Data and robotics are the fuel and engine of digital transformation

According to the World Economic Forum, data is now its own asset class and as a commodity is worth more than oil or gold. And its value is highest when it’s new, when it’s being captured in real time in a transaction between a customer and a business.

Customer expectation more than ever dictates the need for digital interaction because so much else that we do is already digital. With the majority of enterprises undergoing digital transformation programmes, this is the time truly to bring your customer closer. But closer and more frequent customer interaction also generates more and more data making real-time capture and processing more critical than ever.

The challenge is that many processes still involve paper. Even if a transaction is online, it doesn’t mean it’s truly digital. In many cases forms and supporting documents need to be attached and may even need to be signed. Data needs to be captured from all sources and turned into actionable information. The true end-state of digital transformation is paper freedom.

Your back-office processes also need to be digital. It’s no good giving your customers a brilliant online or mobile experience and then making them wait for a person in the back office to process their application. This is easy for digital startups because they can build their systems from the ground up on modern platforms. But any enterprise that’s been around for more than a few years will have multiple legacy systems, which need to be updated to deliver any service.

Digital transformation is about how you engage with your customer, be that to enable them to buy a car, a mortgage or get a credit card. Customers expect this to be online, mobile and available 24/7, and if you don’t provide this your competitors will.

Capturing data from documents is a well-established method commonly used in digital mailrooms. More advanced technology in this area is known as “intelligent capture”, which can extract data without being told exactly where it is in a document using artificial intelligence (AI).

The new challenge is mobile capture where customers are taking photos of documents on mobile phones, which has interesting side effects such as knees and various types of kitchen worktop being common features around the edge of document. The real skill here is extracting the raw data and turning it into actionable information.

Digital transformation is about how you engage with your customer

The best way to overcome the challenge of processing the customer’s request in those legacy systems is to use robotic process automation. Combining intelligent capture and robotics in this way solves a catch 22 that has held back the success of robotics for some time. There is no point capturing data if a person has to retype it and you can’t automate a process with robotics without good data. By the way, robotics is software that simulates a real user accessing a system; they’re not metal shinny things.

The genre of sci-fi films featuring super-intelligent robots leads us to merge AI and robotics. The reality is that robotics, virtual or physical on an automotive factory line, simply follows instructions and does exactly what it is told to. AI is being positioned as a replacement for the workforce, but we are probably many years from AI that can fully replace knowledge workers. A recent study in Japan showed that simulating one second of true cognitive human brain activity required an 82,944-processor super computer.

So on your digital transformation journey consider that you can’t automate unless you capture good data; robots are dumb, but they can type; AI is smart, but it can’t type; and you need enormous computing power to replace knowledge workers. What we should be focusing on is augmenting our knowledge workers by removing mundane tasks with robotics, and freeing workers for decision-making and interacting with customers.

By Spencer Wyer, Group Chief Technology Officer

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