. Companies also tend to expand their product lines, geographies and scope of operations ceaselessly, and their search for reliable new partners and suppliers to support this journey never ends. The availability of publicly available data, structured and unstructured, coupled with rich streams of transactional data available on marketplaces, can be used to significantly reduce risks associated with onboarding new vendors, even as this process is accelerated by the same. Companies such as Zetwerk have developed large businesses by leveraging precisely these assets to create an ecosystem of manufacturing companies that produces products to order.

It is clear that all organizations can apply digital technologies, machine learning and intelligent automation to critical facets of their business, namely customer engagement, partner ecosystem management and talent. Companies that are doing this are changing the vectors of competition.

One point of emphasis: to paraphrase an old ditty, culture eats digital for breakfast. So, as you embark on developing an artificial intelligence and data driven organization, remember to deploy all the old- fashioned techniques of change management to ensure that the organization is in lockstep with your vision of the future.Traditional competition used to focus on speed, asset quality, talent and financial strength. All of these are still important. The real winners, though, think beyond this paradigm today. They are investing heavily in building a digital core that has an exoskeleton of information technology assets, the soft tissues of a data-driven culture, the blood vessels of intelligent automation and data as their bloodstream.

To digitally driven organizations, leveraging hyperscale platforms to reach new customers is natural. Thus, while Kama Ayurveda has its own e-commerce website, for example, it has no qualms in exploiting Amazon as a sales channel as well. Domino’s has its own app too, but recognizes the importance of being on the broader food delivery platform Zomato.

Now that the digital future has finally arrived, we must recognize that the age of machine learning and artificial intelligence is upon us and is fundamentally transforming industries. Building intelligent digital muscle is the business leader’s pressing imperative, for winning this battle will assure future success. There is no Plan B.

Jaideep Mehta is an investor and a long time tech industry watcher.