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

KPMG is a global network of independent member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services. KPMG member firms operate in 147 countries, collectively employing more than 219,000 people, serving the needs of business, governments, public-sector agencies, not-for-profits and through member firms’ audit and assurance practices, the capital markets.

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


DQ: How are you dealing with the Covid-19 situation? What plans have you put in place?

Harnath Babu: At KPMG in India, we already have an agile working environment. However, enabling it for 100 per cent of the workforce was challenging initially. So, to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we started with our business continuity plan (BCP) by ensuring availability of the critical infrastructure enhanced by network bandwidth and VPN capacity so that employees could work from a remote location and access enterprise applications securely as well as without any disruption.

Our IT support team played an instrumental role in helping the business promptly address any technical issue by providing the necessary guidance whenever required just in time. We are leveraging cloud-based audio and video-conferencing platforms that help communicate and collaborate with one another efficiently, thus not hampering productivity.

Furthermore, to maintain data security and compliance, we are regularly updating user endpoints with the latest security patches. Our team is also monitoring tools as well as incidents to ensure delivery efficient operations.

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

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

DQ: How are you assessing on learnings from enforced experiments around WFH?

Harnath Babu: We have formed a core Business Continuity Program (BCP) team to take stock of the situation on a regular basis. We meet daily to share observations and strengthen IT infrastructure and optimize processes aimed at delivering the best possible work-from-home experience to our employees. We are reviewing the situation and recording the lessons learnt, including how to reduce exposure for future events, and how to be better prepared for the future of work.

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

Harnath Babu: Definitely, it is a challenging time for managers. While ensuring that their team is safe and secure, it is also a manager’s responsibility to keep up the team’s motivation while maintaining productivity and ensuring client deliverables are met as committed.

Communication is a must to check in daily with the team and encourage everyone to stay in touch with each other. It is equally important to discuss the individual and team workloads that must be balanced, as well as encourage the team to invest in skill development. Alongside, trust and flexibility play a critical role to build healthy relationships and get work done on schedule.

DQ: How does work/life balance work in a crisis like this?

Harnath Babu: The pandemic has brought our work and home lives under the same roof. And, as we are all working for longer durations, we must take steps to balance work-related and personal activities. The first step, I believe, is to create a dedicated space for work and plan your day in advance. This can be done by setting your priorities straight and blocking your time for specific activities for the day ahead.

One’s routine should include physical activities such as walking, exercise or yoga; a no-screen-window during which you will not check or respond to work-related emails; and spending time with your family.

The process of achieving a healthy work-life balance is a long one, so, if you feel overwhelmed at any point in time, you must talk to someone – your family or manager and make continued efforts to live a balanced life.

DQ: How are you now facilitating digital work?

Harnath Babu: The first step is to provide the right IT infrastructure to the entire workforce to work conveniently from their homes. The next step is to create a team-based digital space environment where they can work together – irrespective of wherever they are. For this, we are providing our workforce with cloud-based communication and collaboration technology tools that help them connect with each other virtually while blurring the boundaries of physical location.

Enabling the IT support system to work remotely is another critical step as providing prompt assistance to the workforce for any IT-related concern is pivotal to facilitating a digital work environment.

Another aspect that we are on top of is protection against cyberthreats. We have taken several measures that help us secure the user endpoints against phishing and ransomware attacks.

DQ: How are the latest technologies going to redefine workplace?

Harnath Babu: Technology, such as artificial intelligence, robotics process automation and the Internet of things, is going to redefine the workplace in several ways. Here are a few examples.

* First and foremost, with social distancing being the new norm, workplaces will be about fewer employees and more space as opposed to how it used to be earlier – doing more with less space. This could not only mean de-cluttering the office space but also doing away with the collaboration workspace for employees. For instance, a meeting room that would normally fit eight individuals might now only hold seats for four.

* With the advancement in AI-driven technologies and robotics, more work will be done by smart machines. Virtual assistants would be there to respond to user queries in real time and perform operational activities.

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

* Cloud-based technologies will streamline workflow, facilitate collaboration and increase work efficiency.

* Organizational systems will be aligned to the cloud for improved data security.

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

Harnath Babu: With COVID-19, the workplace, as opposed to what we have known so far, is changing into a digital work environment. Some of the leading IT companies have already taken the leap by reportedly taking the decision to reduce the number of employees in the office to 25-30 per cent. This will be one of the tipping points to drive digital transformation of the workplace, and we shall be moving our working lives online – which will be the new normal.

Gig work, which involves working as a freelancer or on short-term contracts, will also play a pivotal role in the future of work for the flexibility as well as cost benefits it offers.

We will be focusing on a balanced approach wherein only the required employees visit office while the rest connect digitally. We shall, at the same time, focus on strengthening the security posture and ensuring business-critical and client confidential data remains completely safe and secure.

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