Unlocking Singapore’s potential through intelligent automation

Albert Nel

Intelligent automation is now a top priority for the majority of organizations in the Asia Pacific region. Facing heightening competition and increasing customer demands, organizations must use new technologies to unlock the power of information. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes into play.

According to The Economist’s Automation Readiness Index, Singapore ranked as the third most prepared country globally for the coming wave of intelligent automation, just behind South Korea and Germany. This comes as no surprise. The country has taken significant strides to embrace digital transformation on its journey to becoming a Smart Nation and a global leader in high-value services.

The Singaporean government continues to invest in advanced technologies such as AI, automation and robotics to boost its strategic capabilities, while encouraging organizations in the private sector to follow suit. In fact, during the recent Budget 2019 delivery, it was announced that the Automation Support Package – a funding program that defrays costs for organizations to deploy large-scale automation – will be extended by another two years. Government and private sector support will ensure that intelligent automation remains an integral part of the strategy for Singapore’s future.

But where does the greatest opportunity for intelligent automation in Singapore lie? How will this impact our lives?

Singaporeans want AI to improve the public sector more than any other service

Applications of AI are broad and growing, and the public sector may be the biggest beneficiary.  A survey conducted by OpenText found that the public sector is slated to gain the most from intelligent automation, as compared to the private sector.  Singaporeans identified that the greatest value of intelligent automation in the public sector lies in reducing waiting times and reducing the likelihood of errors.

The survey also revealed that robots have an interesting role to play in the public sector. 45 per cent of survey respondents indicated that robotics will benefit healthcare services, while 40 per cent noted the application of robotics will improve citizenship or passport services. This shows that AI carries with it the potential to vastly improve the delivery of public sector services.

Preparing for the robot workforce

Much has been written about the future of jobs since the dawn of technology. New solutions powered by AI and robotics are enabling machines to handle more complex and nuanced tasks across industries that once required human intervention. Given the rapid pace at which technology is advancing, the migration of tasks from humans to machines has been evident for quite some time.

The same OpenText survey showed that more than half (66 percent) of Singaporeans acknowledge that intelligent automation is impacting their job. According to the Global Future of Work Study by Willis Towers Watson, it is predicted that by 2020, automation is expected to account for an average of 29 percent of all work done by organizations in Singapore.

Though automation will continue to have an impact on how we work, it will not eliminate the need for human talent. Intelligent automation will allow employees to be relieved from repetitive tasks and focus on value added activities that improve employee satisfaction and result in better customer experiences. Furthermore, the automation of routine tasks allows employees to make better use of their human intelligence, which in turn leads to new business models that drive growth and job creation.

In fact, as traditional job roles are replaced, new jobs that did not exist before will be created in the transition. According to the World Economic Forum, robots will create 133 million new jobs – jobs that require creativity, innovation, and strategic thought.

It is without a doubt that AI will continue to be pervasive. However, while intelligent automation is inevitable, organizations can take measured steps to ensure that their employees are prepared for this change by placing further emphasis on retraining and reskilling.

Paving the way for human-robot collaboration

Despite fears around the potential impact on jobs, close to 70 per cent of Singaporeans are keen to work with robots. The next phase will set the stage for human-robot collaboration, wherein humans work alongside robots to achieve what one cannot achieve without the other.

Automation offers the ability to simplify end-to-end processes, improve customer experience, and create more efficient operations. Over recent years, intelligent automation has found its place in enhancing efficiency and productivity across a gamut of industries, delivering promising results. For instance, in the supply chain, AI has been deployed to provide seamless connections across production and distribution lines, easing the process of getting products from the factory to the end customer. The legal sector has experienced a significant reduction of time spent locating and processing complex legal documents. The customer service sector has leveraged predictive analytics to better understand customers and create more meaningful, personalised interactions.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly competitive global economy, it is imperative for organizations to tap on solutions such as intelligent automation for long-term business sustainability and growth.