20 Oct 2022

Robots will not replace humans after all

By Kirke Saar, Head of IT at Nordic Investment Bank

The acceleration of digitalisation has been a hot topic in the business world for more than 15 years, but only after the Covid crises hit us in March 2020 did most companies realise how much behind a full digital operation they actually were.

Digitalisation has been by far the most mystifying word in IT and business. When I ask my colleagues in the office what they mean by digitalisation, I get very different answers. Some of us see it as the ability to execute all tasks in digital format, i.e. something equal to a paperless office concept; others see it more as a business process efficiency, being able via appropriate IT solutions and tools to execute their daily tasks more efficiently and easily. A third set of colleagues, the real technology geeks, sees digitalisation as an opportunity to test all kinds of new gadgets and solutions and perhaps even to create some lines of code themselves. The right answer lies in all of them, and I believe digitalisation is something every organisation must define by itself.

When I joined Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) two years ago, I heard very mixed messages. Some were very proud of the digital solutions in place, and above all that the whole bank, which had followed a policy of working only in the office, had almost fully transferred to remote working in just two weeks. My conclusion was that NIB had implemented excellent single business process enabling solutions and had been very good at delivering high service quality. However, like most organisations, we lacked an understanding of how to take digitalisation to the next level, and what the principles we followed in digitalisation should be to stay relevant for our clients, stakeholders, and employees. Digitalisation is not only a task for a CIO but is a common engagement with business to actually push how we work to a different level.

Digitalisation does not mean we lose all human contact. On the contrary, a truly digitalised organisation should operate so there is more time for human contact for actual value and relationship creation. By asking our clients if they would like only digital interaction with NIB, they all answered to the contrary. Human contact, expertise, the humans behind the processes, numbers and decisions are valued. But everyone wants a more seamless and efficient business process without technological obstacles.

Since the start of the pandemic, NIB has made a significant leap in digitalisation. We have fully implemented remote working; we have clear roadmaps in place for all key applications; in lending, we have started a new way of thinking from an application centric way to a full business process digitalisation mindset; we have agreed how we use the cloud to enable faster automation and better scalability; we have defined clear IT architectural principles; and last but not least, we have agreed the vision for a data-driven bank by implementing a centralised platform and clear management of data assets. We have also started to explore how NIB might benefit from emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain and advanced data analytics.

To be excellent in digitalisation, not every person in the bank must have advanced technical IT skills. On the contrary: I believe digitalisation has been successful when business users have easy-to-use applications that enable them to execute the business process from client contact to final disbursement easily and seamlessly. If everyone in business must know how to code, we have clearly failed. The new digital solution should enable business to be more efficient and make it easy for users to use intuitively. To succeed in digitalisation, we therefore need to envision as an organisation how we must work in the new more digital world. The new way of running the business and technology committee and the more value stream-based prioritisation are important enablers of this.

For digitalisation, we need technology. We need to understand the new trends, be able to implement the new cloud solutions, benefit from new technology trends like robotics and AI in future and be able to optimally execute the security controls. However, it all comes down to our people.

I believe a diverse IT team can bring the best results by having a mixture of old and new employees, and by hiring people from different genders, backgrounds, experiences and nationalities, we can be better at innovation.  As a Nordic-Baltic international financial institution with a very special purpose, we need to become more relevant digitally, reskill our people by teaching our IT employees more advanced technology skills and teach non-IT employees the skills needed to work with technology.

What is also important is that what suits a bigger organisation does not necessarily fit a smaller organisation.

Digitalisation at NIB will not remove human contact. It will make it easier for humans to interact and enable us to spend our time on even more value-adding activities.

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