Lessons learned about open automation from the pandemic

The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in healthcare, transportation, logistics and supply chains in our society. Complexity of interconnected infrastructure and the lack of flexibility when it comes to rapid change has confirmed fears that many organisations are not ready to handle a crisis proactively and with agility. Businesses have learned the hard way that the survival of an enterprise relies on its ability to adapt quickly. Organisations that relied upon manual processes with little digital technology support suffered the greatest in this recent Covid-19 pandemic.

If there is one key takeaway after going into full lockdown in a matter of days, it’s that digitalisation is increasingly determining the future winners and losers in business. We order groceries and food deliveries from mobile apps. We connect with friends, family members and colleagues virtually. We rely on online retailers to restock household supplies to minimise trips and exposure to the outside world. Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses either adapted or were excluded from this new normal in business operations.

Preparedness and resilience

For years, experts have been talking about how important it is to adapt your business model to stay ahead of the curve. Now, it’s a matter of survival.

In a matter of weeks, the pandemic has created dramatic workforce availability issues, created spikes in demand from customers, partners or suppliers, and issues around physical workplace accessibility. It forced companies to find a solution to all these challenges, and more, with pressure placed on IT teams to immediately solve these problems with technology. The world went entirely digital almost overnight.

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Today, as businesses globally slowly begin to return to our next ‘normal’, many are rightly anxious about reopening their doors. It’s a step into the unknown that’s creating a new wave of challenges. Businesses need solutions that will get their employees back to work safely. In addition, IT teams now have to manage and sustain employees working remotely and on-site. The question is, how do you achieve this when budgets are tight, revenues are threatened, and time is of the essence?

The weight of financial and cultural investment in legacy systems that underpin many business operations often means that throwing them out and starting again is just not practical. Organisations need new digital technologies to power business processes and automate manual tasks. We have seen over the past few months priorities of CIOs and IT decision makers have shifted dramatically. Many leaders experienced how digital preparedness and organisational resilience can shape the fate of their business. At Appian, we used our low-code automation platform to deploy several mission-critical applications in a matter of weeks in response to Covid-19. This included our homegrown Workforce Safety and CampusPass solutions to manage the safe return to business and schools, as well as our Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) solution.

Bouncing back with low-code agility

The immediate lesson learned is the importance of having IT systems built for speed and agility in place to quickly adapt business processes to new consumer interaction patterns. New modern, mobile-ready, intuitive, secure, and scalable solutions need to be delivered quickly. But, organisations still will miss the mark in initial digital responses to changing business conditions. No one knows how the world will evolve in this crisis, so digital solutions must be continuously adaptable to today’s volatile business environment. Modern low-code and automation platforms like Appian offer the adaptability and speed organisations need to respond to a crisis and recover quickly.

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To put this into perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early March when Appian was at a critical business juncture, hosting our global Appian World user conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Aside from the disruption of our 2020 business plans, Appian needed to quickly adapt to ensure the health and safety of our customers, partners, and employees.

In less than a week, Appian delivered our first digital solution for employees to report and track Covid-19 health incidents on the Appian low-code automation platform. This has now been brought to market as the Appian Workforce Safety and CampusPass solutions and is actively being used to track the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of employees and students across the globe. Since March though, Covid-19 governmental policies and recommendations have changed, and so digital solutions needed to adapt quickly to remain in compliance. In response, Appian further built contact tracing applications using timely self-reporting and case management and partnered with leading Covid-19 rapid testing provider EverlyWell to provide immediate access to at home test kits for employees and students.

A foundation for an unknown future

Amid the inevitable coronavirus recession, businesses are continuing to chart a course to digital transformation. But the pandemic won’t wait for organisations to adapt, and this should light a fire under business operations’ modernisation efforts everywhere. The stakes are higher than ever before.

For technology providers, it means being more efficient, building solutions that are agile, and won’t contribute to ever growing technical debt. The pandemic has exposed problems with important systems that many large organisations have relied on for decades. With modern business automation tools and approaches, organisations can work quickly to reinvent their business operations and erase the old operating model assumptions that are causing so many of today’s problems.

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The agility and automation potential enabled through a low-code automation platform has showcased the power for accelerating digital transformation. With businesses facing new challenges daily, automating processes are essential to adapt to our new normal while driving down operational costs.

The pandemic is a health crisis first, but it is an economic crisis as well. In this recession, as in every downturn, there are going to be winners and losers. Companies who get more aggressive about embracing low-code, business process management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) that co-exists with human workers will be better positioned to get ahead and stay ahead. We’ve just started a new decade, but low-code automation is how applications will be built in the future.

Written by Malcolm Ross, vice-president, product strategy at Appian

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