The market is growing rapidly with large global RPA specialists such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and AntWorks experiencing high rates of growth in the region.
RPA vendors in Asia Pacific, are typically addressing immediate, short-term requirements. For example, healthcare companies are automating the reporting of COVID-19 tests and ordering supplies. Chatbots are being widely used to address unprecedented call centre volumes for airlines, travel companies, banks and telecom providers. Administrative tasks increasingly require automation as workflows become disrupted by remote working.
Companies can also be expected to scale their current deployments and increase the rate at which AI capabilities are integrated into their offerings
RPA often works in conjunction with major software products provided by companies such as Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft and IBM. For example, some invoicing processes involve the use of Salesforce, SAP and Microsoft products. Rather than having an operative enter data into multiple systems, a bot can be created to do this.
Large software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce and SAP are taking advantage of this opportunity by trying to own entire workflows. They are increasingly integrating RPA into their offerings as well as competing directly in the RPA market with pureplay RPA vendors. RPA may soon be integrated into larger enterprise applications, unless pureplay RPA vendors can innovate and continually differentiate their offerings.
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First, let me share a couple of general observations. Currently, we are still in the eye of the storm. Many are unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel. There is quite a bit of negative sentiments, and some fail to see that the situation will ever improve. I am sure similar thoughts occurred during other crises: the 1918 Pandemic (Spanish Flu); the Great Depression of the 1930s; the Dot.com bust of 2001; SARS in 2003; and the Global Financial Crisis/Great US Recession of 2007. During each of these events, a sense of impending Armageddon came over much of the population. Certainly, in each instance, people did experience some personal and social permanent changes, with which they learned to adapt and cope. But, inevitably, the world did go on and Armageddon did not occur.
One of the basic truths I believe, is that humans require and crave interaction with other humans. Think about the videoconferencing applications. The use of these apps grew exponentially as the main communication channel. Instead of just audio, it was audio and video. These mediums greatly assisted society in coping and adapting. Mankind, and the Natural World, will always find a way.
Here are the predictions from the article:
Companies that traffic in digital services and e-commerce will make immediate and lasting gains
Remote work will become the default
Many jobs will be automated, and the rest will be made remote-capable
Telemedicine will become the new normal, signaling an explosion in med-tech innovation
The nationwide student debt crisis will finally abate as higher education begins to move online
Goods and people will move less often and less freely across national and regional borders
After an initial wave of isolationism, multilateral cooperation may flourish
I very much agree with the author’s first prediction. This one is fairly obvious, as it has proven true throughout the crisis with providers such as Amazon, Zoom and others. It is expected to continue into the post COVID world. This is also evident from the findings of the Ecosystm research on the impacts of COVID-19. Organisations intend to continue to use digital technologies, even after the immediate crisis is over (Figure 1).
A Natural State of Equilibrium will Emerge
I believe for each of the areas described in the predictions, there will be various levels of long-term modification. None of them will return to their pre COVID-19 state, as we have all experienced going down the rabbit hole. During the pandemic, due largely to the lockdowns, the pendulum swung significantly towards one side. Many times, when people predict a new view, the current state is considered the New Normal. For me, the relevant question is: Will things stay as they are now, or will there be a new natural state of equilibrium? If so, what will it look like, in each of these areas? I don’t believe there is one answer, or one New Normal for all the dimensions being discussed. I believe a new normal state will potentially be different for each individual, each company/entity and each condition. In a post COVID-19 world there could be 50 shades of grey in each of these areas.
One of the predictions states that remote work will become the default. It must be remembered that part of work is a collaborative effort. While video conferencing has enabled collaborative efforts, the importance of the accidental interaction at the break room, printer, etc. can’t be under-estimated. It is these unscheduled interactions that enable accidental collaboration which can lead to great solutions. Thus, there will be many shades to the Future of Work – there will not be one absolute.
A similar example is a prediction for higher education. Part of the learning process a university offers is interacting with people who are not similar to your background or beliefs. That is one of the benefits of a diverse university. Similar to the corporate environment, many different types of learning environments will enable a person to gain great experiences from the time at university.
The advantage of all these alternatives will be the additional options and benefits to people post COVID compared to the pre COVID-19 world. It will present many great opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as end-users and consumers. It will create new and iterative ‘middle spaces’. It will be possible for a David to emerge and challenge a Goliath(s).
The two Chinese characters for the word ‘crisis’ are “danger” and “opportunity”. Just as we are in a dangerous time now, it has also presented new and different opportunities. Those opportunities will continue to exist even when the danger has passed. I am also reminded of the old expression “May you live in interesting times”. It very much applies to all of us now and in the future. I wish the same for all of you.
Organisations are on a fast track to digitalisation. The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study finds that 60% of organisations anticipate increased use of digital technologies for process automation, even after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. One of the key challenges that these organisations will face is the lack of internal digital skills – especially in emerging technologies. One of the success metrics of any technology adoption is employee uptake. Without the necessary skills or understanding of the benefits of emerging technology, employees will largely shy away from digital offerings, even the ones that will make their work more efficient and their lives easier.
Organisations are realising the value of making their workforce future ready.
DBS Instilling Company-Wide Digital Culture
Far-sighted companies are collaborating with technology vendors and professional training providers to promote tech awareness and education to futureproof their workforce. DBS Bank in Singapore has collaborated with AWS to train and upskill 3,000 employees – including the leadership team – with AI and machine learning skills through gamification in a DBS x AWS DeepRacer League.
The AWS DeepRacer Leagues have been previously organised in several parts of the world, but the DBS x AWS DeepRacer will be the first to be organised at this scale. The league will enable DBS employees to get their hands-on AI and machine learning tutorials online. They will then have the opportunity to test out their new skills in programming a 3D racing simulator and iteratively fine-tune their models and compete with each other. The learning program is entirely cloud-based and aims to ingrain digital skills in the workforce.
DBS has won several accolades for their digital transformation and innovation initiatives, and they continue to experiment with emerging technologies. In 2019, DBS digitalised and simplified end-to-end credit processing, setting the foundation for advanced credit risk management using data analytics and machine learning. They have also deployed an AI-powered engine for self-service digital options to its retail banking customers. Taking their employees along with them on this journey is a wise move.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “With the increasing use of automation, AI and machine learning, the nature of work and businesses is transforming rapidly. This is creating opportunities for processes to be automated and increasing the use of AI and Deep Learning into the business processes of the organisation. Industry value chains are transforming – AI and machine learning is adding automation, analytics and predictive intelligence to the portfolio. The recent news of DBS and AWS partnering to upskill the bank’s workforce underscores the value of creating a future ready workforce.”
“Such upskilling efforts add industry-specific context to make them more effective. BCG refers to this as ‘Human + AI’. A recent study from BCG and MIT shows that 18% of companies in the world that are pioneering AI are making money with it. Those companies focus 80% of their AI initiatives on effectiveness and growth, taking better decisions – not replacing humans with AI to save costs.”
Government Focus on Digital Skills Upgrade
This week, Singapore also saw another initiative to bridge digital skills gaps – this time from the public sector. In 2018, the Government launched its Smart Nation Scholarship program to attract and nurture talent, and later involve them in various departments to drive Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives. The most recent Smart Nation Scholarship program 2020 attracted 723 applicants (17% more than the previous year). This is a slightly different approach, aimed at attracting digital native employees and mentoring them for digital leadership. After completing their studies, the 15 scholarship recipients are set to join public sector agencies such as Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), Government Technology Agency (GovTech), and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), to give the younger generation an opportunity to co-create the country’s Smart Nation vision.
Bhagaraju says, “Both private and government institutions are working to enhance workforce skills, improve marketability and making the workforce future ready. Industry 4.0 and the digital revolution have created the need to address the skill gaps that have arisen. Government programs such as the Skills Future program in Singapore, Malaysia’s HRD upskilling program, and the EU-28 European Digital initiative are all making a sustained effort to promote lifelong learning and acquisition/upgrading of skills for their respective citizens with quite successful results, that will have long-term impacts.”
More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see transformation, as organisations get into the recovery phase, can be found in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study
Last week, global heavyweights with a stake in the global supply chain, joined a consortium to work on creating that agility. This includes PepsiCo, BMW, Shopify, DHL, and the United States Postal Service and some emerging tech companies. The alliance will actively work on solutions to embed automation and digitalisation in the logistics and supply chain systems. While this consortium was formed last year, recent events have accelerated the need to fix a global problem.
Co-Creation and Innovation
LINK is a collaborative ecosystem, co-founded by Innovation Endeavors and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) to bring together emerging tech start-ups, institutions and global organisations to innovate and make supply chains resilient. The tech start-ups involved include the likes of Fabric, that has large automated micro-fulfillment centres for faster deliveries, and Third Wave Automation, that has developed automated forklifts with enhanced safety measures.
LINK aims to transform global supply chains, with the use of technologies such as automation, IoT, AI, and Robotics. The solutions developed by the start-ups will be tested in real-life situations, often in large organisations with complex operations. On the other hand, the start-ups will have access to the internal systems of these large organisations to understand the data and their organisational needs.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought the need for supply chain agility and resilience to a completely new level of criticality. Companies in the ‘New Normal’ will need higher levels of nimbleness and flexibility to be able to recover from this crisis quickly and sustain in an increasing disruptive world. Increased ability to sense and respond to disruptions will be key to success. It will require better visibility of their entire supply chain, increasing efficiencies, building necessary redundancies (in form of inventory and capacity) where they are required the most – redundancy comes at a cost – and being flexible and innovative to cater to the rapid market and supply-side changes. Rapid digitalisation to build such capabilities will be a key to success.”
“Managing such rapid changes is usually a struggle for organisations with large and complex supply chains, because of the years of past practices, systems and culture. For them Innovation is a must, but the path to innovation is difficult. The LINK collaboration model is the right step towards addressing that challenge. Collaborating with start-ups can infuse new ideas, more innovative ways of solving a problem and rapid testing of use cases in the areas of IoT, AI and automation.”
Involving Start-ups for Innovation
This initiative is a great example of how larger enterprises are looking to leverage innovations by the start-up community. The Financial Services industry has been an early beneficiary, when it stopped competing with Fintech organisations, partnering with them instead. Other industries have started to recognise the benefits of fast pivots and the role start-ups can play.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “Bringing together companies that have complementary and unique capabilities to solve industry issues is a great way to speed up experimentation and innovation.”
However, he recognises that forming alliances such as this, comes with its own set of challenges. “One of the key things to recognise in such a construct is that the team members from different possessions bring with them their unique belief systems, organisational and country cultural constructs. Expectations on how things should work, can become quite tricky to navigate. The talent and expertise in such an environment need to be facilitated be able to deliver high quality outcomes.”
Talking about how these constructs can work successfully, delivering what started out to deliver, Bhogaraju says, “An agile team setup can help tremendously as it uses two key principles – People and Interactions over processes; as well as Working models over documentation.”
“A clear expectation setting through contracting at the beginning of the project cycle can help establish the ways of working and rules of engagement. Increased regular feedback and problem solving should continuously fine tune the ways of working. This way teams can get through the norming process at pace and scale and eventually focus on outcomes, rather than fumble over each other and/or have ego flareups.”
“The key is to get to creative problem-solving working cohesively – the intent being to challenge the status quo – stepping outside the box and using all capabilities within the team. Blending the subcultures together using agile way of working and principles, can be a fantastic way to make that happen – failing which you have the challenge of trying to somehow bring together different work products, people and preferences.”
Zouk, the renowned nightclub with 30,000 square feet of space in Singapore uses this venue as a live streaming venue during the day to host bazaars for eCommerce vendors. From June 2020, it launched an online shop selling merchandise, bottled cocktails and food from its RedTail kitchen.
Transformation of businesses will require capabilities that were not created within their models. The instinct to survive in the short term will require businesses to create symbiotic partnerships. This will require some fresh thinking by business leaders.
Change the “Build” obsession and not try to own every leg of the customer journey. That will not only take time but also distract capital and management.
Rethink the customer needs – and this time think of the entire journey rather than an inward view of product-market fits. Customer needs are changing at breakneck speeds, so chasing and “building” these “fits” will always remain a common string amongst laggards.
Connect with like-minded ecosystem players and complement strengths with a single-minded focus on solving customer problems.
View technology stacks through the lens of your partners. There may be opportunities available from near open source technology solutions.
For example, FJ Benjamin will need the last-mile-delivery capability that will be provided by partners who have optimised in that field, Zouk has tied up with Lazada to host the bazaars and GrabFood is using underutilised taxi capacity to meet the increased demand for food delivery. There are many other examples in the O2O (Offline to Online) space.
This ecosystem approach is also relevant to other sectors like Financial Services. These firms also need to understand the changing consumer needs faster, with a mantra to deliver. Aspire, originally an alternate lending platform has gone through a metamorphosis and transformed into a Neobank. From a uni-product loan provider, it is now solving for a business account, card solution, integration with expense management solutions and continue to provide loans. Capabilities not necessarily built in-house.
The changing world will give rise to business models that will integrate and complement each other. Businesses with an ecosystem mindset will be winners while others might just be relegated to oblivion.
Visit Ecosystm’s COVID-19 research module to take part in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal study and get a benchmark of how you compare to your peers in regards to your organisation’s response to COVID-19.
For more information on Ecosystm’s “Digital Priorities in the New Normal”, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Asia Pacific, the multi-cloud theme is being promoted heavily among integration providers with solutions that can plug into multiple clouds with virtual machine usage. Enterprises value enabled automated orchestration between cloud platforms. There will be a continued need for integrated tools across public and private clouds. This includes advanced analytics and AI as important aspects of an IT infrastructural investment.
Your choice of vendor for AI & Automation
In my opinion, AWS has the broadest AI service capabilities in the Asia Pacific cloud/ AI space, when compared to Microsoft, Google, and IBM. AWS provides users with pre-trained AI services for computer vision, language, recommendations, and forecasting to build, train, and deploy machine learning models at scale.
The Ecosystm VendorScope (Figure 1) rates the leading AI & Automation vendors in Asia Pacific based solely on quantifiable feedback from those who actually procure technology. It becomes clear from the responses that many organisations still start their AI journey through Automation.
Most organisations understand the importance of leveraging AI to gain competitive advantage. But they do not necessarily know where to start. The secret is that AI is about intelligent process automation, and the firms who understand this are not the ones automating tasks. The use of RPA with vendors such as Antworks, WorkFusion, Arago and Automation Anywhere, leverages automated reasoning using knowledge-based problem-solving engines. These vendors add RPA to AI, not the other way around.
And domain-specific service providers have been creating the synergies for enterprises to link intelligent automation software and industry knowledge to create the necessary end-to-end workflows. An innate understanding of the specific business process is key to leveraging intelligent automation.
Focusing on developing a modern data supply chain process, with actionable analytics insights built into the infrastructure, can aid the development of self-service business intelligence capabilities along with visual data discovery solutions.
Cloud enablement solutions generate maximum business value by enabling IT with scalability and flexibility. This can reduce maintenance and security costs. A focus on cloud intelligence and scalability allows IT departments to concentrate more on innovative solutions, insights and systems that drive significant business growth. Now is the time, and speed is of the essence.
Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation
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5/5 (2) I’m really excited to launch our AI and Automation VendorScope! This new tool can help technology buyers understand which vendors are offering an exceptional customer experience, which ones have momentum and which are executing and delivering on their promised capabilities. The positioning of vendors in Ecosystm VendorScopes is independent of analyst bias or opinion or vendor influence – customers directly rate their suppliers in our ongoing market benchmarks and assessments.
The Evolution of the AI Market
The AI market has evolved significantly over the past few years. It has gone from a niche, poorly understood technology, to a mainstream one. Projects have moved from large, complex, moonshot-style “change the world” initiatives to small, focused capabilities that look to deliver value quickly. And they have moved from primarily internally focused projects to delivering value to customers and partners. Even the current pandemic is changing the lens of AI projects as 38% of the companies we benchmarked in Asia Pacific in the Ecosystm Business Pulse Study, are recalibrating their AI models for the significant change in trading conditions and customer circumstances.
Automation has changed too – from a heavily fragmented market with many specific – and often very simple tools – to comprehensive suites of automation capabilities. We are also beginning to see the use of machine learning within the automation platforms as this market matures and chases after the bigger automation opportunities where processes are not only simplified but removed through intelligent automation.
Cloud Platform Providers Continue to Lead
But what has changed little over the years is the dominance of the big cloud providers as the AI leaders. Azure, IBM and AWS continue to dominate customer mentions and intentions. And it is in customer mentions that the frontrunners in the VendorScope – Microsoft and IBM – set themselves apart. Not only are they important players today – but existing customersAND non-customers plan to use their services over the next 12-24 months. This gives them the market momentum over the other players. Even AWS and Google – the other two public cloud giants – who also have strong AI offerings – didn’t see the same proportions of customers and prospects planning to use their AI platforms and tools.
While Microsoft and IBM may have stolen the lead for now, they cannot expect the challengers to sit still. In the last few weeks alone we have seen several major launches of AI capabilities from some providers. And the Automation vendors are looking to new products and partnerships to take them forward.
Without the market momentum, Microsoft and IBM would still stand above the rest of the pack – just not as dramatically! Both companies are not just offering the AI building blocks, but also offer smart applications and services – this is possibly what sets them apart in an era where more and more customers want their applications to be smart out-of-the-box (or out-of-the-cloud). The appetite for long, expensive AI projects is waning – fast time to value will win deals today.
The biggest change in AI over the next few years will hopefully be more buyers demanding that their applications are smart out-of-the-box/cloud. AI and Automation shouldn’t be expensive add-ons – they should form the core of smart applications – applications that work for the business and for the customer. Applications that will deliver the next generation of employee and customer experiences.
Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation
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A complete Data Protection and Exposure Prevention suite, that works across locations, users and applications and ensures better compliance with regulations
A Unified Compliance Assurance platform that provides compliance visibility and breach mitigation across the multiple SaaS applications an organisation uses
Risk Reduction through automated remediations following both industry compliance laws and organisations’ own risk management program guidelines
Ecosystm research finds that organisations are struggling with their cybersecurity implementations, especially as the solutions get increasingly complicated to combat the complex and evolving threat environment (Figure 1). Integration with existing cybersecurity measures, and a lack of sufficiently skilled IT staff to handle the myriad needs of the multiple systems and applications, builds a strong case for automation in cybersecurity practices.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alex Woerndle says, “Automation is critical in cybersecurity, given the volume of data, alerts and incidents that are being dealt with on a daily basis, globally. Automating recurrent and high-volume tasks is a critical step in getting on top of this challenge.”
Importance of Automating Cybersecurity Processes
Woerndle sees a growing role for CSPM providers for multiple reasons. “Firstly, a lot of companies are finding that they cannot be ‘fully cloud’ and as such, end up with a complex architecture spanning on-premise, private cloud environments and multiple public cloud tenancies. Secondly, due to poorly planned cloud migrations, changing priorities, differences in service requirements, cost differences and also personal preferences across multiple teams, a lot of companies end up consuming different services across multiple public cloud providers (Azure, AWS, GCP, and so on). IT teams are struggling to be experts in all aspects of the shared responsibility model and with the capabilities to secure the various services. Finally, there is a constant stream of upgrades and addition of new services team members, given the easy accessibility public cloud environments provide. CSPM solutions provide the ability to establish baselines, enforce security controls and run regular checks to ensure compliance. Doing this manually is time consuming, expensive and always three steps behind.”
Woerndle also sees further complications because of the COVID-19 crisis. “COVID-19 has shifted the world to remote working overnight. Once workers are outside of the trusted corporate network and have access to cloud resources from their home networks, additional complexity to the corporate security posture is highlighted. Depending on how organisations have prepared for this, they either maintain control of all services and applications, and the access into each, or if not prepared, open direct access to a lot of unsecured applications from potentially very unsecured networks.” In fact Zscaler has seen its stock prices rising in the aftermath of the global crisis.
However, Woerndle warns, “While the conversation certainly supports the use of CSPMs, there is a lot more to it in terms of securing home networks, identity and access management, and so on.”
Zscaler’s acquisition of CloudNeeti certainly appears to be a timely move, in the current environment when organisations are struggling with a lack of resources with the extensive knowledge to understand all private and public cloud environments. There are controls required to secure each application, resource and system within an organisation – along with the time and effort required to implement, monitor, audit and improve cybersecurity measures over time.
So how might the infrastructure of a smart building decrease your organizational risk profile? Can you measure this?
In terms of having an index, I am currently creating an index (like my security awareness course) to rate the level of cybersecurity a building provides to its owners (or lessees). Given we already have sustainability indices for commercial real estate in the form of the CBRE Green Building Adoption Index, my intention is to build a reference cybersecurity metric in how the infrastructure of smart buildings can be compared from the point of those either owning or renting the space. For this index, I will be defining the number of risks, type of risk and potential effects of risk on smart building infrastructural implementations.
Separating control from performance
Physical control of buildings was traditionally seen as separate from enterprise networks. The control systems domain was protected by physical separation, and facilities management was handled as a different domain. However, as global services delivery, data sharing and data acquisition for cost-effectiveness became critical functions within modern business, facilities management became tied to the corporate data network.
Smart buildings now combine legacy operational technology for building automation systems (BAS) together with enterprise IT and IoT devices. Unlike IT environments, which have developed workflows and technologies to address cyber threats, hackers can exploit the vulnerabilities of BAS to enter the IT network and get hold of restricted data located on servers and computers.
The benefits of operation and analytics available for facilities management on how the building performed have given insights into better asset management. But with connectivity has come risk exposure to external exploits and possible attacks.
Life at the Edge
Given edge computing and IoT devices create content for analysis, can they also provide misinformation or redirection for potential attacks on the corporate network? In other words, can the smart building dangle a click bait carrot or honey trap for potential hackers to pull them off the scent of the main system?
Just as we have access layers of data security based on roles within the enterprise, perhaps we should start looking at creating a separate operational data layer for physical control of the building, with the building taking an active role in its own defense. IoT technology, such as sensors, can automatically transfer an office area to ‘vacant’ security mode so potential hackers cannot gain access by moving the area to preset security settings to optimize network protection. This could also mean terminals off, USB ports disabled, and access secured with physical tokens.
Design to cloak or protect
Another way we can create a buffer to protect those assets by a slight disconnect with better perimeter management. One recent approach is the concept of Airwalls. Tempered Networks defines their Airwall edge services as “identity-defined perimeters that enforce access and segmentation for the systems protected within the Airwall”. This creates the possibility to deploy end-to-end encrypted connectivity around operational assets. An Airwall controls and enforces authenticated network communications between protected systems, while denying access to all unauthorized systems. To my understanding, authorized devices for protected access would be physical objects, not passwords. The goal is to remove the access to the IP address information for the potential hacker by creating an air pocket within the enterprise. For those Star Trek fans reading this, imagine a Klingon cloaking device for the ICS.
From the point of standards, there is the development of the IEC 62443 global set of cybersecurity standards to reduce vulnerability. This is set to improve safety, availability, integrity and confidentiality of systems used for industrial automation and control.
How much risk exists from your operational BAC systems?
Smart buildings can be efficient and effective but can also come with cybersecurity vulnerabilities that can be inadvertently introduced when smart technologies are deployed without the necessary consideration of what controls and patches are required to protect them.
In your cybersecurity planning for 2020, what active role does your operational systems play both in protection and in deterrence? Is your smart building helpful with sensor usage and alerts, or does it create hacking opportunities with disconnects and older communication protocols?
Reach out to have a conversation with me if you are interested in the index I am working on, or you’d like some advice on what cyber risk issues to consider in your infrastructural development.