Our podcast, hello, Human, features the leading builders, explorers, and warriors of AI. Together, we investigate how they’re putting AI to work to transform enterprises and make sustainable progress on automation, privacy, business disruption, human-bot teaming, and much more. We strive to make each episode intelligent and engaging, with the ultimate goal of improving your understanding of the opportunities AI can bring to your business and our world.
Episode 4 – Building a Resilient Digital Core
In episode #4, my guests were Abhinav Kolhe and Sudhakar Pemmaraju, both from Cognizant.
Abhinav is the firm’s Technology Director for Robotic Process Automation and Machine Learning, and he’s been with Cognizant for more than 20 years. Sudhakar is the North American Head of Cognizant’s Digital Strategy & Operations Transformation Consulting Practice, and he has deep consulting experience across digital marketing, customer management, and operations transformation and automation. Cognizant, if you’re unfamiliar, is one of the world’s leading professional services companies, transforming clients’ business, operating and technology models for the digital era.
We jumped right into our conversation talking about the pandemic and its impact on automation. Every business function has had to make adjustments this year to keep up with the chaos. Yet organizations remain under pressure to digitize and automate more and more as the uncertainty continues. Some companies are doing very well in this regard, with Abhinav pointing specifically to bright spots in banking, healthcare, and education. But for most companies, it’s going to take a continued commitment to digital transformation and process agility to be successful.
“First of all, companies will need to ensure that their digital channels are on par to succeed in the current environment,” said Abhinav. “Secondly, I think as the economy comes back in the next few months, demand recovery will be unpredictable. There will be the uneven spread of recovery across geographies, across products, customer segments, and whatnot. This will complicate matters for leaders.”
“Automation-first, or a digital-first mindset, will be an absolute essential center stage that companies will have to prepare for. We are seeing an upsurge from a lot of customers in terms of hyperautomation use cases.”
Hyperautomation is the application of advanced technologies, like AI, machine learning, RPA, and process intelligence, to automate both repetitive tasks and more cognitive business tasks. Gartner named it to their 2020 and 2021 “Top Strategic Technology Trends List,” and it’s on the radar of most progressive organizations.
“Hyperautomation goes beyond deploying bots for individual tasks,” explained Abhinav. “We are talking about a connected, enterprise-wide change program that connects multiple teams, multiple work streams across an enterprise. One of the most key attributes of that platform would be the ability to loop in humans into the process.”
Of course, organizations need to understand their processes before they can be hyperautomated, or even automated. But just simply understanding your processes and preparing for potential scenarios helps your business perform at a higher level. Then, when a scenario comes to fruition, like, say, a pandemic, you already know how to react and respond. A recent article in Harvard Business Review points to process mapping as a catalyst for building resilience. “You’ll manage a crisis better if you’ve analyzed and discussed your processes—and done at least some reinvention—before you’re in the thick of things.”
Abhinav gave several examples of how companies that already had deep process intelligence were able to quickly react once the pandemic took hold. An airline used virtual agents to process refund requests. A financial services institution used natural language processing (NLP) and automation to quickly implement a government-mandate loan program. And, an insurance firm used NLP to quickly assess the pandemic’s impact on customers to determine how cancellations would impact their business.
So where do you begin? If you have little or no process intelligence, how do you attain this deeper understanding of how your business works so you can start to optimize, streamline, and automate?
“The very first one is to establish a service demand catalog to understand the end-to-end value chain of the processes across all the departments,” said Sudhakar . “(This includes) process mining, process simplification, process standardization, and business improvement techniques.”
Only after you map how your business works should you seek to actually start championing the initiative and executing the transformation. Success is built on that initial process intelligence gathering. And it makes sense, since it’s difficult to change what you don’t know.
“We weren’t here to code the hosts, we were here to decode the guests…”
— Bernard Lowe, Westworld S2E7
And with that line, the audience learns the true purpose of the sprawling investment in Westworld, it’s not about building the best androids, it’s about understanding humanity. Three years ago we set out on a similar mission, to build AI that can decode work. Today we’re excited to announce a new B round investment of 30 Million dollars with new investors, Microsoft’s M12 and Tiger Global, joining our existing investors Boldstart, Eniac, Comcast and Lightspeed, to help us deliver on that mission.
Since day 1 we’ve held the belief that the key to the future of work was locked in our inability to understand its nature. Opening that lock would start us on a multi-year journey pushing the envelope on computer vision, natural language processing, and sequence modeling. Along the way we’ve assembled an incredible team that shares a similar dedication to understanding how to best integrate AI into the global workforce. We’re excited to add to that team, and welcome Tamara Steffens, from M12 to our Board of Directors. I’m sure her decades of experience working closely with enterprise customers will prove invaluable as we scale FortressIQ.
Early last year customers got their first glimpse at what we were building, and we got to see firsthand how they could leverage the process insights that our platform could uncover. It was eye opening to say the least. Our first conversations usually revolved around automation and cost savings, but as customers became more comfortable with our data, the conversations evolved. This new category of data we could provide fueled their ability to innovate, enabling them (for the first time) to make truly data-driven decisions to guide their transformation strategies. Since then we’ve had the honor of working with some of the worlds largest companies, helping banks, retailers, insurers, and CPG companies to better understand their organizational DNA through interpreting their processes.
We were extremely surprised to find out how starved most organizations were for this type of data. While they had incredible analytics on digital journeys from their web properties, they had a much more rudimentary understanding of their internal processes. Another interesting byproduct we observed was how much simpler the decision making process was when good data was available. For me this was one of the most exciting revelations. I believe people in general want to do the right thing, it’s just sometimes very hard in the face of organization inertia. Often decisions devolve to simply appeasing whoever is yelling the loudest, the proverbial squeaky wheel getting the oil. It’s also well documented that unrepresented communities don’t advocate for themselves as forcefully in these types of situations. With data, we can minimize the impact of the loudest voice and amplify the focus on the best actions. This is a firsthand, tangible way in which we can leverage AI to reduce bias, reinforcing our mission here at FortressIQ around the responsible and ethical use of AI in the enterprise.
The Road Ahead
With this new round of capital we’ll be doubling down on our efforts to build the system of record for work. Our experience over the last year as customers have leveraged our platform has guided us to deliver new ways for them to leverage process data to improve every aspect of the employee experience, which translates to a better customer experience, and eventually the bottom line. The largest area of focus for us will center around helping our customers to achieve results from our platform even faster. With that in mind, we’ll be building specific industry, application, and workflow accelerators that can deliver instant insights from process data. We’ll also be looking to expand our partnering platform, working with domain experts across the globe to deliver externally targeted solutions based on data that would be unattainable without a process intelligence platform like ours.
I’m excited to see how customers can leverage our platform to power their transformation journeys, and grateful for the support of my team and our investors as we endeavor to decode work.
Today I’m excited to kick off the next phase of our Microsoft partnership. FortressIQ + Power Automate, generally available starting today, make it possible to grow your business productivity by automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks through digital and robotic process automation. With the integration of FortressIQ and Power Automate, we provide organizations with an end-to-end solution for intelligent automation–from cognitive process intelligence to AI-enabled workflows and business insight.