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The Two-Stage Approach to Machine-first Automation


Akhilesh Tiwari
Vice President, Global Head, Enterprise Application Services
1 September 2019

Your business partners, customers, suppliers, and employees are all part of today’s digital economy. Linked by technology, employing smart devices and intelligent software to conduct business and live their lives, they form a digital ecosystem of people and organizations conducting trade dynamically, continually sharing data in real time.

A business that doesn’t have the right digital capabilities will not be able to participate in this ecosystem. If it cannot profit from technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and advanced analytics, that company will soon find itself on an analog island. Its financial horizons will be limited, its markets will be vulnerable to disruption, its customers will fall away, and its employees will look for more technologically sophisticated businesses in which to work.

Automation is the key to joining the burgeoning digital ecosystem. Businesses understand this. According to a 2018 survey, almost half of all companies are adopting at least one of these intelligent systems, up from 20% in 2017. However, the majority of those companies also said their investment in AI-enabled technologies accounted for less than 10% of their IT budgets.

The conclusion is inevitable: These businesses are not automating all the work they could and should. 

They can and must remedy this. The way to do that is through what we call a machine-first approach to digital transformation.

The Two-Stages of Machine-First Automation

The machine-first approach simply means that business leaders should ask, “Can a machine do this job better – faster, more accurately, and cost-effectively – than humans?” If the answer is yes, that job should be automated, and the people performing it should be trained and focused on the work machines can’t do.

That’s the first stage of the machine-first automation approach: examining all the tasks a business performs in its daily operations and asking if automating them will benefit the organization. For example, closing the end-of-quarter books is a repetitive task that consumes the energies of managers and employees for days and weeks. Automating that process allows those people to perform true value-added work, such as forward-looking financial planning, or, adjusting capital flows according to changing business conditions. 

The second stage of a machine-first approach is more complex. It requires redesigning formerly manual processes with advanced technologies, including hardware, software, and networks. This begins by breaking down business processes into component activities, and then determining how AI, ML, and advanced analytics can improve each one. When those automatable activities are defined, a business can look to see what new work the company can now perform.

What new services can it offer, and what new products can it create? For example, once a help desk has been automated, and intelligent agents deployed to answer common customer questions, what services can newly liberated help desk employees now provide? And what new skills and training will they need to provide those services?

It’s critical for companies to remember that machine-first automation – or, as we say, giving machines the right of first refusal – is not merely a strategy for reducing costs or headcount; it is, rather, a way to reimagine the business, and the jobs of the people who work for it.

Finally, machine-first automation provides an on-ramp to the digital ecosystem so crucial to the future of every business. 

Akhilesh Tiwari, vice president, global head of enterprise application services at TCS, is co-author of  "Giving Power to the Machine: Offering Technology the First Right of Refusal," in Vol. 12 of TCS Perspectives management journal.

About the author(s)
Akhilesh Tiwari
Vice President, Global Head, Enterprise Application Services

Akhilesh Tiwari is Vice President & Global Head, Enterprise Application Services (EAS) at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In this role, Akhilesh oversees strategy, growth, and customer success, lending direction to a portfolio of cross-industry and pan-enterprise business applications.

Akhilesh and his team of technology experts and business consultants help global enterprises build on their foundational enterprise applications to integrate new and emerging technologies such as analytics, automation and artificial intelligence. By bridging IT and business together, he helps companies create new business models and fuel opportunities with customer experience, finance and HR transformations and strategic IT initiatives.

With over 25 years of international and multi-faceted leadership experience, Akhilesh focuses on identifying strategic opportunities to truly build and grow businesses. He has forged and deepened partnerships with many of the world’s leading software companies, including SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Adobe. Under his leadership, the practice was awarded a variety of SAP Pinnacle Awards including SAP Partner of the Year and Run SAP Partner of the Year.

As the technology landscape evolves, he identifies and creates partnerships with future-leading companies that address his customers’ business needs with emerging technologies.

Akhilesh has a Master’s in Business Administration from MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as a Master’s in Materials Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology. He currently resides in the Greater New York City area with his wife and two children.