“Intelligent Automation” is such a new term that you won’t find it in Wikipedia or Merriam-Webster. However, we are clearly in the early stages of a technological transformation that’s no less dramatic than the one spurred by the emergence of the Internet.
A new age in quantitative and empirical methods will change how businesses operate as well as the role of traditional finance professionals. To compete in this environment, finance teams must be willing to adopt new operating models that reduce costs and improve performance through better data. In short, a new framework is needed for designing an “intelligent organization.”
The convergence of technology and cognitive science provides finance professionals with powerful new tools to tackle complex problems with more certainty. Advanced analytics and automation will increasingly play bigger roles as tactical solutions to drive efficiency or to help executives solve complex problems.
But the real opportunities lie in reimaging the enterprise as intelligent organization — one designed to create situational awareness with tools capable of analyzing disparate data in real or near-real time.
Automation of redundant processes is only the first step. An intelligent organization strategically designs automation to connect disparate systems (e.g., data sources) by enabling users with tools to quickly respond or adjust to threats and opportunities in the business.
Situational awareness is the product of this design. In order to push decision-making deeper into the organization, line staff need the tools and information to respond to change in the business and the flexibility to adjust and mitigate problems within prescribed limits. Likewise, senior executives need near-real time data that provides the means to query performance across different lines of business with confidence and anticipate impacts to singular or enterprise events in order to avoid costly mistakes.
Financial reporting is becoming increasingly complex at the same time finance professionals are being challenged to manage emerging risks, reduce costs, and add value to strategic objectives. These competing mandates require new support tools that deliver intelligence and inspire greater confidence in the numbers.
Thankfully, a range of new automation tools is now available to help finance professionals achieve better outcomes against this dual mandate. However, to be successful finance executives need a new cognitive framework that anticipates the needs of staff and provides access to the right data in a resilient manner.
This cognitive framework provides finance with a design road map that includes human elements focused on how staff uses technology and simplifying the rollout and implementation of advanced analytical tools.
The framework is composed of five pillars, each designed to complement the others in the implementation of intelligent automation and the development of an intelligent organization:
- Cognitive governance
- Intentional control design
- Business intelligence
- Performance management
- Situational awareness
Cognitive governance is the driver of intelligent automation as a strategic tool in guiding organizational outcomes. The goal of cognitive governance, as the name implies, is to facilitate the design of intelligent automation to create actionable business intelligence, improve decision-making, and reduce manual processes that lead to poor or uncertain outcomes.
In other words, cognitive governance systematically identifies “blind spots” across the firm then directs intelligent automation to reduce or eliminate the blind spots.
The end game is to create situational awareness at multiple levels of the organization with better tools to understand risks, errors in judgment, and inefficient processes. Human error as a result of decision-making under uncertainty is increasingly recognized as the greatest risk to organizational success. Therefore, it is crucial for senior management create a systemic framework for reducing blind spots in a timely manner. Cognitive governance sets the tone and direction for the other four pillars.
Intentional control design, business intelligence, and performance management are tools for creating situational awareness in response to cognitive governance mandates. A cognitive framework does not require huge investments in the latest big data “shiny objects.” It’s not necessary to spend millions on machine learning or other forms of artificial intelligence. Alternative automation tools for simplifying operations are readily available today, as is access to advanced analytics, for organizations large and small, from a variety of cloud services.
However, for firms that want to use machine learning/AI, a cognitive framework easily integrates any widely used tool or regulatory risk framework. A cognitive framework is focused on a factor that others ignore: how humans interact with and use technology to get their work done most effectively.
Network complexity has been identified as a strategic bottleneck in response times for dealing with cybersecurity risks, cost of technology, and inflexibility in fast-paced business environments. Without a proper framework, improperly designed automation processes may simply add to infrastructure complexity.
There is also a dark side to machine learning/AI that organizations must understand in order to anticipate best use cases and avoid the inevitable missteps that will come with autonomous systems. Microsoft learned a hard lesson with “Clippy,” its Chatbot project, which was shelved when users taught the bot racist remarks. While there are many uses for AI, this technology is still in an experimental stage of growth.
Overly complicated approaches to intelligent automation are the leading cause of failed big data projects. Simplicity is the new value proposition that should be expected from the implementation of technology solutions. Intelligent automation is one tool to accomplish that goal, but execution requires a framework that understands how people use new technology effectively.
Simplicity must be a strategic design imperative based on a framework for creating situational awareness across the enterprise.
James Bone is a cognitive risk consultant; a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies; founder of TheGRCBlueBook.com, an online directory of governance, risk, and compliance tools; and author of, “Cognitive Hack: The New Battleground in Cybersecurity … the Human Mind.”