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November 28, 2016
Intelligent automation a smart move in face of slowing economy
By: Adrian Lim

Malaysian companies need to take the plunge with intelligent automation.

At the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM)’s Jinjang Police Station lock-up in Kuala Lumpur, wide-angle surveillance cameras sweep across the areas used by prisoners, while gait analysis identifies any behaviour that is suspicious. The data is sent in real time to security personnel via surveillance screens with 3D location markers, who then move in to prevent situations ranging from jail breaks and fights, to suicides and custodial deaths.

Around the world, intelligent automation is transforming workplaces. From Daewoo’s exoskeletons that will allow workers to effortlessly lift loads of up to 100kg, to super computers in the United States with the sophistication and capacity to cut cancer drug development time to half, intelligent automation is offering the scale, speed and ability to cut through complexity never seen before.

Here in Malaysia, Hong Leong Bank’s newest employee IBM Watson continuously "learns" from its live chats with customers, improving its interaction with them, while Tenaga Nasional Berhad has put in place smart meters in 8.5 million households to allow its customers to manage their own power consumption. PDRM’s SMART (Self—Monitoring Analytics Reporting Technology) Lock—Up system—developed in Malaysia and the first of its kind in Asia Pacific—gained recognition at the Asia Pacific Enterprise Innovation Awards last year, and is now being rolled out nationwide.

Yet, while there are those who have scaled up on their use of intelligent automation, there are many more who, despite incredibly successful pilots, have not.

There are several reasons why Malaysian companies hesitate to take the plunge, foremost among them being the scale investment required, particularly given the current economic climate. Rolling out on a large scale simply requires more investment than they comfortable with as the economy slows down and competition heats up.

Ironically, this is precisely why they need to invest in intelligent automation. To remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, businesses need to be more efficient and more cost-effective. Intelligent automation delivers to both these aims, and this is being recognised by organisations globally: it is estimated that between 2015 and 2018, as many as 152,400 units of professional service robots worth US$19.6 billion will be sold.

Some 70 percent of the 3,200 respondents of our global Technology Vision 2016 survey said they were investing significantly more in intelligent automation-related technologies than they did in 2013. Significantly, 43 percent reported cost savings greater than 15 percent from intelligent process automation in the past two years.

Beyond cost savings, we expect that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will deliver 30 to 40 percent in productivity gains in the next three to five years, even in functions that are already automated.

The good news is that Malaysia is extremely well placed to be an early adopter. The government has thrown its weight behind what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, urging Malaysians to embrace the transformative power of science and technology, and a spirit of innovation and creativity to further energise the domestic economy.

Malaysia also has a relatively young workforce, so workplaces have increasing access to a generation supremely comfortable with technology and, by extension, working with intelligent automation. The challenge now is for organisations to equip this group with the specific skills sets needed for their own rollouts.

Given Malaysia’s ASEAN and global ambitions, and its goal to become a developed country by 2020, the focus needs to be on productivity and higher value services.

The advantages offered by intelligent automation feed into these twin ambitions, giving Malaysian organisations an edge. But the first move—both in terms of adoption and rapid rollout – remains theirs.

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