Ask the Experts at CGI

The global pandemic is accelerating the Future of Work – are you ready?

28th August 2020, 2:17 pm

Manchester has always been at the forefront of revolution and change. The Covid-19 pandemic has been testing for all, with more challenges ahead, but the City will rebound stronger and better, as it has done many times before.

A History of Revolutions

When Heraclitus wrote about change in 500BC, the world was a very different place, but change is forever a constant, with Brexit, Covid-19 and powerful information technologies further accelerating and driving change.

In the early 18th century, Manchester was a small market town, its population living in a handful of streets. This was all to change as cotton and coal drove growth and transformation, ultimately leading to Manchester becoming the world’s first industrial city.

Manchester grew at an astonishing rate, and its booming economy attracted people from all over Britain Isles seeking new opportunities. Of course, the rapid growth led to problems, but overall, as time elapsed, the comparative wealth and education of individuals in Manchester improved as a direct result of this change.

Manchester has always been a pioneer and was instrumental in leading the third Industrial Revolution in the areas of Information Technology and Telecommunications, with key local organisations such as The University of Manchester, ICL and Ferranti leading the way.

The world is now entering into the fourth Industrial Revolution – one where intelligent technology mimics and augments humans. One of CGI’s global partners, Blue Prism, a company founded in Manchester in 2001, is a key player in developing the technology that will enable this future.

Manchester has grown rapidly again over the past decade, in part driven by the Intelligence revolution – with Tech SMEs starting up in Manchester to take advantage of its good connectivity and highly-skilled workforce.

What has changed?

The pandemic shockwave has challenged organisations with vastly increased demands and shortages of people, which is forcing them to look to automation, analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable them to continue serving their customers.

A variety of industries have been affected: like Pharmaceutical R&D, where AI algorithms have been used to help predict Covid-19 severity in patients along with vaccine development and Tourism, where overwhelmed contact centres have been processing cancellations automated with RPA and AI.  But also the Oil & Gas sector, where falling oil prices have led to the acceleration of Robotic Process Automaton (RPA) within shared service areas to reduce operational costs and the Banking sector, where RPA has been utilised to validate Covid-19 financial relief applications.


Intelligent Automation can drive change and enable true digital transformation

Organisations of all sizes, including Manchester’s SMEs, can benefit from advanced technologies that are proven to remove largely broken manual processes and eliminate the silos of information between departments and companies. This enables frictionless, resilient end-to-end automation of processes and services to improve customer service.

All discussions relating to the future of work, workplace and worker ultimately lead back to the technology at the heart of this change. Capitalising on intelligent automation and human-machine partnerships is a sound business strategy from an employee, as well as a customer perspective. This approach is not just about defining the right resources – human or digital – for the job; it is also about the immense additional potential and provision of machine learning and advanced analytics that can augment human workers, enabling them to perform at much higher levels.

Automation technology does the ‘heavy lifting’, allowing employees to undertake more challenging and interesting work that will ultimately enable organisations to better achieve their objectives.

From CGI’s experience, and depending on the industry and business function, we see that up to 90% of a department’s work content can be digitised and automated with intelligent automation technology.

To deliver improved business outcomes, organisations need to understand and employ a spectrum of automation and intelligence technologies. The technologies adopted depend upon the pain points and strategic objectives and goals of the organisation.


How to build a Virtual Workforce

A virtual workforce can work 24/7, with no sickness, no distractions and no holidays; the technology can operate seamlessly with human workers to deliver operational excellence.

There are numerous human roles, tasks and skills that technology can mimic or augment, including:


Virtual Workers – Process Automation:

  • Skills: Data entry, processing and moving data within and across systems, rule-based decisions, processing emails, digital files, web and manual forms.

Virtual Communicators – Conversational AI skills:

  • Skills: Understanding of multiple languages, generation and communication of answers, natural conversation.

Virtual Analysts – Advanced Analytics skills:

  • Skills: Data manipulation, data analysis, data visualisation, prediction and insight.

Virtual Thinkers – Machine Learning and AI skills: 

  • Skills: Providing powerful insights, decision-making, problem solving, vision and hearing

Virtual Compliance Officer– Knowledge and semantics

  • Skills: Cyber security, fraud detection, monitoring, reporting

Virtual Visualisers – Computer Vision and Processing

  • Skills: Inspection, detection, analysis, classification


Benefits and challenges of scaling automation

There are many factors that drive organisations to implement a hybrid workforce, but the rationale for many organisations is compelling:

  • To improve operational efficiency and productivity
  • To reduce errors and complaints
  • To improve employee morale
  • To improve operational resilience
  • To mitigate rising costs
  • To tackle growing backlogs
  • To challenge increased competition

Commencing automation can be a daunting prospect for any organisation. Automation vision and strategy, technology requirements, impact on employees, varying processes, cyber security and ongoing service management are some of the factors that need to be considered prior to embarking and scaling automation in any organisation of any size.

Some of the main challenges we see in our client base are:

  • A lack of an automation strategy aligned to the business strategy
  • Broken manual processes not standardised or defined for automation
  • A lack of skills from understanding the ‘art of the possible’ to actual delivery and support of the virtual workforce
  • A level of ‘automation anxiety’ that robots are coming to take our jobs.

My colleagues and I have worked with our clients to find solutions to these barriers, so that people at all levels in organisations can appreciate the benefits of automation and welcome the positive changes to their working practices.  We aim to create modern working environments that enhance the experience of work by improving efficiency, productivity, and the bottom line, as well as enabling organisations to better achieve their corporate goals.

What’s next?

One post-pandemic trend that seems to be certain is that as large-scale work from home continues, there is going to be a rapid acceleration of digitisation and automation of work.

Many organisations are struggling for capacity or are trying to adapt and drive demand. Businesses that prioritise automation, machine learning, advanced analytics and cloud adoption from ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ will more likely rebound quicker, stronger and better than their competitors, leading to a greater market share in their respective sectors.

Find out more about how to prepare for the Future of Work

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