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The tipping point in digital AI-led operations, IT News, ET CIO


By Dr. Sumit D Chowdhury

A recent McKinsey survey of global executives suggested that businesses are fast-tracking the adoption of digital technologies due to the pandemic and several changes are here to stay. This digital adoption goes beyond tools for remote working, collaboration, consumer access, and e-commerce. Companies want to distort and transform core business operations and last-mile service delivery.

Three things will aid this transformation.

Internet of Things
High-performance operations require optimal efficiency and unified management of space, assets, and people. Automation and digitalization of the last mile data acquisition – both device and user-led – can enable organizations to better monitor, optimize, and improve performance. Streaming real-time data from machines and meters need instrumentation, network access, and cloud software that may not be already available with enterprise IT teams.

Internet of People
Last-mile workforce and third party staff are needed to manage last-mile operations and perform physical tasks of production, operations, supply chain, or service delivery. While this workforce cannot become remote, they can be digitized to improve visibility into their attendance, presence, location, and productivity. The productivity of workers depends on their ability to complete routine and unplanned tasks with ease. Existing HR systems manage attendance, but not scheduling and productivity monitoring.

Internet of Process
Operational complexity requires seamless orchestration of multiple tasks performed by multiple teams across multiple locations. Cognitive process automation helps transform people-dependent processes and workflows into high-performance ops driven by technology and insights. Event data triggers can automate subsequent workflows to reduce delays.

This unified and responsive operation can be driven by a unified solution stack consisting of IoT devices, digital tools, AI/ML algorithms at the edge and at the cloud, location tracking, real-time monitoring, connectivity, data analytics, and visualization. Stitching together multiple technologies can deliver real benefits to businesses.

Operations form the backbone of any enterprise activity, hence this shift towards digital operations will be seen across all industries. However, the shift will be more apparent in complex people and equipment drove operations. Hospitals, Facilities Management, Building Operations, Manufacturing will be the first ones to see the shift in this. We believe that people, assisted by advanced technology, can operate at a much higher level of productivity and managers can expand their span of control. The pandemic has created the need to operate with fewer people and higher productivity. AI can be used for constraint-based algorithmic decision making.

Device led track and trace, asset monitoring (both people and machines), alerting the right people to attend to the most critical tasks in the right place and at the right time can improve customers experience while meeting other objectives like cost optimization, employee and machine health. Advanced algorithms can enhance the capabilities of teams, and workflows get streamlined and automated.

The key considerations in digital operational transformation are:

Avoid Herd Mentality
Industry 4.0 without creating strong process automation and business requirements cannot deliver benefits. Sensors can be cool, but expensive and created petabytes of unused data. Key intelligence lies in Edge analytics and ML to store and transmit relevant data and Cloud AI and algorithmic decision making to deliver more benefits.

Clear System Goals: Compliance or Productivity
The majority of digital automation is done for compliance and statutory requirements: for data proofs and post-facto root cause analysis. This is valid and provides the basic business benefit. The true business benefits can be derived from automation for productivity. Digital AI led Operations Tech stack can optimize and orchestrate the assets (staff and machines) to a superior process, eliminating repetitive manual tasks and ensuring compliance without changing the process. While core platform capabilities remain common, processes are never one-size-fits-all. Real time data can be used to create continuous learning systems.

Monolithic Systems vs Agile Purpose-built platforms

Yesterday’s monolithic systems are designed to solve many problems in an organization and serve as a database of records. However, extending these systems for performance management can be challenging – both financially and from a cybersecurity standpoint. New-age platforms, with mass customized role-based interfaces, are niche products that can solve problems not addressed by massive systems.

In Summary:
The last 9 months have been a tipping point for digital technology adoption. Openness to operations tech has increased. Companies will invest in solutions that will improve productivity and reach and serve customers digitally. CTOs need to look at platforms that bring in advanced decision-making capabilities to augment the staff or increase the span of control, and eventually deliver operational performance and savings. AI and Digital Technologies can replace the manual or repetitive tasks and decision-making done by operational managers and supervisors, thus bringing 30-40% improvement in productivity and overheads.

The author is Founder-CMD of Gaia and ex-CIO of Jio





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