Cognitive automation: Redefine agility to survive

The pandemic has highlighted that companies that optimise how they use automation tools can relieve pressure on teams and help leaders make better decisions more quickly. By Rajeev Mitroo.

Even in the best of times, senior management faces a huge roster of tasks across a wide range of priorities — handling daily operations, tracking progress toward corporate goals, planning for the future, overseeing individuals on their teams, to name a few. 

The pace of work has grown exponentially within companies in recent years, as has the complexity.

With the Covid pandemic bringing new levels of disruption to businesses in New Zealand, they’ve found themselves in unchartered territory and many have been trying to put their hands back onto the wheel in a struggle for business survival, especially after such a strict initial lockdown. 

The list of tasks senior managers face has now grown even longer. Due to layoffs, absences and new work arrangements, these tasks must often be achieved with smaller teams. Some businesses have been more successful at adapting to these rapid changes than others. 

Now that businesses have had more than seven months to make sense of it, they’re now focused on driving business recovery and returning to normal in some shape or form, but also planning to come out of the crisis stronger with a view of growth.


Introducing cognitive automation  

The pandemic has highlighted that companies that optimise how they use automation tools can relieve pressure on teams and help leadership make better decisions more quickly. 

This in turn helps to build a more
resilient organisation to survive what could be a prolonged crisis and aid a faster recovery. 

This is where cognitive technologies come in, offering tremendous potential for senior managers. 

A product of artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies employ capabilities such as knowledge, perception, judgement and the ability to accomplish specific tasks that were once the exclusive domain of humans. 

One of the most important of these technologies is cognitive automation. It boils down to a simple idea: machines gather tonnes of data, process it in real-time and show a business the best steps to take as a result. 

It works when companies allow information about their transactions to be uploaded to a single place in the cloud, where AI processes the information continuously, draws conclusions and sends back key information.

The supply chain 

If we look at how an organisation can manage supply, for example, cognitive automation makes sure that the right amount of a product makes it to high-demand areas using the fastest shipping channels.

It can also track production, procurement, inventory, financials and more.

The same goes for customer service. If various customers are reporting a similar problem but using different platforms (such as websites, Twitter, phone, chat and apps) and different languages, cognitive automation can help analyse the data more quickly than a human customer service agent, locate the similarities and draw the attention of managers to a problem that needs to be addressed.

Clearly, cognitive automation is a useful tool for leadership in stable environments. In times of crisis like a global pandemic, these technologies are even more necessary to many businesses.


Rapidly adapting to changes  

Just about every aspect of business has become unstable and unpredictable in the wake of the pandemic.

 Shipping channels have been blocked, for example, sending some supply chains into a tailspin. 

This can throw off not only the logistics of moving products, but also manufacturing. Often, factories need components from multiple countries to build a product. 

If the components can’t make it to the factory from the usual supplier, another supplier has to be found — quickly.

Businesses are better placed to make this happen with cognitive automation. These systems may show that a shipment won’t make it to a factory in New Zealand, but that a factory in Malaysia can churn out the same equipment and ship it to New Zealand, following a specific route that currently offers the fastest arrival based on weather conditions and channel openings.

Meanwhile, New Zealand consumers are also looking for different products and services than they were before the pandemic. 

Demand keeps shifting, partly in response to the changing directives from health and government officials. By the time the uptick or reduction in demand becomes clear to the makers of products and services, those demands may have changed yet again. 

Often this results in a lag that prevents businesses from having what consumers are looking for at the ready.

This lag can quickly disappear with cognitive automation. If there’s increased demand in Wellington and decreased demand in Auckland, for example, businesses can be instantly alerted, giving them the ability to quickly reroute shipments.


Increased availability for people management  

When tasks like these are handed over to cognitive automation, senior leaders have more time to focus on what machines can’t handle … and won’t be able to anytime in the foreseeable future: people management.

Employees need to know what their new tasks are, what the organisation’s goals are, how annual projections are changing and what the short and long-term future may look like for the company. 

This will empower them to know what to tell customers and other stakeholders, and how they can help the company stem its losses. For all this, they need time with their managers.

The current conditions are particularly stressful. Many workers are worried that they will lose their jobs. Stress and worry can decrease productivity, while increasing employee turnover and absences. 

There’s a powerful business incentive, in addition to a purely empathy-based one, for leadership to focus on ensuring that their workers feel safe.

The last thing senior managers should be grappling with during this time of uncertainty is a slate of tasks that machines could be taking care of. 

Machines can’t get this kind of virus. Let’s optimise how we use them to relieve the pressure on teams as fast as possible, and steer companies in New Zealand towards recovery.  


Rajeev Mitroo is managing director of Asia Pacific for Aera Technology. He leads Aera’s go to market strategy and initiatives across key markets, working with partners developing self-driving enterprises.

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