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The need for digital intelligence in the time of social distancing

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has become the defining event of 2020 and, with it, social distancing has entered our vocabulary for modern commerce and recast interpersonal and business interactions. Now part of our social consciousness, social distancing is fueling a growing reliance on virtualization and technologically-mediated relationships. While the urgency of social distancing is already putting our technology and process readiness to the test, it raises an important question about how people, process, and content interact in this new normal.

Digital transformation already has social distancing as a core assumption. Apps and app-like interactions are a new paradigm for engaging friends and businesses, and companies have rushed to re-tool customer and employee experiences to be as simple and personalized as smartphone apps. Using more intelligent technologies, such as AI, geo-positioning, information visualization, and bots, is removing friction from everything in our daily lives including getting a ride, shopping, consuming media and managing health. It has engendered the expectation that technology can be applied directly to mediate human experience with business and personal interactions.

Right now, social distancing has made the customer experience an imperative driving digital transformation by replacing human-to-human with app-defined interactions. It has become a matter of life or death in the face of a global pandemic.

A new era of virtualization

It is already beyond dispute that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how work gets done.  As more states order shelter in place, ban social gatherings, and push for zero-touch options for picking up essentials like medical and food supplies, we are having to adapt overnight to getting work done through virtualization. Use of web and video conferencing, WebEx, Zoom and related technologies have seen usage grow as much as 22 times during the past month. 

This means that shelter in place and social distancing are a new paradigm for social and business interactions, where the point of both is to eliminate as much at-risk interactions as humanly possible.  Accordingly, we already are seeing how digital transformation can become the umbrella for making shelter in place and social distancing in business interaction work. Where safe distance, even isolation, are mandated to help flatten the curve of this virus, virtualization technologies, including accelerated use of mobile and app-driven interactions, will become a necessity in doing business today.

We can think of social distancing as a broader term that includes being remote and shelter in place, since the point is to maintain personal safety and rely on technology to mediate and keep safe our business and personal interactions. 

Digital intelligence

Social distancing is now a priority in digital transformation initiatives. This only can occur when businesses start looking at the interactive processes in their customer and employee engagements.  Already focused on using technology to remove friction and contact from customer experiences, digital transformation initiatives can benefit from newer approaches to understanding and automating processes. 

Refocusing on customer experience and finding ways to use smarter technologies to remove friction from it are driving much of the recent growth in investment in AI, machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), customer service bots, low code/no code, mobile and cloud applications.  Putting these smarter technologies to work as app-based interactions for better customer and employee experience has forced companies to take a hard look at the people, processes and content that constitute an experience – whether it is shopping/buying goods and services, filing an insurance claim, managing banking or consulting a doctor. 

Digital Intelligence is, in large part, helping businesses ask these hard questions about how their customer and operational processes are working by using hard data with the right tools to shed new light on them. It is about discovering and assessing the readiness of your processes for change, where and how people (customers, suppliers, employees) interact with them, where automation is actually needed and for what purpose. It is about looking at processes and automation from the perspective of a customer or employee journey, understanding where the touches occur, what happens in them, and looking not just at a workflow but the behaviors that occur in the process. 

Since so many customer interactions occur in delivering services, for example, opening accounts, submitting claims, processing invoices, and payments, a vital part of the interaction is exchanging and processing documents. Digital Intelligence looks at how content (documents, messages, emails) enters and moves through processes, what actions people take with it, and how automation can work to improve them. Although most documents coming through these processes now are electronic, coming via email, smartphone or file transfers, the basic requirements for processing them (classification, cleanup, separation, extraction, validation and release) remain the same. Moreover, the processes for handling documents are mostly unchanged, still working in scan-to-archive at the end of the activity, instead of at the intake point where it can be more productive and effective. Good process discovery and assessment can lay this process bare and show where all of the effort and resources are being spent in it.

We already have solutions for automating processes (BPM, RPA, workflow), content (OCR, Intelligent Document Processing), process mining, and business intelligence, so what makes Digital Intelligence different?  The main difference is that each of these disciplines has a deep focus on its role (process, workflow) but not on the complex and often unstructured interactions between processes, content, and the people who engage with and use them. Even if a process can be shown as a logical sequence of events and workflows, the behaviors of people and the content that goes through them are variable, and this variability cannot be understood without tools for visualizing it. 

This is when using cloud-based platforms to work with your data safely offsite via electronic connections and not interpersonal contact will matter.  With social distancing becoming imperative, cloud-based solutions help change operating processes to remove human-to-human interactions. 

Why digital intelligence, and why now?

As the news continues to flood in about the spread of Coronavirus, its effects on healthcare, food supply and the economy, one thing we know already is that social distancing is one of the few means we have of slowing the spread of the pandemic. In the coming months, as we adjust to this suddenly new normal, it will put more pressure on businesses and institutions to accelerate the adoption of virtualization and no-touch digital technologies. If these were already part of digital transformation investments, we should expect it to become the top priority very soon, even overnight.

Automation and workflow tools, and Intelligent Document Processing platforms will not be implemented quickly enough if done the way we are accustomed to implementing them. The focus will shift to finding effective process discovery and honest assessment tools to lead these initiatives, and identify where processes and their touches need to change and what can change now. Taking a Digital Intelligence approach gives organizations the discovery, combines all the data to take action, recommends automation, monitors and adjusts processes as needed to meet rapidly-emerging social distancing and customer experience mandates.

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