Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Bhaskar Ghosh, Chief Strategy Officer, Accenture

Bhaskar Ghosh is Accenture’s chief strategy officer, with responsibility for all aspects of the company’s strategy and investments, including ventures and acquisitions and Accenture Research. Ghosh, a member of Accenture’s Global Management Committee, oversees the development of all assets and offerings across Accenture’s Services and has management responsibility for Industry X (digital manufacturing and intelligent products and platforms) and driving responsible business and sustainability services. Ghosh, alongside Accenture executives Gayathri Pallail and Rajendra Prasad, wrote the just-released book The Automation Advantage, a strategic, practical guide to using intelligent automation to reinvent business processes, jump start innovation, enhance customer experiences and free up capacity for employees to focus on more complex, value-added work..

 He holds a Bachelor of Science degree and a master’s degree in business administration from Calcutta University and a Ph.D. in business management from Utkal University in India. Ghosh, who is based in Bengaluru, India, recently spoke to The Innovator about how to scale intelligent automation across the enterprise and generate top line growth.

Q: How do you define intelligent automation?

BG: Intelligent automation is the new era of automation. It uses technologies like Cloud, data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to drive business value. While traditional automation focuses on impacting the bottom line through cost and productivity gains, intelligent automation goes a step further to provide better decision making, superior customer experience and top line growth. 

Q: Can you cite some real-world examples of how organizations across multiple industries and geographies are using intelligent automation to launch new services and spur business growth?

BG: We give numerous examples in our book. One good example concerns an Italian newspaper. Print media has undergone huge technological changes and was completely disrupted by digital. Automation is not new to the newspaper industry, which has historically used it to improve speed and productivity. Now they are automating and using AI agents to help journalists prepare articles faster and with more detail. The AI agents support them with relevant data such as articles published on the same topic and reference documents, significantly reducing journalists’ research time. The technology is not replacing the journalists, but empowering them to do their jobs better.  Other examples illustrate how people are creating new business models using automation and cognitive technologies. For example, a digital bank in China is using intelligent automation to give loans to small and medium sized businesses without securities. Most applicants on the bank’s digital platform are first time borrowers. Intelligent automation technology checks the applications across 2,000 data points, freeing loan officers from these redundant, time-consuming tasks. Another example is an insurance company that switched to a digital platform in the midst of the COVID pandemic. All sales requests started coming in via the platform. The large number of queries were more than the sales team could handle. The company started using intelligent automation to help the salespeople to target relevant inquiries based on external data and suggest the right products to match customer profiles. This has helped the sales team significantly improve the conversion rate and grow business. Automation is not replacing human beings; it is empowering human beings to grow the business.

Q: What are some of the barriers to implementation? 

BG: Our research shows 84% of executives feel they should adopt AI to grow their business. Some 40% of companies significantly increased their investment during the COVID pandemic. Many of them have done a pilot but are having trouble scaling AI across the organization.

Q: How can companies overcome the barriers to scaling?

BG: First, companies must build the right backbone for data and ensure that data from different parts of the organization talk to each other. That is integral part to scaling.

Second, conduct a comprehensive assessment of where your company is on its automation journey.

There are five different stages of automation: the adoption of tools; automating inefficient processes; robotic process automation (RPA), which involves automating any repeatable manual labor; predictive, which is automation driven by an organizational data backbone; and AI.

It is important to remember that automation is more than just technology implementation. It requires changes in the mindset of an organization. If a company implements automation without changing its culture, people will not adopt. You need to take your people along with you. Reskilling and upskilling is an integral part of this.

An example of how to do this is a method being employed by a global energy company in Asia. They have implemented intelligent automation and want to ensure that employees, from the oil fields to the shop floors, are using it. Every day, all the employees receive a video on their phones. The videos, which are no more than five minutes long, feature front-line employees talking about how they are using technology in their daily jobs and how it empowers them to do their jobs better. These videos are helping people embrace change.

Q: What advice do you have for companies about how to design automation solutions that align technology transformation with business goals?

BG: The first step is that leadership should adopt an AI-first mindset. They need to look at everything they do and ask themselves ‘How can I use AI and new technology to create a competitive differentiation and business value?’  Next, they need to be clear on thinking about automation as part of the business strategy; and they need to take their people along with them on the automation journey. This requires putting into place the right reskilling and upskilling programs and the proper change management so that the employees support the organization on its automation journey.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.