Practically every industry — CPG, manufacturing, Pharma, and Financial Services — is in pursuit of automation in the wake of COVID-19. It is the antidote to uncertainty, variability, unexpected breaks in business continuity, and the need for scale. In the short term, over the next 18 months, process automation in the form of RPA will be used not only to reduce costs and eliminate FTEs—as has been the key goal until now—but also to create recovery and resilience.
There have been two key pre-COVID-19 doctrines that have helped guide organizations regarding their automation strategy:
- Drive efficiency/effectiveness: Make automation the new Lean—deploy it to eliminate waste of time and material, reduce turnaround time and scrunch costs
- Improve employee experience/reduce errors: The goal was to automate repetitive manual processes, time-consuming and error-prone, and thereby improve employee experience—freeing their time so their cognitive skills and intuition could be leveraged more gainfully
An example of this is the use of automation for activities that a supply chain planner is expected to perform. These include data collection and reporting, which define almost 80% of the role. These are rule-based activities and can be automated, allowing the planner time to think of unique ways to improve the supply chain, create resilience, and plan for future business needs. In other words, automation can be leveraged to augment human potential.
With COVID-19 changing many business priorities—and most of them permanently—there is a new role that organizations are demanding from automation. They want to inject automation into every process that allows the organization to withstand shock, drive revival and build resilience.
There is always the risk of organizations hurriedly using automation to address the challenges placed before them by COVID-19. These will be short-term Band-Aid solutions. But the goal must be to extract long-term value from every dollar being invested in automation.
Automation leads to organizational IT optimization and lays the ground to right-set business—by re-baselining costs of IT operations, allowing the business to optimize the current workforce and increase efficiency. There is therefore no need to reduce the headcount of an organization. Instead, employees can use automation to augment their capabilities, improving efficiency, or re-skill themselves for newer roles. And as automation is used to fast-track development and testing, it allows the organization to grow.
As the pandemic spread, ITC Infotech’s operations, backed by Automation Anywhere’s Intelligent Digital Transformation platform, ran seamlessly across the world. For others, the pandemic triggered new ways to leverage automation. Some of the interesting use cases witnessed were:
- Bots were created to monitor employee devices and systems, leading to better use of resources when helpdesk workload went up.
- A bot designed to address data privacy, a key challenge in the work from home (WFH) model. The bot masked data for WFH resources, ensuring continuity of service.
- A retailer in Europe deployed a bot to manage back-end and customer-facing processes following a major spike in website traffic. The customer set up an Automation CoE, allowing them to create bots in three to four days.
Interest in automation has increased several folds. But major transformation initiatives have been paused. The urgency is to quell the disruption caused by COVID-19. To help do this—and do it fast—cloud platforms offer the convenience of accessibility and scale. These platforms do not require customers to add to on-premise infrastructure or install anything on their systems. Configuration, deployment, and bug fixes can be done remotely on the cloud platform.
Using automation has become easy. Almost any role in finance, operations, manufacturing, sales, or distribution can create bots using drag-and-drop features. COVID-19 has accelerated the simplicity with which automation is implemented. It has also triggered the wider adoption of automation. From here on, automation can be expected to become a top board room priority.
Executive Vice President, IMEA Region, Automation Anywhere
Senior Vice President, ITC Infotech
Managing Partner, Emerging Tech & Private Equity, Zinnov