Chris Porter, CEO, NexBotix explores the value of automation, both during the pandemic and into the future, and how companies can benefit from this.
It is now more than 12 months since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. In addition to the huge impact the disease has had on the health of global populations, businesses of all sizes and across multiple sectors have spent the past year adapting to survive.
That adaptation has taken many forms. Companies have used their resources to quickly pivot, exploring alternative revenue streams by developing and marketing new products or services. In the airline industry, for example, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa were among those to use empty passenger cabins to transport much-needed items, including groceries and healthcare provisions. Elsewhere, as hotels saw a massive drop in visitor numbers, they have offered day rates to remote workers who have welcomed the opportunity to maintain the separation between their home and working lives.
The adaptation has been relatively easy for multinational corporate giants who have been able to call upon financial reserves for support, as they find a way through these unprecedented times. The journey has been rather more treacherous for mid-market companies which may not have been in a position to quickly diversify. For these businesses, many difficult months lay ahead. Uncertainty remains regarding the path which this disease will take us, leaving business leaders with unanswered questions: how quickly will the vaccine programme be complete? How soon will lockdown restrictions be lifted? Is the ‘new normal’ with us for the long-term?
While this uncertainty remains, many businesses have opted to focus on how they can enhance their processes, both internal and customer-facing. The last 12 months have seen a big increase in investment in digital transformation technologies, particularly in response to the growing consumer use of online channels. Research by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants found that 67% of UK SMEs have accelerated their organisation’s digital transformation as a direct result of COVID-19.
Automation has played a major role in this transformation. A survey of business leaders by EY found that 41% of respondents are investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepare for a post-crisis world. The finding is supported by McKinsey, which found that nearly half of 800 executives surveyed have accelerated the adoption of automation “moderately” during the pandemic, and roughly 20% reported “significantly increasing” automation.
Robotic-process automation (RPA) has enjoyed widespread support in recent years, and this is set to continue. Gartner predicts that the RPA market will grow at double-digit rates through to 2024, with expected revenues of US$3bn. The speed of growth is not surprising when you consider some of the many benefits that RPA offers:
· Reduced operational costs: RPA enables businesses to reduce the amount of employee time needed to perform stable, rule-based business processes. At NexBotix, we’ve seen customers who have reduced the cost of a particular process by 60% by implementing RPA.
· Increased operational efficiency: the speed of automating certain processes offers the competitive edge that businesses need in creating fast-paced, efficient operations.
· Increased accuracy: robots are reliable and consistent. They also reduce the cases of re-works and improve the output quality.
· Increased employee engagement: it spares human workers from spending their time on dull and repetitive tasks, making for happier, more productive people.
However, one of the most commonly reported problems with RPA is scaling, primarily because RPA can only handle structured, rule-based digital processes. Most modern businesses are full of unstructured data and judgement-based work. As a result, customers exploring how automation can aid transformation are hitting a wall, and RPA is failing to deliver on its promised benefits.
Harnessing the benefits of Intelligent Automation
One solution to the scaling difficulties presented by RPA is Intelligent Automation: a group of technologies leveraged in combination to automate business processes in operations. On their own, these technologies deliver limited value. When combined, they can transform the way businesses operate.
While demand for Intelligent Automation has increased significantly, understanding which business processes to automate and the type of automation to deploy can be challenging without the right expertise. Mid-market firms which work with an external Intelligent Automation specialist benefit from being able to identify the best candidates for automation and utilising predefined “plug-and-play” processes that can be live in as little as 12 weeks.
The simplicity of the process is why we have seen a massive increase in interest from mid-market companies over the past year. The most popular use cases for Intelligent Automation include:
· HR Processes for remote workers: Automating new HR processes for enrolling distributed workers including onboarding, account set up and granting access to core systems. This can be extended to IT processes managing passwords and credentials for VPNs or shipping office supplies to new work locations.
· Data management and BI: Running data analysis on internal systems that are not accessible remotely, creating reports for management, and publishing analytics automatically to help make better data-driven decisions throughout the pandemic.
· Customer Onboarding: Setting up new customer accounts on internal systems. Automation can be triggered remotely by customer-facing staff who may be working from home and be used to administer new account set up activities running centrally on legacy IT systems behind a secure firewall.
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The Intelligent Automation market is a rapidly changing space. There are many themes and directions that technology vendors, system integrators and customers are taking to maximise the value that can be gained from its implementation. In these very uncertain times, one thing is clear: organisations that have already begun their Intelligent Automation journeys have a clear competitive advantage over their peers. That will be increasingly important as we move into what we all hope is the post-pandemic world.
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