COVID-19: how automation can keep your business running

Chris Porter
- Leadership - Apr 24, 2020

Chris Porter, CEO of NexBotix, explains how automation can help keep businesses running amidst the current outbreak of COVID-19.

In the current crisis, businesses are having to navigate through unchartered territory. For the UK, scientists who are advising the government's response have said some of the measures are likely to be needed until the end of May or early June. 

With this in mind, workforces are being trusted to do things remotely and furloughing their staff to protect jobs and the business for the future. Around half of Britain's companies are expecting to furlough most of their staff at a cost of up to £40 billion to the Treasury. This is a lot higher than the 10% that the government initially expected would take up the job retention scheme, at a cost of around £10 billion.

Whilst some industries have seen operations slow down, change or ground to a halt completely, others such as supermarkets and online retailers, have seen demand skyrocket. Fundamentally keeping businesses operationally functioning, whether it be supporting the front-line fight against Covid-19 or just trying to keep the lights on till this nightmare is over, is at the forefront of our minds. 

Whilst some might be dealing with a high volume of calls, such as NHS 111 answering 390,000 in the first week of March, or banks inundated with consumer and business relief requests, others are navigating how to change and adapt to the ‘new working’ life.  

Ultimately, to avoid being at breaking point, businesses need to determine what costs are unavoidable, what 'holes’ can be plugged, what the company needs to achieve, and how can we protect the business and employees. 

For organisations experiencing influxes in demand, for many hiring more people is not an option so how can businesses make sure vital business processes run smoothly regardless of the status of their workforce? Employees become increasingly isolated and face the hugely daunting task to keep the business running for the foreseeable future. In some organisations, full departments are being stripped back, whilst in others, they have skeleton teams to man the fort. How can the skeleton teams on the ground ensure business continuity and make sure that the lights stay on for when the rest of the team return? 

In a lot of cases, skeleton teams are being spread thinly to cover critical operations and departments. Having said that, these teams are feeling the strain further, when employees fall victim to the virus and have to stop working. With demand outweighing the resource on the ground, many organisations are turning to technology to help unburden the teams they have currently working. But is there another way?

According to EY, nearly half of the top bosses in 45 countries across the world are speeding up plans to automate their businesses as workers are forced to stay at home. Hospitals, supermarkets and other essential services are using automation during the pandemic to support workload, contributing to the boom in an already rapidly growing market, according to industry analysts

Businesses are facing mounting cost pressures and so do not have the budget to embark on big transformational projects which will take a year to 18 months to deliver results.  Solutions are needed that will see results quickly without the headache of required resources, time and long lag times to see it come to life. Businesses just cannot afford to make mistakes and pour money into projects which will not yield quantifiable results.

The upfront costs of buying RPA software and having the people to manage the system can leave organisations in a catch-22 situation. However, in light of the pandemic, pay as you go models are being introduced, so organisations are paying for “robot” hours for when the bots are processing data. This removes the risks and costs traditionally associated with a typical RPA delivery. 

RPA-as-a- Service solutions are available with plug-in capabilities which can trigger rapid deployments for key critical business processes, making it one less thing for a company to worry about. Using ‘remote’ discovery workshops to uncover processes which can be automated will ensure money is being invested towards operations which will drive the business forward. If done right, businesses can see processes automated in as little as one week, resulting in 30% cost savings and delivering ROI within a month.

A problem shared is a problem halved. By creating a collaborative, co-bot environment, employees can scale up and down resources according to demand in a more flexible way. As we step into the next phase of the pandemic, automation can be the saving grace before a second wind of furloughing action is taken.

Despite living in a time of great uncertainty, one thing that is for certain is that coronavirus has sped up the evolution of work. For many companies, having so many employees working remotely is completely new and something employees yearned for. We now face a new way of working, whether this be contact centre agents with make-shift offices, conference call meetings or moving infrastructure to the cloud, it will never be the same again. 

Companies need to radically rethink how they operate and embrace innovation going forward, which has already drastically changed the future of work. It has prompted discussions for companies to reconsider the need for office space, work trips and whether they would be able to continue business as usual in “normal” business circumstances. 

Once economies across the globe start to recover and countries relax lockdown restrictions, we will see more of these discussions on revamping business operations and future proofing workforces. But will it be too late? 

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