Automation is often a trigger word, especially within manufacturing environments. After all, no one wants to lose their job to a robot. Of course, automation itself casts a wide net covering both attended and unattended tasks.
Automation has already made successful inroads addressing a wide array of unattended manufacturing jobs. These are the often dirty, sometimes dangerous and mundane jobs. Robots and more recently collaborative robots (cobots) have helped organizations address these automation opportunities. And, contrary to what some believe, stats have the addition of robots within these spaces rarely has a negative impact on the workforce numbers.
IBM is focusing on the attended tasks. For instance, the job where someone is in front of the computer entering data or addressing customer calls. It has historically been difficult to automate these jobs, but technology including AI now enables companies to realize success.
According to a study by the IBM Value Institute, more than 85% of businesses using AI today are reducing their operating costs. Yet these automation technologies are often limited in their scope to just call centers, or IT departments. IBM is hoping to spark a meaningful change here with its Watson Orchestrate offering – democratizing these capabilities and enabling employees companywide to easily automate some of the most repetitive parts of their job.
"We often hear when any automation comes in, it's going to take the jobs away. I really think it's the opposite. It's going to make us all much more productive, much more customer friendly, business centric and really help us become more optimized in our roles," Dinesh Nirmal, general manager, automation at IBM, tells IndustryWeek. “What we want to do is give workers back 50% of their time to focus on new things like innovations or figuring out how to improve productivity. Successful automation is always about augmentation rather than elimination of workforce.”
To automate any process within a line of business requires process mining, RPA to automate processes, an understanding of the workflow to define, design and arrive at decisions if it's not a straight through process, and document processing to really extract the value from the data fields. Without all of these, it's hard to automate a line of business, explains Nirmal.
IBM's Watson Orchestrate was born to automate skills a company can use, reuse and train for continued success at the line of business level. “The vision is to really enable a digital workforce,” says Nirmal. “If there is a human touch point workflow, such as an insurance claim below $500, based on the document processing, the type of damage and the customer persona, the approval process could be quickly automated. Of course, success is heavily dependent on building out the skillsets, which could be something as simple as a workflow or as complex as multiple bots calling a run book. How well can we deliver these skills, and create an ecosystem of partners to come and build the specialized skills is crucial.”
In many industries, it is often the content that varies, not the underlying process structure itself, explains Nirmal. Watson Orchestrate gives workers access to their own interactive AI that can help with everything from scheduling meetings and getting approvals to interacting with business systems and preparing proposals - all using natural language and integrated into tools like emails and Slack.
"The goal is to span every single vertical (manufacturing, retail, finance, etc.) with access to a digital job bank or digital labor, where companies to acquire skills, and enhance employee productivity," says Nirmal. “Automation is not about elimination of the current jobs, it's about making sure you're augmenting the individual to better focus on high value tasks, the other core skills that you have can be done through a digital perspective."