In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video, Mike Vizard talks with Narendran Thillaisthanam, vice president of emerging technologies at Varum, about how hyper automation is required to achieve digital business transformation at any meaningful scale.
Mike Vizard: Hey, guys, welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Insights Leadership video series. I’m your host Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Narendran Thillaisthanam who is CTO for Varam, and we’re talking about hyper automation, especially as it applies to business processes. And the question, Naren, off the bat is, what exactly do we mean by hyper automation, since we have been automating business processes since the age of the mainframe, but what does hyper automation mean?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Sure, yeah, no, I mean, that’s one of the questions I get asked, Mike. So hyper automation is an approach to automation, so it’s not a technology by itself. It’s more like an agile metrology, it’s an approach to automation. Essentially, what we are saying, here, is, you know, we can bring a number of tools and technologies together to achieve an end-to-end automation. Now, you may ask what is end-to-end automation, for example. You know, I’ve been in the industry a lot of years, Mike. A lot of times, we take one technology, you know, whether it’s RPA or BPM, and then we say, “What processes can I automate?”
Now, with hyper automation, we flip the problem the other way around. We take one, you know, large end-to-end process which spans multiple departments, and then we ask the question, “What technologies can I bring,” right? So essentially, it’s an automation-first mindset, you know, you go one step at a time and say, “Can I automate this? Can I automate this? Can I automate the third one?” and so on and so forth, in a sort of way. And that’s, essentially, what hyper automation is.
Mike Vizard: We’ve been investing in automation for a long time, and I guess one of the questions I have is, has somewhat counterproductive? Because we now have all these islands and silos of automation that kind of work against each other sometimes, so, do we need to take a giant step back?
Narendran Thillaisthanam:: Yeah, absolutely, Mike, yeah. So, certainly, you know, we have seen automation islands and we have seen pockets of automation happening all around us, and that’s, essentially, where hyper automation is coming. What we are saying here is, like I said, you know, take these islands and, you know, think of hyper automation as a bridge that spans across these islands, so that the walls actually can crumble. Now, the idea behind this is, you know, you have to be comfortable with multiple technologies, technologies talking to each other, making it into one cohesive end-to-end play, here, Mike. So that’s essentially, you know, what we are trying to achieve with hyper automation.
Mike Vizard: Why do you think we don’t take that end-to-end approach to business process, these days? In theory, we’ve been doing order to cash forever, but if I look inside those processes, there’s about probably, like, ten islands of automation. So, what is it that prevents people from kind of getting into this mindset and kind of looking at it from, I would argue, the business-down rather than the technology platforms-up?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Yeah, I mean, great question, Mike, but essentially, what happens when we take a process like order to cash is we ask this question, and I have this tool, “What can this tool do?” So, we end up creating a pocket where, if I’m not able to automate that particular step, you know, we try to take the manual approach. So, automation software has been largely led by a human-first, you know, mindset, Mike. You know, we do augmentation, we enable automation to such an extent where it is easier for humans. Now, with the pandemic, and especially, you know, we are moving towards an automation-first mindset, the question is, for example, in the case of order to cash, when an order comes, can we deploy OCR, our AI engine, to read those documents.
Can we extract information automatically? Can we then, you know, use an RPA or an equivalent tool, to go into our SAP systems and actually verify whether there is enough inventory for the order, and so on and so forth. So essentially, the idea that, you know, we take as to bring mission-first, and when, you know, we are not able to sufficiently automate, or when there is a failure, we then deploy humans here. So it’s kind of flipping the whole, you know, the mindset is you bring missions-first, and then when there’s a problem or when you want to do governance or when there are exceptions, as well, you bring humans. And it’s the interplay between humans and missions that we are gonna see, here, Mike, which predominantly has been absent. You know, we didn’t have a framework for approaching it this way, which is what makes it different this time around.
Mike Vizard: Sometimes I feel like there’s more exceptions than there are rules in some of these processes, so do we need to kind of go back into these processes [crosstalk] how are [crosstalk]?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Definitely, yeah. I mean, there’s a saying, right, you automate the wrong process, I think you are just exacerbating the problem here, right, you are not gonna achieve the end result. So obviously, you know, if you are getting more exceptions, you may wanna think what’s the root cause of it. Automation is certainly not gonna solve that problem, you know, the problem could be elsewhere, yeah, you know, automation is not a Band-Aid for a problem like that. You know, we have to introspect and see why this problem come in the first place.
Mike Vizard: Do you think the overall customer experience could improve? Because one of the issues we are seeing is that humans are focused on so many low-level tasks that they never really see the complex issues. So then when a customer has a problem, they’re not equipped to deal with it or they don’t have the time to deal with it, you know, it’s outside of whatever playbook they have. So, the end result is we wind up with automated processes that just annoy people more than they help people. So, do we need to kind of take a look at that and say, you know, “What is the purpose of the human versus the machine?”
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Oh, yeah, absolutely, Mike. You know, when you look at, say, a customer or a service example, you know, somebody calling on the phone, and, you know, we have had this experience, as well, you’re put on hold, where the agent is actually performing an operation, looking at five or six systems together, and trying to find the response for you, right? With hyper automation, you know, what we are really looking at is a worldview where these missions will take the request, they will process the request, they’ll do things in the background, and, you know, it’s going to be an interplay between the human and the machine. It’s a tango between the human and the machine, where the machine can perform certain operations.
For example, if you are paying for a loan, you want to know the balance, you know, the system can actually ask for the loan number, et cetera, go to the system, get back information, and simultaneously help the agent on the phone, you know, with all the information that he or see needs to be equipped to handle such a request. So, I think in this particular situation, you can think of these automation as an agent or, you know, as a sidekick, if you will, for the human agent to perform his or her operation. I think the more tightly-woven, you know, this digital tango is, the better off the whole user experience and the customer experience is going to be. And certainly, that’s where we are heading towards, Mike.
Mike Vizard: You’re a CTO, you’ve been on the tech side forever and a day, we’ve been talking about the divide between business and IT for the better part of four-and-a-half to five decades. Are we making progress in this digital business transformation here? And if so, you know, what are your best tips for kind of bringing all these folks together?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Yeah, Mike, I really look at this as a journey, I mean, this is not an end state, by any means. So, you know, in the journey between the conversation between the IT and business teams, with a low-code mindset and approach, you know, we are building applications using drag-and-drop mechanisms now. Now, with low-code and automation coming into play, we are beginning to see where businesses can solve a lot of problems by themselves. We are not at a point where business can solve all the problems by themselves, they would still need IT help, and IT is there to govern and audit and set up the infrastructure, et cetera. But we are slowly beginning to see the arbitrage between business and IT, you know, coming together, and that’s a great place for companies to be.
So, we help companies set up centers of excellence, where our goal is to enable businesses to be self-sufficient, and at the same time, IT to provide them the scale and the operations and the boundaries that they need. Yeah, I mean, by any means, this is not a done deal; this is more of a journey, like I said. But we have certainly come a long way in that sphere, Mike.
Mike Vizard: Do you think IT might be more agile than businesses can absorb, these days? Forever and a day, businesses were always complaining that IT was too slow, but is that starting to change?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: It is starting to change. For one reason, you know, we at Vuram, we do a lot of low-code development for the last ten-plus years, you know, we have been in the low-code space. And when you look at the rules, a single developer also acts as an analyst, a business analyst, he also acts as a dev ops person, does some QA. So you’re bringing to see a lot of these role changes, you know, where IT used to be siloed and, you know, you have a developer and you have to bring another persona here, and you have to bring a third person here. Now with the low-code, there’s a lot of emphasis on understanding the business, so the business papers and the IT person, they can actually collaborate much tighter.
And that is one of the reasons why I believe, you know, IT is becoming more and more agile. Is it agile enough? Probably not yet, not yet to the extent that business would love it to be, but we are certainly getting there, Mike.
Mike Vizard: So what’s your best advice to folks? What’s the one thing that you keep seeing people do over and again that just makes you shake your head?
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Yeah, well, I think a lot of times people don’t anticipate, when we look at automation, for example, they go 100 percent all-out saying that to people. My advice to them would be not to do that. The mindset should be how can missions and humans collaborate, right? You know, we have to anticipate failures, we’ve got to have a mechanism by which, you know, we have to design work in such a way that certain tasks can be done by humans, certain tasks can be done by missions. And, you know, both will have to talk to each other. The interplay between humans and missions is a very, very critical component, whether you’re bringing AI, whether you’re bringing RPA, doesn’t matter, but the interplay is very important. And if you ignore it, if you treat this as an either/or proposition, I think, you know, there are chances for failures.
Mike Vizard: All right, folks, it’s all about that man-machine interface, going forward. Hey, Naren, thanks for being on the show.
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Sure, thank you, Mike, thanks for having me, pleasure being on the show.
Mike Vizard: And thank you all for watching this latest episode. You can find this one and others on the digitalcxo.com website, and we invite you to check them all out. You’ll find a transcript there, as well. And with that, we hope to see you on our next edition. Take care.
Narendran Thillaisthanam: Thank you, Mike, thanks for having me.