Automation can maximise efficiency in times of crisis

By: Daniel Robus, Go-To-Market Executive at North Wind Digital

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails…” H. Jackson Brown jnr.

If we, for a moment, liken our clients to sailing ships at sea, then it could be said that the current crisis has resulted in a state of no wind: business is in the doldrums. Every breath of wind needs to be harnessed so that we can help businesses move forward. We need to ensure that businesses who emerge from this are wiser, leaner and more effective.

What we know for certain is that the COVID-19 crisis is not going to be short-lived –  people are going to lose jobs and the way we work will be changed irrevocably. The news is not good. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, global health services are already under enormous pressure and Africa is holding its breath for the wave to hit in earnest. 

Already the economic impact of isolation is being felt. The obvious victims are tourism and travel, but related services – which are quite often small to medium business – are being smashed. In my small circle of friends I see entertainers, caterers, events organisers and photographers with zero work. Nothing. These businesses are having to make drastic changes, and the first is downsizing. 

For organisations that can still operate, the way of working has changed drastically with a significant number of staff working remotely, up and down the value chain. 

The opportunity now is to examine your business processes more critically. 

Can this process be automated?

The introduction of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) offers significant benefit to business and could be the means for keeping the doors open and limiting the need to lose staff. In a nutshell, RPA can be used to emulate a person by executing manual, repetitive tasks, allowing the business to reallocate staff to more pressing areas.

The business decision-making is guided by established rules set by management and the RPA solution will seamlessly integrate with existing business applications. 

An RPA solution can accelerate business transformation without losing the human touch, for both employees and customers – whilst reducing the risk of tasks being overlooked or forgotten. The cost-saving of RPA is also a vital component in times like these, with 20-60% reduction in costs allowing you to spend money on other parts of the business that can’t be automated.

RPA bots can be used to perform multiple tasks, which also offers the opportunity to increase productivity. The automation of repetitive manual interventions or the integration of multiple systems can deliver benefits across many facets of the business. Think of the finance function, alone – bringing in RPA can assist with accounts receiveable, accounts payable, finance and accounting, journals, bank reconciliation and much more.  The bot can target discount parameters and alert you to the benefits of paying at a specific time or ordering a specific quantity to maximise discounts and service – helping save money, time and keeping the business on track.

While RPA really shines when it comes to automating repetitive tasks, the applications are endless. If you think a process can’t be automated, try it. If it turns out it can’t, then the bot can be deployed to another area of business while you put your best people onto that critical task, rather than having them filling in spreadsheets and tracking payments. If the process is too complicated to automate, it’s time to think about why your business is implementing such complex processes. Are there ways to simplify them, or use RPA to complete elements of them?

It doesn’t take months to get RPA up and running. It’s a question of days or weeks, depending on the complexity – the learning curve isn’t steep for an agile deployment approach. If the implementation doesn’t work, the bot can be reconfigured to tackle other tasks instead. This quick deployment delivers quick results too – where it previously took 3-6 days to process an invoice, a bot can resolve in minutes – and keep working 24/7.

The cost and time savings delivered by RPA might mean you don’t have to retrench staff members at a challenging time for the global economy. Free up time, reduce costs and keep your doors open until the world returns to something approaching ‘normal’.

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that – it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel

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