The COVID-19 pandemic has painted a sharp performance contrast between companies that are digitally mature and those that are not. These distinctions are likely to grow even sharper in the period following the global health crisis, with some companies permanently crossing into the world of intelligent process automation – necessitated during the lockdown by furloughs, remote work, a rise in cyber attacks, and a higher work volume in some instances – and others struggling to keep up without the benefit of automated processes.
Nobody wants to be in the left-behind group, presumably, but companies are often not sure how intelligent process automation (or IPA) will benefit them in the long term – or what it takes to implement it. In addition to increased efficiency, IPA can help companies manage their costs better and increase resilience for future “black swan” events. More to the point, by implementing IPA now, companies will be better prepared if the recovery is slower than expected or if a second wave of the pandemic makes lockdowns necessary again.
Driven by Demand
Businesses of all types and functions should be investigating automated processes. We’ve seen organizations implement IPA across all areas of the business, including finance, accounting, HR, supply chain, IT, compliance and legal, to name a few.
Organizations also need to think about how both employee and consumer behavior and expectations have changed. Customers are now expecting digital solutions, contactless pay options and direct product shipping.
Similarly, employees are working from home for the foreseeable future and require different systems and support to do their jobs effectively. Many teams have been forced to work with reduced headcount due to furloughs and layoffs. IPA can be applied to help reduce the workload of these skeleton crews and allow them to keep up with demand.
How Organizations Are Leveraging IPA: Two Examples
In one case, a company leaned on IPA during the pandemic to handle data access requests. Due to COVID-19, most of the provisioning team was laid off, and the two employees who remained were completely swamped by the increased workload. To alleviate the problem, bots were put in place to triage and process requests so that only the most complex requests would be sent to the human employees. After implementing automation features, the small team was able to keep up with their workload, and the company had a long-term solution to keep operations lean and employees supported.
Elsewhere, a small regional bank deployed IPA in loan processing, allowing it to compete effectively with larger organizations. When Small Business Association (SBA) loans became available to businesses affected by COVID-19, demand for these loans skyrocketed. The small bank realized that the application process was too resource-heavy; it required days of manual effort from multiple staffers and the management of more than 50 data points. This affected its ability to meet the demand from its customers. The executives of the regional bank didn’t think automating loan processing would be possible, but they sent an inquiry to Protiviti anyway.
We implemented an automated solution using UiPath. Machine learning was also used to ensure the input data was structured and of high quality, which greatly improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. The solution was in the bank’s hands within three days. As a result, the small bank was able to capture a percentage of the SBA loans – comparable with what the big national banks were doing. Not only was this beneficial for the bank’s business, but it also got money into the hands of small business owners faster.
Focus on Business Outcomes
To realize the full IPA potential, there needs to be a holistic, business-driven approach. We’ve applied intelligent automation solutions across multiple industries and in many different business functions and have found that those solutions are most successful and fully embraced by the company when they drive business outcomes.
Many organizations are now at a stage where the priority is to increase revenue while retooling the business in a way that is better prepared for the future. To that end, business leaders need to convene and assess what aspects of the business can be automated quickly so that revenue can begin to flow.
Curious organizations can approach the implementation of IPA solutions via a partnership with expert firms as well as continued education on emerging technologies that increase resilience and efficiency. Such conversations are likely to deliver insight into how the technology can be applied to specific outcomes with bottom-line impact. We’re currently hosting the Enterprise Resilience Webinar Series to help organizations respond to the current demands and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies can sign up here to receive access to timely and practical information over the coming weeks.
IPA – A Key Investment for the Future
Intelligent process automation does require an investment of time and resources – but the long-term benefits are well worth the effort. Digital leaders already know that. Those that are not there yet should move quickly. While this push to embrace automation may seem like an added burden right now, once implemented, those companies will be poised and ready to thrive in the medium- and long-term future.