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Management

Every company in future will need to embrace digital

There is no one road to digital transformation. But firms must start down the path if they intend to become the disrupters and not the disrupted

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 10:59pm

Many of the most important senior executives I speak to, ask how can I their company so it embraces digital?

Companies of the future are going to be reliant upon new digital services built on rapidly accelerating technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and robotics process automation (RPA).

Top executives at world class companies know this. But they have valid questions regarding how to transform their corporate culture, reskill their staff and make the leap to the new world order.

And they have valid questions about the technology itself.

They are asking: What’s real about artificial intelligence? They are trying to sift between the hype and hysteria of sci-fi tales of robots taking over the world and their more mundane experiences of commercially available “virtual assistants” saying, “I do not understand.” when you ask a question.

They are trying to figure out how to implement AI and RPA so their companies can benefit from the augmented capabilities these digital technologies offer. But they are also asking about the cost of implementation and considering the return on investment.

Some companies are starting with basic building blocks, such as RPA. For example, in Japan, Dai-ichi Life has been using RPA since October 2016 to handle insurance-related operational tasks such as preparing documents and data for corporate analysis and risk management.

RPA can do this round-the-clock across multiple computer operations. This has freed up staff to do more value-added, challenging work.

Based on the success of the RPA, Dai-ich says in the future, it is considering using AI, including voice recognition technology, machine learning, and so-called “rule engines” that enable optimum judgment under complicated conditions.

It is taking a step-by-step approach to implementing new services and getting its staff comfortable with the digital transition.

Other companies are thinking bigger – overhauling their entire approach to work, which makes them digital disrupters. Global pest control company Rentokil is piloting an AI app to help its almost 5,000 pest control technicians fight bugs faster for customers.

Global pest control company Rentokil is piloting an AI app to help its almost 5,000 pest control technicians fight bugs faster for customers

The innovative app for Android mobile devices is called PestID and uses Google’s CloudML image classification technology to help field technicians identify and treat pest problems quickly and efficiently.

By using pictures captured with smartphone cameras, pests are automatically identified by comparison with a machine learning model trained on a large corpus of Rentokil’s existing pest imagery. When a positive identification is made, the app provides remediation solutions to quickly manage pests.

While that’s probably not a visually appealing anecdote, it is a great example of how to use the data that you have. Rentokil knows its bugs but it can’t expect all its technicians to have mastered identifying the more than 4,500 different species of roaches alone. An AI app makes sense.

But even using an app can be a hard sell. You have to get your staff comfortable using the technology – and that can require a fundamental change in company culture. It requires training and continuous education and buy-in from top to bottom of the organisation.

It is a management’s job to get excited about the possibilities of digital and to embrace the transformational possibilities it offers.

There is no one road to digital transformation. It can be a step-by-step build up, a problem-solving solution or a massive rethink of your entire business model. But companies must start down the path if they intend to become the disrupters and not the disrupted in their industry.

Gianfranco Casati is Accenture’s group chief executive for growth markets

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