Automation, once a trend among businesses seeking new and exciting ways to be competitive, has become something of a way of life thanks to COVID-19. For a perspective on how the market for automation has changed, People Matters asked Zakir Ahmed, Senior Vice President and GM - Asia Pacific & Japan at process automation developer Kofax, about what he's observed in the last few months. Here are the highlights of the conversation.
Could you share a little about what you've seen in the automation market over these last few months?
Prior to COVID-19, the general feel in the market was that automation is something that's nice to have: the tools, systems, and processes that you put in place to maintain a competitive advantage. What we're hearing from our customers now is that companies have gone into survival mode, where they need to leverage automation or optimize because of business continuity. They are realizing that they need these comprehensive and integrated solutions to bring together communications and collaboration, and they also need process automation.
We are seeing huge growth in the demand for cloud solutions, and the speed at which companies need those solutions is accelerated. In the past, organizations would come to us and say: "Look, I need a more cost efficient solution, because I need to do this in the cloud versus doing this on an on premise solution." Today, those same types of organizations are now coming to us and saying: "I don't have the luxury of time or resources, I need a readily available integrated system that's going to be able to help me meet the needs of today's world."
The other thing we see is a really massive momentum around the uptake of process automation. Most of the data in organizations today is an unstructured format, and company data extraction is one of the major areas of process automation that we handle—to digitize all of this data from its unstructured form. For example, capturing an image from an incoming application and pulling that data in a format that the company can utilize or digest.
A year ago or six months ago companies viewed those types of applications as nice to have. Today, they are absolutely becoming critical.
Do you think this is a one-off spike, or will the increased demand be here to stay?
I believe this new virtual environment is here to stay. Before COVID, the demand was essentially dry, because many organizations were not ready for this environment. But now people are becoming more comfortable with this way of doing business, and they are realizing the efficiency of taking these approaches and adopting these new technologies. They are likely to continue to leverage these and I think that's going to drive the demand. So, while certainly we're going to feel a surge in the short term, I think in the medium to long term, we're still going to see high demand because there are many organizations that will still be playing catch up.
The employees in your organization, the customers that you deal with on a day to day basis, the vendors that you're dealing with, the partners that you're interacting with and depend on, and many other constituents in your ecosystem, they will all start to prefer to engage in this virtual and digital environment. Ultimately, businesses today don't have a choice but to expand their virtual capabilities.
That sounds like it will have quite some implications for the growth of your business. Are you planning to adjust your strategy to cope?
Well, we do drink our own champagne, and we believe that technology will play a pretty critical role in any organization's success going forward. But it can only get you so far. We've found that for many of our customers, success comes down to how organizations are set up or enabled internally when it comes to people, and when it comes to their culture. We're talking about appetite for change, change management, and ultimately leadership support and buy in on how this technology is going to be leveraged and utilized.
I think it's crucial that a digital workforce is enabled with the right tools. And the organization must also be trained and well prepared to start on this journey, to continue to operate as an organization throughout this digital transformation. The primary benefit of that really emerges when we have situations like the pandemic that we're facing today. Organizations that are enabled and prepared with these transformation processes and these tools become resilient to any disruption and business interruption.
Could you share any observations around the impact of digitization on business efficiency?
We have implemented many of the same tools and technologies that we develop and offer. This is very much about optimizing the resources that we have, allowing people to channel their energies and focus on the core essential parts of our business. By using intelligent automation, we are ensuring that a lot of the manual work that we do can be done more efficiently, and allowing people to focus on improving business strategy, improving customer experience. It lets us be externally focused, versus being internally focused, so that we can be quick to respond to the market needs of our partners as well as our customers.
And by adopting these technologies and enabling our employees, we're eliminating a lot of the risk of these human error and the resulting conflicts.
Hopefully, with the processes that we have in place, we can elevate the skill sets of our workforce—leveraging the resources that we've trained and enabled, and making sure that we can get better productivity and efficiency out of these individuals.
Could you share a few of the automation solutions that you've seen as very effective across industries?
There are several areas around productivity that we believe are very effective. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one. Creating robots for any of the manual processes is possible, and it's done extensively across many industries. For example, financial institutions and insurance companies here in Singapore and around the world that are using RPA to eliminate manual processes and the associated overhead costs. For these industries, the main goal is to mitigate compliance risk, increase competitiveness, and secure profitability.
Some of the solutions we've seen a huge uptake of could be as simple as signing off on important documents. This could be a mobile capture using a customer's smartphone. It could be the use of electronic signature technology, or it could be a web based adapter—all solutions that don't require the physical presence of these processes. Then there could be analytics around PDF document imaging, or cognitive capture workflows. It depends on what exactly the organization's needs are.