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RPA and COVID-19: Can automation help businesses to return to the ‘new normal’?

RPA and COVID-19: Can automation help businesses to return to the ‘new normal’?


RPA and COVID-19: Can automation help businesses to return to the ‘new normal’?

  • Satish Swami
  • 13 May 2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had serious implications for people’s health and healthcare services. In addition to that, it has profoundly affected businesses across verticals and many economic activities have come to a halt globally. Non-essential businesses, factories, and warehouses are completely shut down to protect their workers, while those that are essential struggle with unpredictable spikes in demand. Today’s ‘new normal’ includes work-from-home difficulties, cash crunches, disrupted supply chains, indefinite compliance obligations, and many more challenges.

While most businesses are in the first phase of React and Respond, digital technologies are enabling unique solutions by changing the way businesses operate. From an immediate need to adopt remote working tools for business continuity, to implementing new health policies for the safety and well-being of employees, digital and automation tools are helping businesses to be agile and minimize the disruption caused by the pandemic.

During this crisis, the concept of ‘digital worker’ has become more relevant than ever. Software robots or digital workers can be used for a range of tasks that are highly repetitive, speed-sensitive, error-prone, and have irregular work demands. While ‘social distancing’ has become a pre-requisite, multiple tasks across departments such as supply chain, purchase, claims, and brokerage, customer services, IT support can be performed by the robots.

Before this pandemic, automation had been gradually replacing human work for a range of operations, from call centers to warehouses, as companies looked to cut labor costs and improve profitability. As the crisis unfolds around the world, automation technologies are helping businesses across several verticals to develop safer and faster modes of operations.

Healthcare service providers are using automation for speedy patient diagnosis, streamlined test results for hospitals/laboratories and its data entry into the EHR system, scheduling and managing remote patient consultations, and subsequent data updates for greater security. Pharmaceutical companies are also using automation for clinical trial data entry across different systems and teams.

Let us look at how healthcare service providers are addressing the priorities with the use of digital technologies.

  • Safe evaluation: Telehealth, Virtual Care, Chatbots, Remote Patient Monitoring.
  • Better Resource Utilization: Real-Time Location System, Throughput Management, Forecasting, Optimization.
  • Clear Communication: Care Team Collaboration, Patient Engagement, and Clinical Communication.
  • Risk Reduction: Analytics and BI, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Remote Working Tools
  • Flattening the Curve: Geospatial Location, Track & Trace, Intelligent Command Center.

Education systems, public sector, and telecommunication providers have also turned to digital solutions to cope with the situation and respond to drastic shifts in demand.

While businesses are trying their best to cope with the current situation, the biggest challenge will be restarting their operations while adapting to the ‘new normal’.

The second phase of Redirect to New Realities will require businesses to re-align to immediate needs as customers and markets move out of their reaction phase. Expect more automation in the post-COVID-19 economy. Automation technologies will help companies to accelerate recovery. Moreover, automation helps businesses in reducing the burden of mundane work and simplifying the operations for both employees and customers.

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be used for repetitive processes and tasks. It is quick to adopt, easy to use, flexible, and can be scaled easily. Its adoption is already high in healthcare and insurance to automate several manual processes. It is a very big cost optimization technique and hence its adoption will continue to go up significantly.
  • People do not like the back-and-forth between multiple systems to get the work done. The biggest benefit of RPA is that it can provide a connection between digital systems and users. It also puts the power in the hands of the business users. Businesses should pick such technology platforms that lessen the work burden for their employees and do not add to their frustration.
  • Though the adoption of AI and other new technologies differ as per the industry, it is a very good opportunity for many businesses to invest in them to significantly reduce operational costs, take preventive actions through predictive analytics and improve customer relations through speedy communication.

According to leading analysts, Healthcare, Education, Communications, and Public Sectors are going to invest heavily in technology solutions to be able to adapt to the ‘new normal’ with ease.

  • Healthcare service providers will continue to invest in automation technologies to improve operations related to electronic medical records, end-to-end revenue cycle, ERP solutions, new procurement methodologies.
  • Banks and financial services providers will be required to expedite the processes related to risk and compliance management and digitization will become imperative.
  • Banking and securities sector will see a rise in Chatbot apps, surveillance, compliance tools for remote work.
  • Insurance sector is likely to focus on Machine Learning and Chatbots-enabled tools.
  • Communications sector is the winner in both short- and long-term growth due to huge demand in communication technologies such as unified communication, data center, cloud, security, mobile apps development, etc.
  • Education industry will continue to serve through E-Learning applications for remote learning, given that the need to follow social distancing will remain for a longer time.
  • Manufacturing industry will require to strengthen supply chain management and automation will prove to be a great boon. Sourcing strategies will be radically changed, and more eCommerce platforms are expected to emerge.

As businesses formulate crisis management strategies, the clarity of purpose to pivot to market demands will play a vital role in their success or failure.

Moving forward in the third – Rebound to the Future and the fourth – Accelerate Opportunities phases, businesses will require

  • To be in the best position as demand returns with customers and markets moving forward
  • To unlock a new source of growth and competitive advantage with high impact products/services.

The success will depend on their ability to drive differentiation and create new levels of business value in the coming times.

There is no denying that things will never be the same again. We will also see more compassionate and humanitarian requirements to deal with. Those companies that focus more on the human aspect of their business will win and not those who are centered solely on the effectiveness of their businesses. Businesses who are willing to adopt digital transformation now will have opportunities to provide better-paying, higher-quality jobs through a skilled workforce partnered with automation. The future of work is a blended workforce that uses technology to enable maximum productivity and job satisfaction for human workers.