Why RPA is a game changer in the post-Covid era

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused waves of disruption for the vast majority of companies in one way or another, forcing them to prioritise digitalisation. Taking advantage of emerging technologies has been critical to business response, with robotic process automation (RPA) proving to be a recession-proof saviour for business continuity. Automation coupled with machine learning and artificial intelligence are enabling more sophisticated solutions across all industries. With an influx of claims and inquiries pouring in from customers, business leaders – grappling with the challenges of running a disperse workforce – have opened their eyes to the importance of transformation. They have turned to RPA to enable the handling of new claim types with automation, as new procedure codes are being created as a result of the global pandemic. It has heightened the need for greater operational capacity as resources are at capacity, and it looks like use of RPA is set to continue post-Covid.

It’s estimated that the world has now seen more digital transformation in the past few months than in the preceding five years, with almost half of global businesses planning to increase RPA spend in the next twelve months. As recession continues to bite, organisations should be re-evaluating their approach to integrating RPA, and amplifying their automated support systems in order to strengthen a resilient human and machine workforce.

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Boosting employee productivity in the age of automation

During a pandemic, resources are scarce and margins are tight, and the automation of manual tasks can serve to streamline workflow for low-staffed enterprises, and grant companies the flexibility to improve scalability, both up and down. Contrary to popular opinion, RPA is not just a means of reducing headcount, but an effective technology to complement the skills of the human workforce, and make their jobs more meaningful by handling more value-add complex work.

Employees often have to sacrifice valuable time on low-value, repetitive tasks, including form filling, data analysis, and database writing – having a direct impact on productivity, and taking time away from more meaningful, customer-facing work. There remains certain emotionally rewarding work, such as handling sensitive calls with distressed customers, which technology simply cannot achieve alone.

Additionally, RPA can be easily and quickly integrated into existing systems at a minimal cost – helping industries remain operational in any circumstance. Traditional firms in customer-facing sectors, including retail and banking, are often burdened with inflexible mainframe legacy systems, resulting in manual and labour-intensive processes, and have the most to gain from harnessing the power of RPA post-Covid.

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Barriers to preventing companies making better use of automation

Globally, an astonishing 30-50% of initial RPA projects fail to get past the pilot phase or proof of concept. Despite the transformational capabilities the technology brings, many enterprises struggle with leveraging the necessary holistic change management approach to integrating the technology into the organisational structure.

Automation projects often misfire, after too much time is wasted on explaining and projecting what will get done. To avoid technicalities getting lost in translation between IT technicians and business leaders, establishing clear lines of communication is vital. Every business is different, and will require close alignment with people and current processes, overseen with effective leadership to communicate new initiatives. This will prove particularly important in the post-Covid era, where we will see a more permanent virtual workforce in need of consistent updates regarding process changes where RPA is being rolled out.

Effective implementation of RPA

To maximise the potential RPA has to transform business processes, it is critical for organisations to avoid jumping into automation without strategic planning. Leaders should take the time to review their overall business objectives before beginning transformation journeys, to ensure that the activities supporting the program generate the most value relative to effort. This approach ensures that the roadmap activities are prioritised given the overall value relative to benefit.

Asking the right questions is key, as well as understanding that certain tasks requiring the human touch should only be improved, not replaced. Organisations should attempt to select activities that, when automated, would result in a more efficient workflow. The key is to start from the bottom-up, and target the most simple, repetitive tasks first. By automating from the back-office through to the front, the most common sources of friction – such as email verifications, loan approvals, and form filling – can be eliminated. The shift to paperless results in the delivery of an enhanced customer experience, allowing for more claims to be processed, errors to be reduced, and costs to be minimised – fostering customer loyalty.

Once implemented, RPA should be treated as an ongoing project so businesses can keep up with fast-evolving regulations, market dynamics, and technology innovations. Consistent appraisals and quality control is required to understand where they can ramp automation up or down, and carefully allocate resources in a paced way that avoids over-promising on delivery, or equally put teams under undue pressure.

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Future of work

Automation has now emerged as an invaluable asset for unlocking critical agility, resilience, and cost efficiencies as business leaders find their feet in uncharted market conditions. After months of workforce reduction and restructuring, now is the time for enterprises to plan ahead and invest in RPA solutions to help both remote and on-site employees adapt. Under such unpredictable labour market dynamics, RPA technology will help to mitigate unanticipated risks associated with hybrid staffing arrangements, and enable human agents to work collaboratively with data, wherever they may be.

Written by Monica Spigner, executive vice-president of business transformation at Teleperformance

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