A talk with Schofield

Anthony Schofield, the leader for global operations transformation at Deloitte, the auditing firm, gave an interview recently. Let us hear what he says.

Where is artificial intelligence placed among automation technologies and solutions in India?

AI, specifically, is one part of the entire spectrum of new technology tools, ranging from automation to robotic process automation (RPA) to cognitive tools and machine learning. Usually, each gets mixed up and interchanged, but they are a bunch of different technologies that can speed up and replace the decisions for human interaction. AI is at the high end of the spectrum and at the other end is RPA. All of them have significant opportunities for the Indian market because there is such heavy prevalence of operations type businesses here, in the global in-house centers (GICs), etc. So, each of them has specific opportunities in India.

Who are the early adopters of these new automation technologies, both globally and in India?

Globally, banks adopted these technologies the earliest, partially through both cost pressures and regulatory pressures. In India, the GICs are the early adopters. Both globally and in India, it is not just financial services companies but even insurance companies that are looking to use these tools.

One usually links job losses to AI, automation, etc. Do you see the technology replacing human labor?

There are completely unreal statistics around automation and job losses. These stats are good fun and nothing but sensationalist. But what we are seeing is the freeing up of resources from boring activities with focus moving up to value-added activities and customer experience activities. The truth is that I can’t think of many or any cases where there are direct headcount cuts because of RPA or cognitive implementations. Take the banks as an example, they have big cost pressures, they also have great regulatory pressures. If you can free up people from doing regular mundane activities, they could focus on the regulatory activities.

Is it a big task for companies to re-skill or up skill the workforce? Also, is it difficult to change the mindset of people to adapt to new technologies?

It’s not just people but organizations too that need to adopt and adapt to changes. I always give this example of a bank that implemented robots very successfully. They had an early adoption problem with people being uncomfortable with robots. So, they ended up naming the robots so that people were happier to interact with them. People are inevitably, generally, resistant to change. Change management is an important part of everything.

What is the available talent pool in these new technologies? Where is India placed in terms of supply side of this talent pool?

These are quite simple tools that need to be placed in a technical way, so this is the part where business and technology work together. We can take anyone who is a quant literate, who can do a macro and excel, put them through two weeks of a coding boot camp. They can easily learn to configure a bot, but that’s the easy bit. The second bit, which is like an 80%, is the more complicated part. There are only limited people with the skills to make this work at big organizations. But India is always a frontrunner around technology. This is one country which has proved it can up skill.

Well, the thought of Schofield stating that statistics on job losses due to automation are sensationalist is worth considering.###