From supply chain to software or operations, the pandemic left no business process untouched.
Leaders had one goal in mind as plans shifted: Keep the business up and running. Behind the fixes that aided disruption, for some, was automation technology spun up specifically to respond to the changes that lie ahead.
When an airline was hit with a surge in cancellations — going from 500 requests a day to 4,000 — existing staff was unable to keep up with the volume. Robotic process automation (RPA) software company Automation Anywhere built a tool that could extract ticket information, interact with the booking and refund applications and ultimately process the claim.
"This pandemic highlighted the need for this kind of tool that could make a difference," said Mihir Shukla, CEO and co-founder, speaking in a virtual roundtable Tuesday hosted by Automation Anywhere. "But what will happen is, once you use bots for cancellations, even if the volumes go down you're not going to go back to doing it manually. This will change how all of us think."
In an initial stage, businesses reactively turned to automation amid disruption. For its next act, the technology must prove its value by showing it can help businesses adapt to market changes, but it must first overcome key hurdles.
A cycle of deployment
When it comes to leveraging automation to respond to the pandemic, businesses are reacting in three steps:
- First, keep the business going: A focus on business continuity led companies to maintain processes in uncharted territory through automation. New automation use cases arose, while others accelerated, according to Riadh Dridi, chief marketing officer at Automation Anywhere, speaking at the roundtable.
- Office-based and remote work coexist: A hybrid work reality awaits employees in the coming months as stay-at-home orders ease. Automation can play a role in bridging collaboration gaps between teams at home and those returning to the office.
- Building a resilient business: If a second wave of the pandemic hits, businesses will need to ensure physical and remote workforces have access to the resources they need, operating smoothly together with automation helping bridge those gaps, according to Dridi.
Use cases for automation will vary between sectors, but in healthcare it is poised to play a role at half of providers by 2023, according to Gartner predictions, an increase from current adoption rates of just 5%.
There's existing interest from office workers in infusing automation into their workloads, with 30% of U.S. employees saying they're interested in acquiring RPA skills, according to a survey from automation company UiPath.
When it comes to digital transformation, there's a clearly outlined before-and-after, said Brian Solis, global innovation evangelist at Salesforce, speaking at the roundtable.
"Digital transformation itself has been disrupted," said Solis. "That's forcing organizations to re-prioritize what really matters. What might have been discussed as a previous version of the future is now present reality."
In that reality, outfitting customer touchpoints with automation has the ability to "improve experiences and create a competitive advantage" amid the disruption, Solis said.
Automation hurdles and what's next
Organizations deploying automation risk wasting company resources and employee time if the technology fails to deliver — or if it fails to be adopted by workers. Misundertandings around processes and the complexity of platforms can derail RPA projects before leaders can see results.
Automating processes that were inefficient can also lead to resource waste.
Shukla outlines three key hurdles that can prevent a successful RPA adoption:
- While leaders are focusing on transformation, companies need to coordinate C-suite priorities around automation.
- Ensuring customers have faster scale, ROI and a seamless experience.
- Companies need to understand what in their portfolio could be automated. Up to 80% of repetitive tasks that could be automated remain undiscovered, according to an Automation Anywhere study.
As long-term plans are swiftly deployed as a response to the pandemic, the next phase of automation will need to focus on spotting more repetitive tasks that could potentially become automated.
Identifying these tasks can yield actionable insights that improve customer and employee experience, Solis said.
"We've not seen the last disruption," said Solis "There will be more disruption in our future."