Employing AI for better workflow management
Businesses across the globe are exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a nascent technology with potentially large implications for improving performance. Malcolm Allen, Director of Partners in Performance (PIP), brings this out with an analogy. He talks about the transition from steam engines to bullet trains, which took a great deal of time but transformed the world.
“AI has great potential but it’s still in the steam engine age, related technologies are still being developed,” he says.
Artificial Intelligence systems can build their own self-developed and adapting world models which can be used to improve business productivity and performance. For example, PIP is working with a large utility field-force client to improve productivity. AI systems dynamically allocate work to field-force engineers based on availability, type of work, productivity and travel times. As the workload changes through the day (for example due to new priority work orders, changing travel times, employee sickness) the system self-adjusts and optimizes the workload in real time across thousands of field-force engineers. Not only the system dynamically optimizes over time to further improve productivity rates as, for example, the productivity of engineers changes, weather predictions affect forecast travel times or order volume forecasts change.
Today AI in the workplace typically involves predictive world models where humans develop and moderate the rules in systems that are then modified by AI. Allen says that in PIP’s experience in suitable processes can now be used to drop transaction costs to about half or a third. PIP employs AI in tandem with an expert team and a hands-on business improvement approach to ensure that early on clients are set up with the skills, techniques, and tools to fully capture the benefits in line operations as well as support functions and then sustain their own programs.
PIP has experience in automating processes and implementing intelligent solutions across many industry verticals; from the resource industry, improving fleet management and maintenance in mining and operations to improving back-office processing times for insurance and government departments.
Allen adds that the key is to allow the technology to enable workers, not replace them directly, so that the workforce embraces the opportunities AI brings, “We let the people do what they are good at and we let the AI systems do what they are good at.” For example, in transforming back office operations, routine tasks can be identified in work queues and processed by AI systems. The remaining work means staff does more of things they are good at: interacting with clients, problem solving, and creating solutions.
Allen believes that with the right tools to deal with the problems, the workflows will transform for the best.
Partners in Performance is currently working with service hubs in government, transforming processes such as payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, travel management. Systems handle the standard work, freeing up employees for more complex tasks. PIP and partners in a whole business solution integrate the SAP ERP system with basic payroll data and excel based Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) templates, Microsoft work management, and email/pdf client interaction systems. The system can take email and portal inputs, identify and process routine transactions, and transfer complex tasks to operators. Over time, the system is adapted as worker productivity changes, and work volumes and EBAs change.
AI works in a predictive rather than a reactive way and so, has massive potential in transforming workforces. With the right tools, businesses can today transform their workflows, enabling workers to make the shift from a tailored transactional paradigm to a more creative customer service paradigm with profound implications.
To read the full story, see page 33 of this month’s APAC CIO Outlook Magazine.