AntWorks CEO Asheesh Mehra discusses the importance of identifying the right automation technologies to adopt to improve business resiliency and agility.
By Asheesh Mehra
Industries impacted by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia are witnessing some respite as businesses resume operations due to easing precautionary measures. The Asian Development Bank (ABD) recently released its Asian Development Outlook 2020, and in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, hard hit Southeast Asia is expected to contract 2.7% this year. On a more positive side, under the assumption the pandemic does indeed become contained in 2020, the bank predicts a recovery is viable in 2021 and Southeast Asia could grow by nearly 5%. Some industries in the region have also noted they are feeling optimistic that they will soon recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
While opportunities are slowly opening up, the fact remains that many businesses still need to comply with social distancing guidelines and reduce the number of staff that can come into the office or manage with a completely remote labour force. To operate within what is considered the “new normal,” maintain business continuity and continue to fulfill customer commitments, we are seeing companies large and small fast track their digital transformation efforts.
While digital transformation is certainly not a new enterprise strategy, organisations are not only increase the importance of investing in process automation in a post-COVID world, but also find the need for increased speed and adoption of these technologies. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of organisational resilience and how businesses need to make the most use of digitisation and automation to sustain operations and continue to deliver services.
Finding the Right Automation Technologies
With the right automation technologies in place, organisations – and thus their employees and customers – can benefit in numerous ways with minimum disruption to their business. Companies experience increased accuracy in processing data, gain greater insights to improve and expand their offerings to customers and benefit from enhanced productivity. And businesses that use automation are more resilient because they can afford to be more agile.
With Singapore investing an estimated SGD 3.5 billion on ICT that includes the development of AI to aid the economy this year, companies in Singapore can benefit from government support to implement automation solutions to bounce back from the crisis.
Without a doubt, digital technologies will be at the core of the new normal. However, in seeking solutions, businesses should be aware that not all automation is created equal.
Limited Automation Potential with RPA and OCR
Many companies are already exploring the use of robotic process automation (RPA). While RPA can automate specific tasks, it does not allow for end-to-end automation of a business process. Furthermore, the optical character recognition (OCR) that RPA often employs cannot capture data from the vast majority of documents businesses handle.
OCR uses template-dependent or zone-based data extraction methods to extract structured data from documents. If there’s no template created, it’s not read. Let’s take a simple use case: invoice processing. Let’s say you’ve created a basic template for invoices, and it appears your OCR is working fine. But what happens if the invoice format changes? It will require exception handling later on. How about if the amount of purchase or vendor information is someplace other than where was expected? Businesses will encounter the same issue, requiring manual intervention.
In short, RPA and OCR can address structured – but not unstructured – data. Unstructured data is the information that is not stored in a fixed record length format. This form of data includes things like digital images and videos, emails, and social media feeds.
Given that 80% of data within most organisations is unstructured, the fact that OCR is unable to handle it is a significant limitation. It also eliminates the potential to achieve straight-through processing. This was one of the challenges faced by a Fortune 500 insurance company, whose employees had to manually examine more than 27 types of unstructured documents prior to adopting AntWorks Cognitive Machine Reading (CMR) solution that enables straight-through processing.
Bringing Cognitive Automation into the Mix
As research firm Everest Group notes in its Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) Playbook, businesses can overcome RPA’s limitations by complementing it with artificial intelligence (AI). CMR, which leverages AI, empowers organisations to read all data types. CMR also enhances the quality of images and documents to improve readability that leads to cleaner and complete data – overcoming the challenges of digitising text and image heavy documents to effectively fill the 80% unstructured data chasm.
When organisations leverage technology that can recognise, classify and extract data from all kinds of documents, they can automate entire processes instead of just individual tasks. That means businesses and their stakeholders can benefit from straight-through processing.
Straight-through processing can cut manual efforts by 95%. And combining RPA, which moves data from one place to another and can check it, and CMR, which learns processes and can address and fix issues, also enables organisations to build processes that can both act and think.
The time has come for companies, across industries, to look at ways to improve their operational processes through technology innovation. The new normal puts increased focus on the importance of organisational resilience. Manual processes work against that, as it often means that workers need to go to physical business locations to handle paperwork. That creates risk in today’s pandemic climate. Intelligent automation frees people and organisations from on-site, paper-based, manual processes and instead relies on processes that are better suited to a digital, distributed and remote work world.
(Ed. AntWorks Co-Founder and CEO Asheesh Mehra says humane, responsible AI is the future, and he is excited by its limitless applications to solve issues that impact business, our lives and the planet. Prior to AntWorks, Mehra headed Infosys BPO – Asia Pacific, Japan and the Middle East. Featured image of Mehra provided courtesy of AntWorks.)