Before companies can introduce new technologies, they need to understand the end-to-end journey of each process, and the risks involved.
“People take for granted some of the things that artificial intelligence is already doing,” says Owen Lewis, Partner, KPMG Ireland. For example, this type of technology allows companies such as Netflix and Amazon to provide personalised recommendations to customers based on their viewing or purchasing habits. Lewis believes that “more and more tasks” will be automated using this sort of technology. Digital labour is a broad spectrum, explains Lewis. “It started from things like using macros on a computer to run some calculations,” he says. Next came more formalised automation, and robotics. These types of technology allow companies to reduce costs, improve accuracy and increase speed.
Some sectors, such as retail, have led the way. “There’s a real depth of experience in an organisation like Amazon, for example,” Lewis says. “They have heavily invested in this type of technology.” One sector where Lewis sees vast potential for digital labour is in medicine. “A machine can make a decision in a complex environment, based on rules and vast amounts of data,” he says. “That precision and speed of making decisions in a medical environment is a good example.”
In financial services, there’s also scope for a broader adoption of such technologies. “It is on the radar of every financial services firm, a machine can recognise and transcribe data, for example,” he explained, adding that this has made the process quicker and more accurate. “Humans can get distracted.”
Companies have started to direct resources towards these emerging technologies. Three in ten businesses in the Republic of Ireland have made a significant investment in robotic process automation in the past 12 months (although less than one in ten in Northern Ireland has taken the same approach), while six out of ten in both jurisdictions have launched a new investment programme related to cognitive technology, including areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
However, almost 40 percent of CEOs North and South believe their organisation is not ready to adopt advanced artificial intelligence technology. Given the pace of change, it can be difficult for CEOs to decide on the right course of action. “It’s very hard for someone making decisions on the future to understand what hype is, and what is worth going for,” Lewis says. He advises companies to explore what’s right for their own agenda. “Dip a toe in the water, get an awareness of the technology, understand what it means for your business,” he says. “Embrace new technology but think of your customer and your business first."
According to Lewis, companies should consider “what you want your business to be in five years and what you need to get there”. It can be difficult for businesses to navigate all the change, and integrate emerging technologies with their existing processes. “You are drinking through a fire hydrant in some respects, because there’s just so much stuff coming at you,” says Lewis. However, before companies can introduce new technologies or automate existing processes, they need to understand the end-to-end journey of each process, and the risks involved. “Which costs the most? Which takes the longest?”
The problem is that many companies don’t know the answer, making it difficult to assess the potential efficiency gains of introducing new technologies. According to Lewis; “Companies need to have clearly defined goals in place, and a proper strategic plan, in order to maximise the value of any new technology.” While he believes increased automation may allow companies to make decisions more quickly, people will continue to be at the heart of business. “People like to communicate and that will remain incredibly valuable to the way business is done.”
However, Lewis also believes that increased automation will have “Some winners and losers”, with some potential for job losses in certain industries. That said, he believes that new jobs will be created too, that rely on “the incredible nature of the human brain” to take on tasks that a robot cannot.