2018 - the year that the Cloud comes into its own
While organisations have been slowly migrating more and more of their ICT assets to Cloud architectures over recent years, in 2018 we’ll start to truly see the fruits of all this labour. Cloud-based data management enables us to quickly embrace new data science tools and competencies – powering innovation, expansion and transformation strategies.
As we realise that the thorniest business challenges can only be solved by the likes of machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep learning and cognitive computing, the advantages of a Cloud-first data strategy become clear.
This year, we’ll see the Cloud positioned at the centre of business activity, thrust into the limelight by a number of key trends...
GDPR and POPI hit home
The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), taking effect in May, as well as South Africa’s incoming Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), will force South African businesses to more seriously consider how they store, process and use data.
Complying with POPI (as well as GDPR) mandates that companies process data in a fair and secure manner, ensure the integrity and accuracy of personal data, and take strong measures to protect data against theft or leaks.
In terms of GDPR specifically in 2018, expect at least one high-profile global company to experience a breach of data and fall foul of this regulation. Coordinated action by ‘GDPR activists’ and a swell of activity by individuals looking to exercise their rights, will place pressure on EU member states to meter out punishment to firms contravening GDPR.
Blockchain-fuelled business transformation
The increasing ubiquity of Cloud-based architectures will enable businesses to capture new opportunities in the arena of distributed ledgers – as the blockchain matures from a being merely a digital currency infrastructure, into a platform for digital transformation.
The blockchain hype may have begun in Financial Services, but in 2018 we’ll see organisations in all sectors apply the blockchain to simplify value chains and logistics, verify information, form smart contracts, and create entirely new digital services to their users.
Cloud-based and real-time data analytics will also propel the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution forward, as we start to consider the myriad ways in which we can interact intelligently with various devices on a network.
For businesses creating physical consumer goods, 2018 will be a year of embedding smart sensor technology into products, to analyse consumer usage patterns, likes and dislikes, and continually refine products to ensure their best suited to consumers’ needs. Getting this right will require organisations to scale out their Cloud capacities to handle the influx of data.
The rise of 5G
We’re currently standing on the cusp of the 5th major iteration of global networking infrastructure and standards, as businesses and individuals gear up for the release of 5G networks within the next couple of years - promising speeds hundreds of times faster than 4G.
Visionary services like connected cars and smart cities will certainly require powerful Cloud platforms that can handle vast amounts of data. But it’s in the data-crunching tools atop the Cloud platform that 5G will really come into its own: delivering high-velocity data transfer from the edge of a network at absolutely lightning speed.
New, immersive realities
Our world is increasingly digital, but the way that we interact with this world is set to change radically over the coming years. Perhaps one of the most life-changing events of the Cloud Computing era will be the rise of virtual and augmented reality.
In 2018 we can expect to see businesses considering practical ways in which staff can become more productive and creative, through Augmented Reality-powered design, training and visualisation processes. New customer services on high-end smartphones and specialised VR headsets will spring up in 2018, as consumers start to see the possibilities of an immersive digital realm.
The scene of the ‘cyber arms race’
The Cloud will also become the battlefield in which the ongoing ‘cyber arms race’ will continue to play out - as businesses and security vendors turn to AI to bolster defences against the relentless attacks of cyber-criminals.
With security so top-of-mind, 2018 may also be the year in which the currency of ‘trust’ becomes more valuable than any other brand attribute. In an increasingly cynical society, brands than can transcend the scepticism and mistrust of governments, fake news and exploitative ‘big business’ will both retain and win more customers.
Cloud-enabled digital transformation will therefore be increasingly focused on ensuring bullet-proof security and maintaining high levels of consumer trust.
2018 is set to be a year of never-ending change, uncertainty and excitement for businesses in virtually every sector. And while we certainly can’t predict the types of disruptive strategies, tools and products that will emerge, we can be sure that the Cloud will have some role to play.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”