Did the Pandemic Force Businesses to Automate?

If there is one thing positive thing about the pandemic, it is that it has helped businesses see their operational shortfalls, forcing them to take immediate action and rethink their futures.

Now that many have been operating with a remote workforce, and the initial emergency is over, they have had time to readdress the challenges they faced when making that pivot to remote work – especially if they only put temporary fixes in place.

“… the fourth consequence of COVID-19 for the labor market – automation forcing. This is the idea that companies have now been forced to start using technologies to do certain jobs without people. That’s because COVID-19 has made some work environments too dangerous.”

— Cardiff Garcia, THE INDICATOR from Planet Money, NPR, July 28, 2020 “Work After COVID” with Elisabeth Reynolds, Executive Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Task Force on the Work of the Future

Businesses are at different stages of digital transformation, and this pandemic has brought content management needs to the forefront, as businesses jury-rigged changes to their operations. The ones that had an easier time developing a workaround were those that already had some digitization done. The key issue was to enable remote workers to have access to information.

With access comes greater power – operational power. It would not be surprising for businesses to now reevaluate their successes or struggles with keeping their operations going, and to look for reliable platforms and applications that do a better job of providing data access.

Looking for the permanent solution

In fact, the pandemic has opened the growth mindset to the value of content management beyond data access, as businesses see how they can harness productivity gains with happier employees working remotely, and by providing better operational tools and processes to get the work done. The end result is employees work more, new tools are more efficient and productivity increases.

1 in 5 people report working more during COVID-19. On average, remote employees worked an extra 26 hours each month during COVID-19 (nearly an extra day every week.) 77% of respondents agree that after COVID-19,
being able to work from home (WFH) would make them happier.

–State of Remote Work 2020: COVID EDITION, Owl Labs | Global Workplace Analytics

For example, orders still come in and bills still need to be paid. Adding a solution for AP automation gets information into the accounting department to handle invoices more efficiently.  Automated workflows enable greater speed in the overall operation.

“ … these developments were sure to happen over the longer run. But the crisis has pulled them forward in time, hastening both the accompanying productivity gains and the inevitable labor market adjustments.

— The Hamilton Project, “The Nature of Work after the COVID Crisis: Too Few Low-Wage Jobs”

When every dollar counts, the faster orders and invoices can be processed, the better off the businesses. They are capitalizing on their agility to keep operating despite the disruptions all around them.

The need for speed

Once businesses have the “taste” for agile business processes, they can see how they can impact their future business operations by using technology to get them in a better operating position. The Hamilton Project report cited examples – especially in warehouse operations – for robotics. With a lockdown on physical workers, the businesses were forced to find alternatives to keep their operations going using technology.

With robots picking orders, it made me think about the “bots” we create to move data or look up information within the content management ecosystem. Robots do the work faster and free up resources to do more important tasks elsewhere. In fact, by deploying robotic process automation (RPA), businesses can gain an absolute advantage, achieved when “one producer is able to produce a competitive product using fewer resources, or the same resources in less time.”

Economic theory defines absolute advantage for products, but I like to modify the definition with a service perspective, as a business is able to utilize a more competitive process with fewer resources and get the work done in less time.

For example, if a business finds its invoice process is not fast enough and they are still getting late fees due to manual steps taken at various points within the process, creating solutions with bots to execute those tasks smooths out the process. The staff only needs to handle exceptions, and the process is now more streamlined. RPA has become critical for continuous improvement efforts.

The pandemic has been traumatic and disruptive to everything, especially the economy. But, our business leaders are more cognizant of what they need to be more agile and support business continuity. It’s like COVID-19 has forced everyone to add a chapter to their playbook addressing digitization and automation at a basic level, and they learned how they can continuously improve through technology. They see where the story is going, and have smartly investigated RPA.

The economics of automation will continue to guide businesses to make informed decisions and create a more solid operational model for business continuity. They will rethink their plan for process improvement with an eye toward their post-COVID work model. However they decide to proceed, this pandemic has forced them to think about automation in ways they had previously put off or never considered. And in the long run, these operational changes will make their operations better for all.

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