While the pandemic spotlighted supply chain inefficiencies, the broader challenge is bridging the gap between digital transformation and actual execution.

While many of the issues contributing to supply chain disruptions were around long before COVID-19, the pandemic served as a reckoning, shining a light on previously acceptable inefficiencies in the supply chain process. 

Business operations around the world continue to deal with remote or hybrid workers, raw material shortages, reduced staff, and other supply chain challenges. Supply chains in South-east Asia still rely on manual processes that are vulnerable to human error. 

Previously, the priorities of automation were cost takeout and labor arbitrage. Today, that’s no longer the leading indicator of the value of an automation strategy. 

The high-level takeaway from the 2022 Kofax Intelligent Automation Benchmark study is that executives believe business continuity, competitive advantage and end-to-end process automation are the defining factors that separate leaders from laggards.

DigiconAsia discussed the key findings from the study with Zakir Ahmed, Senior Vice President and General Manager for APJ at Kofax.

Zakir Ahmed, Senior Vice President and General Manager, APJ, Kofax

From the findings of the 2022 Kofax Intelligent Automation Benchmark study, what are the manual business tasks ripe for automation among organizations, and what are the top industries that would be impacted most?

Zakir: Automation becomes increasingly important for organizations to embark on their digital transformation journey. Full-scale end-to-end automation was nice to have but has now become a matter of survival in the wake of the pandemic.

In our 2022 Kofax Intelligent Automation Benchmark Study, Singapore decision makers have had to overcome hurdles in their automation journey, from fragmented systems to poor data management and manual processes that was making it too difficult to manage at scale. However, these executives have shown a high level of interest in automating routine transactions such as invoice automation (89%), accounts payable automation (86%) and document security management (85%).

As customers demand frictionless experiences today, businesses who don’t provide them may not be able to survive.

Automation will make a dramatic impact across all industries that are heavily reliant on manual workflow processes, such as the FSI, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. As such, the finance, HR and operations departments will greatly benefit from automation technologies.

The study also found that, besides business continuity and competitive advantage, end-to-end process automation is a defining factor that separates leaders from laggards. How true is that among Asia Pacific organizations?

Zakir: Forrester revealed many first-time firms in Asia Pacific swiftly jumped on the automation bandwagon in 2020, but companies continue to face difficulties to scale and region-specific obstacles on their path to maturity.

However, 71% of Asia Pacific firms agree that their RPA program has C-level executive visibility and support, indicating that organizations indeed view automation as a future driver of transformation.

The pandemic illustrated the areas of weakness within organizations and points to the value of end-to-end automation through an intelligent platform. Besides ensuring business continuity, virtual customer experiences and remote work has been key. For instance, our study showed 86% of Singapore executives agreed for the need to fast-track end-to-end digital transformation.

How important is automation in transforming data into insights to improve customer experience?

Zakir: Business leaders are scrutinizing their high-priority workflows and identifying the tasks, data sources and routine procedures they believe are ready to be automated. Executives call this the “DNA” that’s found across workflows processes.

Data proliferation overwhelms modern organizations. In Singapore, executives believe data collected from the web (100%), internal systems (98%) and paper documents (97%) are key to uncovering actionable insights to drive the business and deliver a great customer experience.

Please share some strategies and best practices for building a smart supply chain, especially for providers in the region still entrenched in manual processing.

Zakir: Advanced technology adoption in South-east Asia’s manufacturing industry is in a nascent stage, which could reflect the region’s high number of small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs). However, with more investment into intangible assets such as technology and software, small businesses are capable of competing with larger organizations with outdated legacy systems.

Manufacturing industries require more integrated networks with better access to real time data which is labor-intensive to do manually. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a common starting point for many manufacturers looking to digitally transform. Automation should make data work for the business, and for manufacturers, it can encompass functions across the organization including order processing, pricing and procurement, inventory tracking and processing invoice, quote and contract management, customer support and communication, and regulatory compliance.

Manufacturers can unite digital and physical workforces into a collaboratively run machine to transform performance of business operations and enhance the employee and customer experience.

From your perspective, what are some key trends in automation we can expect to see in 2022?

With an intelligent automation platform, we see technologies intersect with business operations to transform siloed functions under one automation office and improve business speed. Organizations will achieve next-level automation as AI will go mainstream, enabling business leaders to make insightful decisions without the need for frequent human intervention and produce high-value work. AI will be embedded into platforms and organizations no longer need to go outside their platform to tack on AI. The built-in nature of AI accelerates time-to-value and enables organizations to focus on how technology solves business problems, and not on the technology itself.

In the COVID-19 environment, the demand for automation technologies has increased manifold. However, it isn’t taking over to displace human workers — it will instead elevate the employee experience. While automation diminishes mundane work and creates opportunities for people to high-performance work, employers will still need to create pathways in order for the workforce to gain the skills to match these opportunities.

In 2022 and beyond, we will also see businesses prioritize unstructured data management as 80 percent of global data is predicted to be unstructured by 2025. Lastly, expect low-code intelligent automation to be in high demand and for organizations to apply that digital dexterity throughout the enterprise.