Accenture: Top five emerging COVID-19 technology trends
“When we published Accenture’s 2020 Technology Vision report, COVID-19 was not yet a global pandemic. Now, it’s the greatest challenge the world has faced in decades,” commented Accenture.
“In just a few short months, it’s transformed people’s lives on an unprecedented scale, impacted every industry, and altered the course of companies’ growth. But the pandemic has not slowed innovation—it’s amplifying it to historic levels.”
In a recent trend report by Accenture, the company explored the shifts in people’s values and how digital age technology models are out of sync. “This imbalance—when business value is misaligned with people’s values—is what we call "tech-clash." It’s a very different crisis, but COVID-19 does not overshadow the issue. It exacerbates it. Now more than ever, it’s critical that businesses think about outmaneuvering today’s uncertainty.”
‘The I in experience’
Exploring the evolution of digital experiences, Accenture notes that previous models for personalisation leaves customers feeling out of the loop and out of control. “COVID-19 has transformed the role and importance of digital experiences in people’s lives. Businesses will need more agile engagement strategies, now and in the future, if they want to thrive.”
Short term: with customer needs evolving, enterprises will need to update their personalisation strategies to be more flexible in order to keep up. “The enterprises that give people the agency to steer their own digital experiences will be the first to understand what their new wants and needs are.”
Long term: Accenture believes that “the purpose of a digital experience will be transformed,” with the need for digital platforms continuing to accelerate as businesses and consumers look for alternatives to in person gatherings. “The enterprises that start building personalised, interactive, and shared virtual communities today can carry that success far into the future.”
‘AI and me’
With human and artificial intelligence (AI) collaboration providing near limitless capabilities together with the human capability to direct and refine ideas, Accenture believes that “AI should be an even higher priority and the benefits have never looked more promising.”
Short term: “workforces desperately need augmentation.” Not only is human and AI collaboration playing a key role in finding a vaccine for COVID-19, outside of the medical industry, AI systems can help organisations overcome new constraints and challenges that have emerged due to COVID-19.
Long-term: Accenture sees COVID-19 enabling the world to see the benefits of human-AI collaboration, which could potentially ease concerns relating to the technology. “If enterprises invest in explainable AI and other tools that support and enable true human-AI partnership—people will experience the technology at its best. Success today could open new possibilities for businesses to reimagine their enterprise and workforce in the future.”
‘Robots in the wild’
With social distancing becoming the new normal Accenture is seeing robots move from controlled environments to uncontrolled environments faster than expected. “They are more critical than ever, as businesses and governments search for new, ‘contactless’ solutions.”
Short term: robots are adopting new responsibilities as a result of the pandemic. “They’re helping businesses do even more, while simultaneously demonstrating new use cases to regulators, workers, and the public.”
Long term: Accenture sees the robotic ecosystem accelerating, with the pandemic strengthening the business sense for robotics and automation.
“The growing need for automation will boost more than just robotics,” noted Accenture. “Consider how 4G networks grew in lockstep with the rising popularity of smartphones. Robots, IoT devices, and 5G will likely have a similar relationship, as many robot use cases will need increased data transfer rates and decreased latency.”
‘The dilemma of smart things’
“Businesses need to confront the beta burden and the unintended consequences that occur when smart products are constantly in flux,” highlighted Accenture who emphasises that “COVID-19 is increasing our need for these smart and updateable products, which have great public health potential.”
Short term: where new technologies may have caused disruption and been met with resistance prior to COVID-19, Accenture has observed that in the context of COVID-19, new features and functionalities are much more welcome.
Long term: Businesses need to ensure that they keep the risk of future backlash in mind. “Device-driven efforts to combat COVID-19 are already sparking conversations about privacy, and many are worried that their data could be used against them in the future. Enterprises need to consider how they can introduce new features to their devices without overstepping.”
Exploring three areas of innovation - mature digital technologies, scientific advancements, and emerging DARQ technologies (distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality, and quantum computing) - Accenture believes that businesses will be defined by the way they can merge and combine these separate strategies from all of these areas.
Short term: “the pandemic is putting ecosystems through an innovation stress test. COVID-19 is pushing companies to work together in new ways, creating ecosystem-wide innovation.” As a result these partnerships, products and services built will have the potential to define business operations and technology in the future.
Long term: “the rules around innovation will never be the same,” commented Accenture. “The world is changing faster than anyone expected, and businesses need to be more flexible than ever.” As a result organisations are driving new innovation strategies and developing new partnerships in order to drive flexibility, agility and speed during the pandemic.
“We need bold innovation to get through this, and we will still need bold innovation when it passes,” concluded Accenture.
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.”