The need for innovation in a post-COVID world is going to be essential – in fact, if your company hasn’t started innovating yet, you’re already being left behind!
With the downturn of the global economy there is something positive in the wings, being that we can expect an upturn – there has to be – as there has been after every global war, pandemic and catastrophe. It’s human nature. And the companies who are going to be doing very well in the new world are those who have made it through the bad times. These are the companies that are working smarter, taking advantage of technology at the heart of their business whilst keeping a firm focus on the client. This innovation can take many forms, however the fundamental difference will be in how operations are run and one means for making that change comes through the use of widespread automation. There should be no repeatable process being done manually.
Why is that, and how can it be implemented?
Well, robots can run 24x7x365. Once they have their orders they do what they are told, they don’t make mistakes and they can work with little to no management overhead. In addition, robot workers do not require a separate workspace, a parking spot, medical aid or coffee breaks. All that they need are to be shown a process and they will run with it until you tell them to stop. This offers significant opportunities for company leadership to be creative with how they do business, where they assign people and how they can be more effective in people allocation.
There was enough talk around 4IR and its effect on jobs before the pandemic and now that so many millions more are out of work, it seems callous to talk about replacing humans with robots. Instead, smart companies are looking at how they can keep their best people checked in to the organisation. This can be achieved by automating dreary manual processes to free up their people with the power to think, create and innovate.
As an example, we (North Wind Digital) have a customer who is running two robots that automate 34 processes. That has freed up 20 staff members – not replaced them. Those people are now able to focus on creative problem solving, digital transformation and stepping into customers’ shoes to find ways to make the business better.
There’s certainly an upfront investment to Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but the idea that automation can offer you 20 additional pairs of hands – and 20 brains which have been freed from mindless manual processes such as checking invoices and performing repetitive tasks to make the business better, should excite any company!
Cost reduction is a strategic driver for any profit making organisation and yet almost every company is losing money because the business isn’t operating at the level it was, pre-pandemic. So instead of hunkering down and waiting it out, why not use the time to automate the processes you can, and apply people’s time to more productive and creative tasks.
Two decades ago, ERP customers demanded that partners modify the systems to suit the businesses existing processes. A decade ago, the maxim was to standardise business processes to get the best out of systems. Adopt the standard system processes and adapt the business to suit this in order to minimise customisation, vendor lock-in and reliance on external support. RPA now allows us to put robots to work in any environment and drive throughput without changing the underlying support systems.
In terms of driving efficiency, one of the most exciting areas that is ripe for automation is the public sector. An example of where automation could play a role is safeguarding against potential corruption. Yes, now I really do have your attention! Automating the tender process could remove a level of sticky-fingered human element, with a robot having no allegiances to anyone outside the process. An automated process can also be a means for potentially picking up discrepancies such as out-of-whack pricing by reading off a publicly-accepted database of approved costs for items.
As we collectively rebuild the economy, the public sector should be providing a safe environment for people to do business, shored up by RPA which removes the opportunity to break the rules and make the process ironclad.
RPA in the public sector can also encourage people to do their jobs better and maximise citizens’ time being productive. It’s almost impossible to calculate how many hundreds of thousands of work hours are lost to standing in queues to access public sector services. Dreary tasks such as renewals of licenses and permits, the payment of grants – even name changes – are processes which could have elements automated. When deploying RPA solutions it is unlike the deployment of major systems. RPA is essentially a process change supporting the use of the systems The beauty of RPA is the way that it can be integrated. We just need one DG who’s passionate enough about their processes and the people they serve to make a local change. It removes cumbersome approval processes and cuts out another layer of entrepreneurship. It also doesn’t remove an employee from the equation – it frees them up to oversee the process and find new avenues to do other parts of their job, better.
I subscribe to the 20-hour work week. I’d love to spend more time learning to play the guitar better, and getting more quality time with my kids. If you can automate processes and deliver at the same – or at a better level – to what you can when you were devoting 160 hours a week to work, and have a life, why wouldn’t you? We need more ‘lazy’ people to reimagine the world – get stuff done with automation, and then spend more time on the things we love..