Intelligent Workflows 101

Harmonize emerging technologies across your enterprise to foster innovation and deliver meaningful customer experiences.

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Intelligent workflows 101: Revolutionizing the way your business works

By Jay Bellissimo

Learn more about intelligent workflows

Don’t just optimize one task, reimagine an entire workflow

We often read about the power of emerging technologies and their collective potential to remake entire industries. But in practice, we tend to focus on one part of a business, for example, the back office. Think help desk tickets, processing payments, and job applications.

What if we took an end-to-end approach to remaking a workflow, and embedded technology at every step of a process? Intelligent workflows do exactly that. 

Become a Cognitive Enterprise Through Process Transformation

Business leaders have a tremendous opportunity to change the way they operate.

Today, they can accelerate and expand digital initiatives and transform the way they create value and sustain differentiation. The “outside-in” digital transformation of the past is giving way to the “inside-out” potential of using company-owned data with emerging technologies.

The impetus for change comes from within, that is, the opportunity to redesign workflows and use technologies to make it faster and easier to get work done. That can be work in a call center, a supply chain, or payables processing.

A Consumer Products company increased their billing practitioner’s efficiency by 35% while increasing customer satisfaction by 25%.

Business platforms are at the core of a Cognitive Enterprise where a range of unique capabilities can be deployed to establish a control point over value creating activities. Business platforms combine data, unique workflows and expertise to drive competitive advantage.

Multiple People, Platforms, and Technologies – One Process

Think about the last time you applied for a job. You probably submitted an online application, waited a few months for an email from a hiring manager, had a few interview calls, then continued to wait only to never hear back from the company.

That’s hardly the experience a 21st-century job applicant expects. Intelligent workflows can connect systems, streamline communication channels, and remake experiences for both applicants as well as recruiters.

By creating integrated platforms for talent managers and applicants to check updates, real-time information can flow between parties, increasing efficiencies and breaking down communication gaps between teams. A healthcare company saw a 60 percent decrease in hiring time when implementing this kind of solution.

The hiring procedure is not the only process being affected by intelligent workflows.

Emerging technologies are reshaping core functions across businesses from supply chains to bill processing. Automation, AI, and analytics give businesses better back-end toolsets to manage workloads and deliver better experiences for customers and employees alike.

Workflows Made For Your Business

Core processes, like hiring, have operated in traditional and often forgotten silos for years.

Despite the potential of integrating and deriving insights from information across teams, businesses struggle to digitize multiple processes across their organizations.  Intelligent workflows change that.

We are re-making our own workflows too. With Lead-to-Cash we’ve been able to harness the power of our finance data and reduce IBM’s contract cycle time by 25%.

Emerging technologies empower businesses to curate data from a broader set of sources to spot real-time opportunities and insights for improvement and create solutions that meet the unique needs of business in any industry.

Making the Trading Process More Transparent and Efficient

Trading internationally can open up new revenue streams and increase profits, enabling a company to increase investment and accelerate its development. However, trading with customers in other countries can also involve long, difficult and costly negotiations, and carry financial risks.

We.trade, a startup funded by a consortium of banks that oversees financial systems across Europe, worked with IBM to co-create a unique trading platform.

This blockchain trading solution based on the IBM Blockchain Platform creates a one-stop-shop of real-time information on any trade visible to all parties and triggers automatic payments through smart contracts.

The result? Ability to launch 9-12 months before competitors, reduced risk, and increased regulatory compliance for all participating users.

Process and Operations, The Lifeblood of Any Business

When AI and other emerging technologies are integrated with data into enhanced operational processes by experts who know your business, productivity is greatly enhanced and the entire organization benefits.

Take We.trade for example. For thousands of years, importers and exporters didn’t know each other. The first element of the relationship was caution. Goods were not shipped until money was received, and money was not sent until goods were seen.

With the new blockchain platform importers and exporters could do business more easily and securely, because everyone in the supply chain is independently verified by a third-party bank. In addition, banks could also be offered solutions like insurance in real-time situations.

Intelligent workflows made the finance and trading operations of this new start-up more streamlined, consistent and accountable, ensuring greater efficiency across every aspect of the payment system.

By remaking core processes, intelligent workflows have the potential to transform an enterprise from the inside out.

Make the investment in your people, technologies, and platforms now, and lay the foundation for long-term success and innovation.

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Intelligent workflows 101: How to solve your data management problems

By Rajesh Chopra and Anita Karlsson-Dion

Here's how CFOs can use intelligent workflows

Learn more about intelligent workflows

Faced with intense competition and falling profit margins, companies are continually looking to streamline their cost of back office operations. Over the years, organizations have been able to optimize their finance cost structure by consolidating functions in shared services centers, or by migrating to more cost-effective off-shore operating models while leveraging automation to digitize transaction data.

Finance organizations are now facing a new challenge: managing high volumes of data and integrating those various data sources to drive business insights.

By creating intelligent workflows, CFOs are able to harmonize emerging technologies in the back, middle, and front end of the office and curate their business’ data.

Curating your business’ data for greater insights

Cognitive and AI-enabled technologies allow companies to manage their data challenges while augmenting and enhancing human expertise. These technologies drive new problem-solving techniques which improve productivity and open up new ideas.

Cognitive computing and AI are enabling finance departments to become strategic advisors, turning CFOs into reinventors.

In IBM's recent global c-suite study, 29 percent of the 2,102 CFOs surveyed fell into the “reinventor” category, an elite group. Additionally, 79 percent of the reinventors in our survey enjoyed high revenue growth, and 70 percent of them grew revenue from their existing businesses while identifying new organic growth opportunities.

Our studies show that finance departments that outperform the rest understand the importance of properly leveraging both financial and non-financial data sources to drive valuable business insights. For instance, a national retail company is using local weather data to better forecast demand in weather-related products and prevent stock-outs. In addition, a global logistics company is improving its operating costs by monitoring external data sources such as geo-political information, oil pricing and trade shifts.

Many organizations struggle with poorly integrated data. Business stakeholders either cannot find the right data or cannot trust the data they find. They also face industry regulations that hinder self-service and data democratization.

Many companies try to fix their data through labor-intensive tasks ranging from writing custom programs to global replace functions. This creates productivity issues in finance shared services centers.

In addition, to address data management challenges, cognitive business process services can also improve financial operation efficiency and effectiveness by applying emerging technologies. These include:

  • Automation: Technologies such as cognitive robotic process automation (C-RPA) use machine learning and automation capabilities to speed up time-consuming tasks such as payroll and invoice processing. In the c-suite study, IBM found that 25 percent of reinventor CFOs were likely to invest in RPA technology to further their strategic goals, compared to just 15 percent of other CFOs.
  • Blockchain: Decentralized ledgers create an immutable record of transactions across many internal departments or external partners. Leveraging blockchain in the accounts payable workflow, for instance, addresses the root cause of high invoice processing costs while reducing invoice exceptions and payment delays.
  • Cognitive/Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assets: Finance organizations can automate complex transactions by using cognitive/AI applications. For example, accounts payable professionals use cognitive invoice data capture and cognitive agent assist solutions to find and analyze data in real time. Assets like these are driven by a range of AI technologies including natural language processing and deep learning.
  • Cognitive Analytics: Cognitive analytics solutions enable companies to derive new insights from their data to answer tough business problems, uncover patterns and pursue breakthrough ideas. For example, IBM's Cognitive Collections Platform uses Watson APIs and advanced analytics to optimize decision-making and enhance the customer experience in invoice-to-cash processes. Its predictive capabilities can help CFOs forecast the impact company activities will have on revenue.

Cognitive business process services in action

We are now seeing significant growth in adoption of cognitive business services within finance organizations. Although most organizations are still focused on cognitive automation, blockchain is gaining ground in finance. This emerging technology can be used to support inter-company transaction processing, deductions management, invoicing and contracts management.

Cognitive business services are also effectively addressing challenges such as integrating large volumes of financial and non-financial data, reducing complex transaction cycle time, improving the quality of information to drive business insights, and enabling collaboration across the enterprise and business ecosystem.

The following case studies help illuminate how intelligent workflows drive results.

For a pharmacy client, cognitive finance planning and analysis have improved forecasting accuracy and unlocked profits from optimal resource allocation.

For a communications client, order-to-cash cognitive services application reduced 60-day-plus past-due receivables for another client, resulting in $38 million in savings. Embedded predictive analytics, design thinking and process transformation drove accelerated collections, reduced billing cycle times and lowered bad debt reserves.

For a financial services client, when high volumes of invoices and disputes tied up more than $100 million in capital, IBM blockchain technology helped save one client time and administrative costs by providing comprehensive visibility across the entire transaction lifecycle, and allowing stakeholders to prevent or speed the resolution of disputes.

For a retail client, enhanced store forecasts by product category to account for external events. It forward-deploys products using numerical optimization techniques driven by the signals sent in the exception forecast, thereby directing attention to products that will either outperform or underperform expectations. Through the use of structured, unstructured and social data, the supply chain can operate with a new intelligence to keep costs down.

Learn how intelligent workflows can help you achieve this next level of strategic insight in your finance organization.

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Intelligent workflows 101: Building a better supply chain

By Saif Rivers

Explore intelligent workflows

It's time for retailers to re-think their supply chains

Artificial Intelligence (AI), has given retailers new insight into every step in the creation of their products, presenting opportunities for efficiency and cost-savings. But the adage “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is still true. Surprises from unforeseen factors like weather or geopolitical events, and changing market conditions present challenges. Intelligent workflows can help.

Intelligent workflows harmonize emerging technologies in the back, middle, and front end of the office, utilizing curated data, to reimagine any process in your business.

For retailers, the ultimate goal is to re-make supply chains so that there are no blindspots, which would in turn contribute to a better customer experience and serve as an engine for innovation. The industry is changing rapidly, here’s how you can stay ahead of the curve.

Intelligent workflows are key to supply chain insights

Today, retailers can drive increased transformation across their supply chain with closer collaboration between retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and transportation partners. By utilizing the same source data, all parties can understand which products are needed at what time, increasing efficiencies.

An intelligent supply chain doesn’t only increase transparency via communication, but it also increases elasticity. With automation data can be collected in real-time to provide hyper-localized visibility which gives retailers the flexibility to expand or contract manufacturing and distribution as needed. This allows the supply chain to do more than just fulfill demand – but also generate it.

Demand is a critical, ever changing, factor in any retailer’s supply chain. External data collection and limited analysis can sometimes make fluctuations in demand seem like a tsunami, prompting an overreaction. Intelligent workflows, powered by data and analytics, can provide more accurate forecasting which would help retailers with on-hand inventory or rerouting shipments. With hyper-localized information, retailers can assess how weather, community-specific events and other local factors will affect demand at store-level.

Ultimately, this degree of insight from end to end enables a retailer to shape its digital experience for customers with a level of data-driven confidence unlike ever before. Regardless of channel, the customer will see the truth when they order products or check status.

AI-supported supply chains increase transparency

When retailers have insight into every element of their supply chain through intelligent orchestration or blockchain approaches, they can stand by the safety, security and ethical provenance of their products and materials by capturing their exact origins — whether it's a dress, diamonds or fresh produce. A transparent supply chain enables retailers to closely review every aspect of production and distribution, and make quick decisions if they learn a supplier failed inspection or if a parts manufacturer receives components from a factory that has unethical labor practices.

And it is more than just production and distribution that benefit from an AI-supported supply chain. It can do the same in reverse. Warranties, recalls and exchanges affect the bottom line just as much as sales. It has been reported that there were over $100 billion in returns in the U.S. following the holiday season in 2018, so controlling the backward flow can minimize losses. Reverse logistics need to be forecast as carefully as forward logistics: which store received the item, whether an item is back on a store shelf or in a larger regional warehouse awaiting proper destruction, or whether any hazardous or large materials need to be specially transported, which incurs handling fees.

Delivering products on time, at the right time

The ultimate goal of a supply chain is to deliver the right product on time, to the right place and the right customer or facility. Automation and AI-driven analytics consistently provide the insight that a retailer needs to accurately forecast and plan, as well as deliver an optimal digital customer experience.

For more information, check out this interactive demo or schedule a conversation today to learn more about optimizing the visibility of your supply chain with AI insights.

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Intelligent workflows 101: How AI helps deliver ketchup around the world

By Dayna Sargen

Learn more about the IBM Garage

Ketchup, at first glance, seems distinctly American—a condiment that is perfectly matched with fast food and Fourth of July barbecues. And Americans eat ketchup with pretty much everything—French fries, breakfast burritos, mac and cheese, and even ice cream—squirting it on an average of 9.74 meals a week.

But ketchup, or “catsup,” is consumed with meals around the world, from Germany to Japan. And Europe actually exports the most ketchup, with 60 percent of the global trade.

“The irony is that this ubiquitous condiment is anything but American in its origins or in those nationalities that love it the most,” said Ken Albala, Professor of History, University of the Pacific. “As a historian of food, I see it as truly a global product, its origins shaped by centuries of trade. And different cultures have adopted a wide variety of surprising uses for the condiment we know as ketchup today.”

With such a surprising global demand, keeping our homes and restaurants stocked with ketchup is no easy feat. How do iconic food brands like Kraft Heinz keep it from being sold out? Kraft Heinz sells a staggering 11 billion packets of ketchup a year, a number that would strain any supply chain. Besides ketchup, Kraft has hundreds of products that are staples in households around the world. They need to ensure quality products reach customers at the right place and time—a major challenge.

“We have analytical brains that constantly say, ‘go check this, go check that.’ We want to make sure we know where to place our products at all times,” said Jorge Balestra, Director of IT-COE Analytics Solutions at The Kraft Heinz Company.

That’s where AI comes in.

AI can help supply chain managers do a better job of keeping on top of unstructured information — hyper-local weather patterns, local events, traffic patterns, social media buzz — that are indicators of customer behavior and demand.

“Disruptions happen all the time. Weather is one. Or you might have a strike at the dock at a port that stops goods from arriving,” said Mark S. Yourek, an IBM solutions leader in the global consumer industry. “AI-enabled supply chains can tap into the data about all of those things, interpret them, and advise you on how to adjust to keep your supply chain running as efficiently as possible.”

To harness the power of their data, Kraft reached out to IBM. They co-created a state-of-the-art algorithm, LEGO, to ensure products were stocked in kitchens.

Powered by AI, LEGO was able to take all of Kraft’s field data and provide valuable insights for individual field sales representatives in real-time, such as notifying them when products were running low. The accelerated communications ultimately helped Kraft distribute each product more efficiently to stores and restaurants around the world.

They were able to accomplish this in part through a unique collaboration made possible by the IBM Garage

In the IBM Garage, a methodology in which IBM and clients co-create new ideas side-by-side, Kraft was able to directly go from ideation to prototyping and implementation by creating a mini start-up inside the company.

“The IBM Garage is like an innovation think tank where we’re able to bring the speed of a start-up at the scale of an enterprise,” said Arun Abraham, Lead Partner at IBM.

Besides LEGO, Kraft is launching other transformation projects with the help of the IBM Garage, like the different functions in supply chain (i.e. logistics and manufacturing), sales and marketing – and even AI enabled flavor prediction.

“I would like the garage to expand into R&D. We might even start trying to use data powered by AI to predict what people might like eating in the future,” said Abraham.

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Intelligent Workflows 101: Graham Wright on the Future of Procurement

By Dayna Sargen

How emerging technologies shape intelligent procurement workflows

Learn more about intelligent workflows

Think about the last time you purchased a work computer. The process probably involved research, verifying company-approved brands and models, comparing options online or via a physical catalog, and then patiently wading through multiple approvals.

That’s hardly the responsive, agile procurement approach needed to support today’s busy teams and demanding customer experiences. Graham Wright, IBM’s Vice President of Procurement Services, believes that intelligent workflows are changing the very nature of the corporate buying experience.

If you want to buy a laptop, why do you have to type anything? Why can't you just take a photo of what you want and the ports on the side? Then let that image dynamically go into the system and make selections for you based on various scores, evaluations and business rules to automatically execute that purchase order through?” says Wright.

“For me, point number one is that the procurement and payables process will fundamentally change.”

Intelligent Workflows in Procurement

Emerging technologies are reshaping more than just the business buying experience. Automation, cognitive technologies, and analytics give procurement teams better back-end toolsets to manage their workloads.

Imagine this: What if an artificial intelligence tool could help you rate how likely a vendor was to default on a contract automatically, or identify opportunities for cost savings in a single click? That’s the power of an intelligent workflow, and organizations are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible.

“Before we had GPS navigation getting from point A to point B was an arduous process. GPS comes along and all of a sudden, we’ve got an intelligent workflow for getting around town. Intelligent workflows operate the same way in various procurement and accounts payable processes. It’s not just about improving and automating — [intelligent workflows] actually reinforce or reinvent the process flow,” says Wright.

When core parts of the procurement process are automated and teams have access to deeper insights to identify risk and opportunity, there are numerous benefits. Companies save money, speed up procurement delivery, and offer better employee and vendor experiences along the way.

Managing Risk and Finding Cost Savings

Procurement teams operate at the nexus of two critical areas in business today: driving cost savings and managing organizational risk. The latest Deloitte research shows that controlling costs and mitigating risks are top strategies procurement leaders are using to generate results.

When done manually, the procurement process can be lengthy, weighed down by endless compliance checks and paperwork. That reality is at odds with today’s demand for agile, responsive procurement solutions. Intelligent workflows can help bridge the gap, keeping each step free of human error and speeding up delivery.

“It’s about improving user satisfaction and experience, it’s mitigated risk, and at the end of the day, it’s continuing to drive efficiency and speed within the process,” according to Wright.

Automation is shifting workloads away from buyers. AI tools help procurement teams find both opportunities and risks, whether it’s an alert reminding them about an upcoming contract-related deadline or highlighting flags that indicate a potential contract breach from a supplier.

More importantly, intelligent automated processes, such as onboarding new vendors, have the potential to self-learn, driving continuous improvement and freeing up teams to focus on strategic tasks. Instead of tracking deadlines, your team can focus on building stronger relationships with internal stakeholders and your supplier ecosystem.

Moving from Single Solutions to Integrated Intelligent Workflows

Traditionally, procurement teams have relied on technology that supports a single part of the process. For example, the processes for building category strategies, pricing negotiations, contracts management, and downstream service-level agreements are all often managed individually. The workflow for each area may be managed by a different person or centralized in its own software solution.

“Every aspect of procurement has application suites that solve them, but they are often independent of each other. With an intelligent workflow, those elements and those solutions work together in a way — across personas — to get you to the endpoint much quicker,” Wright explains.

That siloed approach can mean that individual processes are optimized, but that organizations miss critical insights across the entire workflow. Intelligent workflows use technology, redesigned workflows, and stronger insights working together to improve management procurement from the initial requisition to closing out a contract.

Optimizing Procurement Drives a Better Customer Experience

Ultimately, an intelligent procurement workflow lets you deliver a better experience — no matter what stakeholders you’re dealing with. The analytics and insights-driven tools help you understand what each audience wants, while automation eliminates some of the challenges of delivering.

“Let’s take a supplier in the field. They are doing a pricing negotiation with a prospective client. They can’t wait for a long time to turn around pricing within their proposals to close a deal. It needs to be fast. It needs to be dynamic. It needs to be innovative. Why can’t they have an integrated workflow that, within bounds of business laws, dynamically enables bid updates into pricing proposals real-time in their offices?” says Graham.

It can take sales teams days to put together complex quotes. Intelligent workflows can be built around the unique needs of a specific persona, such as a sales representative, to speed up the most critical aspects of their role.

“Within that persona and that workflow, a re-engineered process behind the scenes gets you to dynamic workflow for them that will enable them to close the deal without having to retrace their steps,” says Wright.

With intelligent workflows, buying that new laptop — or completing any other procurement task — could be as seamless as snapping a photo and uploading it to an AI tool to process the purchase. Cognitive capabilities, automation, and other emerging technologies are helping procurement teams develop future-focused processes that are agile and responsive. Make the investment in your technology, process, and people now to lay the foundation for long-term success and innovation.

Learn more about intelligent workflow

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