AI, RPA and Internet of Things going to redefine workplace: Harnath Babu

KPMG is a global network of independent member companies that offer auditing, tax and consulting services. KPMG member companies operate in 147 countries and together employ more than 219,000 people. They serve the needs of corporations, governments, public sector agencies, nonprofits and, through the auditing and insurance practices of member firms, the capital markets.

Here Harnath Babu, CIO, KPMG, presents his thoughts on the future of work. Excerpts from an interview:

DQ: How do you deal with the Covid-19 situation? What are your plans?

Harnath Babu: At KPMG in India we already have an agile working environment. However, making it possible for 100 percent of the workforce was initially a challenge. To address the COVID-19 crisis, we started our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) by ensuring the availability of the critical infrastructure, enhanced by network bandwidth and VPN capacity, so that employees can work remotely and can access corporate applications securely and without interruption.

Our IT support team was instrumental in enabling the company to resolve technical issues promptly by providing the necessary instructions in a timely manner when needed. We use cloud-based audio and video conferencing platforms that help to communicate and collaborate efficiently without affecting productivity.

To ensure data security and compliance, we regularly update user endpoints with the latest security patches. Our team also monitors tools and incidents to ensure efficient operations.

DQ: Are you giving employees more control over their schedules?

Harnath Babu: At KPMG in India, our commitment is to maintain maximum flexibility with minimal constraints as we focus on performance. With the agile work environment, our employees have the flexibility to control their schedules and manage their work accordingly.

DQ: How do you rate the findings from forced experiments relating to WFH?

Harnath Babu: We have formed a core team of the Business Continuity Program (BCP) to take stock of the situation on a regular basis. We meet daily to exchange observations, strengthen the IT infrastructure and optimize processes in order to offer our employees the best possible work-from-home experience. We review the situation and record what we learn, including how to reduce exposure for future events and better prepare for the future of work.

DQ: This is a challenging time for managers. What advice would you give them?

Harnath Babu: It is definitely a challenging time for managers. While making sure the team is safe and secure, it is also the manager’s responsibility to keep the team motivated, maintain productivity, and ensure that customer results are met as binding.

Communication is a must to keep in touch with the team on a daily basis and encourage everyone to keep in touch with one another. Equally important is discussing the individual and team workload that needs to be balanced and encouraging the team to invest in skill development. In addition, trust and flexibility play a crucial role in building healthy relationships and getting the job done on time.

DQ: How does work-life balance work in such a crisis?

Harnath Babu: The pandemic has brought our work and private life under one roof. And since we all work longer hours, we need to take steps to balance work-related and personal activities. I believe the first step is to create a dedicated work space and plan your day in advance. This can be achieved by clearly defining your priorities and blocking your time on certain activities for the day ahead.

The routine should include physical activities such as walking, exercise, or yoga. a windowless window that prevents you from checking or replying to work-related emails; and spend quality time with your family.

The process of reconciling work and family is lengthy. So if at any point you feel overwhelmed, you need to talk to someone – your family or your manager – and keep making an effort to live a balanced life.

DQ: How do you make digital work easier now?

Harnath Babu: The first step is to provide the entire workforce with the right IT infrastructure so that they can work from the comfort of their home. The next step is to create a team-based digital space environment where they can work together – regardless of where they are. To this end, we provide our employees with cloud-based tools for communication and collaboration technologies with which they can virtually connect with one another and at the same time blur the boundaries of their physical location.

Working remotely from the IT support system is another important step as providing immediate support to the workforce with IT issues is critical to facilitating a digital work environment.

Another aspect we focus on is protection against cyber threats. We have taken various measures to protect user endpoints from phishing and ransomware attacks.

DQ: How will the latest technologies redefine the workplace?

Harnath Babu: Technologies like artificial intelligence, automation of robotic processes and the Internet of Things will redefine the workplace in several ways. Here are a few examples.

* Primarily, since social distancing is the new norm, the workplace is about fewer people and more space than it used to be – more with less space. This could not only mean tidying up the office space, but also eliminating the work area for employees to work together. For example, a meeting room that would normally accommodate eight people might now only accommodate four people.

* With the advancement of AI-controlled technologies and robotics, intelligent machines will do more work. Virtual assistants would be there to answer user queries in real time and to carry out operational activities.

* RPA would continue to automate repetitive tasks, data aggregation, analysis, etc. so teams can save time and make faster, more informed business decisions.

* Cloud-based technologies optimize the workflow, facilitate collaboration and increase work efficiency.

* Organizational systems are geared towards the cloud to improve data security.

DQ: How do you plan a future of ‘decent work’?

Harnath Babu: With COVID-19, the workplace is transforming into a digital work environment, contrary to what we have known so far. Some of the leading IT companies have already taken the plunge by reportedly deciding to reduce the number of employees in the office to 25-30 percent. This will be one of the turning points to drive the digital transformation of the workplace and we will be shifting our working lives online – which will be the new normal.

Gig jobs, where you work as a freelancer or on short-term contracts, will continue to play a crucial role in the flexibility and cost advantages it offers.

We will focus on a balanced approach where only the required staff visit the office while the rest connect digitally. At the same time, we will focus on strengthening the security posture and ensuring that business-critical and confidential customer data remains completely secure.

March 31, 2021