Is Internet of Processes the Future of Business Management? The system is still in its initial stages, but it will improve as learning goes. It is freeing workers from labour far more often than it is eradicating jobs
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
Yes you read it right! It's internet of processes (IoP), not the internet of things (IoT). Indeed, very soon IoT's extension from physical devices and everyday objects will be shifted to collaborative automated business processes. Companies' business operations, whether in the service sector or in manufacturing/production, will be monitored and controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).
There is no scarcity of prophecies about how AI is going to restructure where, how, and if people will control business processes in the future. But the impressive future-changing projects of AI, like almost entirely complete automated production processes by humanoid robots, are not yet salable products. Currently, a more modest form of this business technology, "Internet of Processes", instead, is making its existence felt in a less dazzling place: the back office work.
New software have helped to automate processes in operations like product manufacturing, accounting, billing, payments and customer service. The system can upload documents based on specific requirements itself, enter numbers into the system, check the precision of customer records, and make payments with a few automated computer keystrokes if needed. The system is still in its initial stages, but it will improve through learning as it goes. Uptil now, often in trial projects focused on unskilled tasks, IoP is freeing workers from labour far more often than it is eradicating jobs.
To take full advantage of this AI-human-IoPs collaboration, companies must comprehend how workers can most efficiently supplement automated and collaborative business processes; how machines can improve what humans do best; and how to restructure business processes to support this collaboration. For many businesses leaders and its key decision makers, that is copious. McKinsey & Company predicts that almost 60 per cent of the companies in the US with more than US$1 billion in revenue have at least trial programs ongoing using robotic automation and self-aware business processes.
To achieve the maximum value from IoP, business operations need to be remodeled. To do this, organisations must first determine and define an operational area that can be upgraded. It might be a non-compliant internal process (such as a finance's sluggishness to complete financial closings each month), or it could be an earlier obstinate problem that can now be addressed using IoP's predictors (such as rapidly detecting delays in a construction project management or its related costing). Furthermore, numerous new AI and forward-thinking analytic techniques can help unearth previously unseen problems that are docile to automated business solutions. Results from these virtual tests (means through automated collaborative processes) can help in refining the algorithms used for AI. As with the innovation step, new AI and analytic methods can contribute in co-creation by proposing unique methodologies to improving existing processes.
For organisational leaders, their focus must be on five key characteristics of business processes which they want to improve: flexibility, speed, scale, decision making, and personalisation. When redesigning a business process keeping IoP in mind, define and decide which of these features is essential to the desired transformation, how intelligent AI-human-IoP collaboration could be connected to address it, and what configurations and trade-offs with other organisational process characteristics will be necessary.
Aligning a business process based on AI and automation requires substantial commitment in terms of developing employees' new skills and behaviours required by the workforce in order to manage and cope with this new phenomena. A change is never accepted whole-heartedly, especially when employees have a negative feeling that their jobs might be at stake due to automation of collaborative processes – something which will result in less human interaction. To begin with, leaders and HR department must make sure to redefine or align their mission, vision, values and strategy, which can be molded based on the Iop's phenomena. A culture of delegating tasks to the new technology must be encouraged. Conversely, employees should also learn to align themselves and their skills with those of the smart machine processes.
Similarly, employees must be able to teach intelligent agents new skills and undertake training to work well within AI-enhanced processes. Leaders must ensure that their companies' systems and processes are used correctly and not for illegal or unethical purposes. I believe that in the near future, company roles will be redesigned around the desired outcomes of automated collaborative processes, and businesses will increasingly be organised around different types of skills rather than around vintage job titles.
In a nutshell, a vast majority of the business activities at the AI level require people to do new and different things as well as to do things differently. At the moment, however, only a handful of companies have started to invest in the development and management of automated processes to augment collaborative intelligence at work. But the message is clear: Organisations that will utilise AI and automation to reduce headcounts or to save money will truly miss the full potential of the real phenomena. Such a strategy is erroneous from the word 'go'. Future leaders will be those that clasp AI-Human-IoP collaboration; renovating their operational processes, their markets, their industries, and no less important their overall workforce. IoP is indeed the future of business management.