October 23, 2019 By IBM Consulting 5 min read

Modern businesses don’t suffer from a lack of technology. Think about the tools you use in your own workplace: There’s probably one service for email, others for collaborative work and project management and many more for data analysis and specialized tasks. All told, the average IT organization spends approximately $8,000 a year on technology for each employee, according to Computer Economics’s 2019 IT Spending/Staffing report.

But in the rush to modernize their organizations, many corporate leaders have made a critical mistake: They’ve gobbled up technologies without determining the purpose of the tools or defining how they fit into the organization’s operating model, says Jay Bellissimo, a Managing Partner of Global Business Services at IBM.

“I’ve been part of hundreds of implementations,” he says. “My fundamental view is that businesses can become too enamored with different technologies and lose track of the challenges they need to solve.”


‘My fundamental view is that businesses can become too enamored with different technologies and lose track of the challenges they need to solve.’



Bellissimo says business leaders should first define the problem they want to attack and the business outcome they’d like to achieve. “Only then should you start figuring out how powerful technologies like A.I., blockchain and IoT, in combination with data, can reimagine the way your work gets done,” he says.

IBM calls this new outcome “intelligent workflows.” Its purpose is to apply technologies to workflows and make processes more dynamic and agile across an organization. The end goal should be an operating model that’s constantly applying human thinking to data and disseminating those insights across an organization for faster, smarter decision-making, Bellissimo says. Imagine a manager who can look at a dashboard and see how operations are performing, he says, or a recruiter who can analyze candidate information in real time.

“The pace of change is only accelerating,” Bellissimo says, “and it precipitates the need for enterprises to be more flexible, run more efficiently and improve competitiveness. Operating in traditional silos with rigid processes will not provide businesses with the agility and speed necessary to successfully compete in their markets.”

In this Q. and A., Bellissimo describes how intelligent workflows harmonize people, data and machines and enable the next business model called the Cognitive Enterprise.

How can a business recognize when it’s operating in silos? What’s at stake?

In a siloed business you’ll see operational rigidity, workflow bottlenecks and many manual tasks that aren’t streamlined. You’ll also observe a lack of integration across the front, middle and back offices and a lack of continuity between an optimized customer experience and the processes needed to make that happen.

The ability to compete in the market is at stake. Corporations that don’t regularly drive improvement through continuous innovation or adopt intelligent workflows will succumb in the market to faster, more nimble competitors. The gap between market demand and the capabilities of a business will widen.

25% of businesses need to become agile to fend off competition from start-ups. In the United Kingdom’s traditional banking market, for example, new entrants capture 25 percent of new revenue.

Why are intelligent workflows especially important for established businesses?

I spend a lot of time with C-suite leaders, and they say, “I’m not worried so much about my direct competitor. I know them. I’m more worried about the people working in a small warehouse somewhere who are going to disrupt me.” Take the United Kingdom’s traditional banking market, for example. New entrants there capture nearly 25 percent of new revenue.

Intelligent workflows help established businesses by allowing them to redesign the ways they interact with customers and to make strategic, agile decisions in real time based on data. Intelligent workflows help them be hyperfocused on customer retention and efficiency and improve customer satisfaction.

How do data and A.I. fit into intelligent workflows?

Intelligent workflows utilize curated data to harmonize emerging technologies in the back, middle and front ends of the office.

Where it all comes together is the data, which feeds the engine of A.I. There’s more data than ever before, and nearly 80 percent of it is considered “dark data” that’s invisible to programmable systems. That’s why businesses need to use A.I. — machines trained by humans — to drive insights from their data and knowledge from their insights. Then they take that knowledge and rethink how to run hiring, finance, supply chain and more.

Can you give us an example of how a company could help customers using intelligent workflows? How can the front, middle and back offices come together to serve people?

Let’s think about an insurance company that’s servicing a customer on a standard claim resulting from a natural event. Using weather data, the company’s front office will send evacuation alerts to customers prior to a natural disaster. After the weather event, a drone will take photographs of the damage, and an automated, A.I.-powered support representative will create a claim using the images.

The same automated representative will communicate with the customer over a mobile device, and the claim will be automatically approved by the company’s middle office. This will trigger an alert in the back office to schedule repair services through authorized agencies. After the claim is settled, the back office will gather additional fault information from the repair crews and send it to the front office, who will use it to recommend the appropriate preventive maintenance coverage.

What’s an example of IBM working with a business to make its operations more unified and intelligent?

A large health care company based in the U.S. is growing tremendously and hiring tens of thousands of people a year. But hiring can be costly and subjective for them and many other businesses. We determined that one of the key business problems was the ability to quickly scale a continuously increasing hiring volume in an environment with dynamically changing skill requirements.

By embedding analytics and data-modeling across the company’s workflow, we are able to give it real-time decision-making capabilities and change hiring experiences for candidates and recruiting outcomes for the company.

Additionally, IBM products like Watson Recruiting and Watson Candidate Assist help in this area by using data and A.I. to help reimagine hiring processes and quickly draw out the best candidates. For instance, if you collect data on prospective hires, you can begin to proactively suggest different roles they might be interested in. This will help businesses attract top candidates with the requisite skill sets. Data — not subjectivity — will validate hiring decisions.

As a result of working with IBM, the health care company’s recruiting and hiring operations will scale to address up to 100,000 hires per year. It will also be able to provide an industry-leading digital experience to compete for the best talent, increasing candidate net promoter score, or the applicant’s willingness to recommend the company, by 40 points.

How do intelligent workflows enhance trust in and the transparency of A.I.?

For A.I. to thrive and for businesses to reap its benefits, executives need to trust their A.I. systems. A growing concern is ethics and bias in the use of A.I. IBM’s approach is to ensure that clients have visibility and transparency into the recommendations made by A.I. applications. IBM gained extensive experience in this area through its work in 20,000 A.I. projects. If A.I. is truly going to augment operational decision-making through intelligent workflows, it’s critical to make A.I. outcomes transparent and explainable to not only data science teams but also to the line-of-business users responsible for these decisions.

IBM offers solutions like the recently announced Watson OpenScale. It’s a new cloud-based software service that’s beginning to break open the black box of A.I. These software-as-a-service capabilities continuously provide real-time explanations about how A.I. decisions are made and scan for A.I. biases, quickly detecting potentially worrying outcomes and recommending adjustments to mitigate bias.

Another area that’s receiving a lot of attention is the lack of A.I. skills. IBM created the A.I. Academy to guide clients through the process of A.I. adoption and ensure they’re equipping their workforces with the necessary business and technology skills (including intelligent workflows) to be successful.

How can intelligent workflows benefit the Cognitive Enterprise?

Intelligent workflows will be the fabric of the new business models our clients create. Workflows will use IoT, A.I. and blockchain, and they’ll be situationally aware, so if there are symptoms across supply chain or talent, the intelligent workflows will tell you how to respond and make a better decision. It’s going to permeate all industries and business processes. That’s not to say there won’t continue to be challenges, but in 109 years IBM has never shied away from these types of challenges. This is how we can help clients truly transform themselves and disrupt their industries.

Learn more about how IBM can help transform your business.

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