Meet Mohit Sharma, Mindfields Managing Director and AI thought leader
14 Mar 2018
You may have heard of Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution. And no, it’s not the fourth version of an application software. It marks a profound change in technology, and it’s already transforming the way industries and organisations will operate in the future. Put simply, it’s the next big technology revolution to follow the first three industrial revolutions. A quick jog down memory lane: First Industrial Revolution (coal and steam got railways chugging along and we had mechanisation), Second Industrial Revolution (electricity, gas and oil, and bang we have steel and the telephone), Third Industrial Revolution (nuclear energy and a shiny new thing called electronics that had us all using computers). We have moved through mechanization of production to electricity powering mass production to computers providing the automation of production.
It’s leading us into an increasingly sophisticated way of living and working which will see ‘smart factories’ and robotic automation processing work in tandem with artificial intelligence. Machines empowered by internet connectivity will charge systems that run beneath rich banks of augmented data as they free humans from their repetitive tasks and allow the production chain and those of its supply chains to make decisions independently of the mortal mind. Too much too soon? If you don’t think you’ll feel these changes, think again.
We sat down with Mohit Sharma who is Mindfields’ founder and Managing Director. With more than 20 years of experience and insights into Strategy, Corporate Finance and Risk Management solutions, he really gets the drivers for change that most organisations face. He’s also a recognised industry thought leader in Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Outsourcing, and features in leading financial publications and media for his insights into the ever changing RPA landscape.
Robotic Processing Automation (RPA) is a technology wave changing the way we work. What is it?
RPA is simply a process automation technology using software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers to take over some of the repetitive processes of existing legacy systems. It’s used for transactional and data input processes a lot. It can automate high volume and repetitive tasks and significantly reduce time and costs for organisations. I think of it in the same way that email replaced traditional postage of greeting cards and letters. It used to take ten days for a greeting card to be received via overseas postage, to find out if someone is getting married, and no acknowledgement that they had received the news. Today, communication is instant. It was a big change that affected us all at the time but is now a standard and accepted way of communication. RPA is proving to have the same impact. It’s going to boost business and empower organisations through superior automated processing. But unlike the introduction of email, the exact impact RPA will have on each organisation will be unique. You can’t compare Netflix and Blockbuster, or Amazon and Walmart because they have different structural challenges. The same applies for CCI’s clients across education, church, welfare and aged care. Walmart may need six months to add 10 warehouses, Amazon can add 100 overnight by adding more servers. You are not comparing apples with apples today.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? And why are we talking about this as a revolution?
AI means that machines simulate human intelligence and with computer systems this is a highly technical and specialized part of the process of moving an enterprise forward strategically. We can get machines to solve problems, analyse data and make decisions. As we go forward you can see that innovation is like an insurance premium.
“Innovation is something every organisation needs to invest in so they can survive. How companies apply technologies is very important today.”
To create another Uber.com or Airbnb I don’t have to create a new technology, I can use the same code and recreate what they are doing. But you can’t beat those big companies because what they have is always evolving. If you look at Facebook they were not on mobile originally, and now 95 per cent of the traffic for Facebook is on mobile. Innovation is fluid, it has to evolve. If you look at Google, their biggest competitor is not Apple or Facebook it’s a guy sitting in his garage thinking differently. The same is true for any industry. It’s a revolution because all industries will adopt this in some way, and especially banking, healthcare, and education.
What are the biggest risks when adopting it?
The biggest risk for businesses adopting RPA are found in knowledge management and the dependency on BOTS to execute mundane human tasks. BOTS and chatbots are virtual helpers which can answer questions without needing to speak to a human.
Robotic Process Automation is a clerical process automation technology using software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers instead of humans. BOTS - software applications that run automated tasks over the Internet
They're in telephony services such as Skype, and in social media (Facebook Messenger) and on websites and many other places already. When we automate processes, humans lose control and potentially their knowledge of these processes. This adversely impacts the knowledge management of processes within an organisation. What happens if BOTS are down? Your operations stall. Also automation can increase the risk of fraud and manipulation. There are cyber security risks that are common to IT operations, but for automated processes the risk is more enhanced as hackers can take hold of an entire organisation for ransom. Change management is part of the man vs. machine relationship in a company, and as more humans depend on machines, the more complex and vulnerable to risk this relationship becomes.
As labour arbitrage disappears, meaningful human interaction or ‘man-machine arbitrage’ will appear, and this is where we replace man with technology and this will define who those companies are that are ahead of the technology development curve. Meaningful human interaction will drive value and price going forward.
What are the biggest risks for businesses not adopting it?
The application of technology is not a differentiator any more. It’s continuous innovation combined with faster evolution of technology that will make the difference, and this is what you need to keep any organisation ahead of its competitors. RPA is a first step in the journey. Man vs. machine should not be the only driver. Enhancement of the customer and partner experience should be the priority.
RPA can address cyber security issues because computers don’t do data breaches, but aren’t there alarming security implications with increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks disrupting businesses now?
Yes, this concern is always there and that’s why we have to be extra cautious with a process that can be manipulated or hacked. Organisations need to have extra security, more checks and balances than they would for processes that are less sensitive. It all depends on the sector you’re in. We encourage risk assessment, working out what can go wrong in your business if you’re in healthcare or finance. This affects a lot of industries.
As early adopters, what can Australian organisations do to navigate the minefield of consultancy?
You’d be surprised to know that RPA in Australia was quite ahead of the US. In this contemporary technology context you need to have your research done before you can advise your clients on the matter of RPA implementation. Most of our consultants have come from the big 4 banks or Mackenzie companies. They have not been trained in RPA at universities. This all evolved after they graduated. So you need to do research and in doing research you can be manipulated. When IBM says that they have the best technology compared to AWS you may not see the bigger picture and you’ll received biased information. They may have more marketing funds, a better content writer, and this can influence your decision when you’re doing the research part of adopting RPA. So I’d recommend research and deep consultation. There are specialists who work in advising organisations before they dive into this.
What’s the difference between a good consultant and a bad one?
As a consulting firm we made a principle that we would not be technologically biased. We decided we would be agnostic. We did our research, assessing the impact of RPA with all the big advisory firms. Everybody gave a definition of RPA as per their technology offering, as per their objective. So you can see, it’s worth doing research and getting unbiased analysis. In addition, the consulting firms who don’t understand new technologies will always come with ambiguity and they sell their consulting services with the fear factor.
Are consultant companies exaggerating the sophistication of this technology and its price?
Five years back there were simple tools within this technology, but now there is a different generation of tools and they are very advanced. We are doing analytics using these tools and there is proper structure around that function, we can drag, we can audit systems with these tools, create an audit trail and run multiple processes on them. The next wave will be totally different, for example using AI to predict what you’re going to do…maybe it’s that you go to a café after work every night, and there will be apps to provide services and value for this. It might be a coffee voucher from your regular café for visiting more than eight nights in two weeks or something similar. People who have their core business model as outsourcing are feeling the impact of RPA and five years ago the tools were basic, but that’s no longer the case.
What are the really interesting and innovative features of adopting RPA into your operation?
It’s taking human interaction away and replacing it with a robotic software and it will evolve to the next level which is combining with Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is quite unique. That is exciting. That suggests many things for how one can use information to make better decisions.
RPA is transforming what organisations are doing from a risk perspective.
We have different risks now. When I was working in outsourcing years ago, the risk was that with outsourcing to India the data could be sold. With storing data in India, if there is a flood for example, what will happen? In the current environment, more and more data is stored in the Cloud and data centres in Australia are accessing data from there. Whatever step you take along the way there are risks. How you mitigate risks is more important, and how you manage risks you can’t mitigate will really define you. In automation there is less risk because all of the information is transferred to a robot. In outsourcing or other processes it has been given to a human who can be manipulated. A human can leave the company with knowledge. There is more back knowledge management with RPA. But the main risk of RPA that I see is that we will lose our capability to do simple things. If you think back a hundred years ago all calculation was done by hand or mind, now we use calculators for simple calculus. It will have an impact but it will enhance my value as a human because I no longer spend my time on the mundane job of calculating. I can save that time and put it to more productive use.
One of the other values in our company is that we are able to advance human management of risk. When computers first arrived in India there was concern that they would take away human jobs, and India as you know is a human-based economy. But look at things now, they are the biggest supplier of the IT workforce to the world. In fact the country that has benefitted the most from IT is India because its people are going everywhere around the world.
What are the big benefits for the healthcare industry in adopting RPA?
RPA offers flexibility and agility. Over time our perception of risk is eroded. The uptake of RPA is already well underway from financial companies and mining but we are seeing the healthcare industry coming on board in a big way. It depends on how you process data and what you do with it. As a doctor you may have access to 400 journals about cancer and may want to go through all of those journals before making a final diagnosis for a patient. With captured data that is sorted into useable forms for enhancing the decision-making process for a human, it is far quicker and can hold the potential for deeper insights.
What are the big risks for data storage for this industry, and others with high privacy needs such as banking and education?
There is a need for multiple checks with internal audit and compliance functions. Security around the storage of data is hugely sensitive, and given the seriousness of the impact of a cyber attack, any changes in the reporting patterns should send out alerts. There are a lot of mechanisms for addressing the security of data in an industry such as healthcare, and when you do an automation it’s important to look at all of the scenarios for what can go wrong and what steps can be taken so that it’s clear where human intervention should take place. When we consider the cancer specialist, I want mine to read all 400 journals about a new cancer drug but that is not possible. RPA and AI will help doctors to make better decisions by processing the information from these journals and from other data quickly and more accurately.
Robotic process automation on demand as consultants get disrupted, Financial Review, 21 August 2017