Indian industries such as manufacturing, construction, retail, and mining are realigning strategic objectives based on recent reports that the nation’s GDP has shrunk by 23.9% in Q1 of 2020. The global Covid-19 pandemic has led to drops in consumption across various sectors, and the road to recovery will be tough and arduous. India is not the only nation to be facing a sudden and unprecedented recession, but it must leverage its unique strengths and long-term objectives to boost demand and drive positive economic growth.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has stated that “businesses using cloud computing will not buckle under the pressure of the pandemic”. It recommends further investment in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen business resilience and resuscitate demand for goods and services. In fact, even in pre-pandemic times, enterprises with robust automation in place were more resilient and agile. ‘The new normal’ has highlighted this, and has given digital-first mantras a difficult testing ground. Companies that have previously integrated automation solutions are finding themselves in an advantageous position.

Industries as diverse as finance, healthcare, retail, public services, and more are undergoing seismic changes. Whether they are being reformed, restructured or removed, intelligent automation has a critical role to play. While it’s natural that larger businesses can cope with this situation better as smaller companies struggle to stay afloat or profitable, automation can level the playing ground. Simply put, intelligent automation gives all companies an equal footing and opportunity for economic recovery. It can reshape consumption, productivity, supply, and internal HR policies, irrespective of industry nature or size.

Benefits of automation in reshaping an economy

Automation that uses software bots can push business productivity with less than one-year payback, on average. By reducing the frequency of manual intervention, and eliminating the reliance on face-to-face interactions between humans, automation becomes a conduit for business resiliency. In fact, automation allows production to scale or shrink in response to demand in real-time, and automation platforms can even make business decisions independently. In cases where human intervention is necessary, platforms can enable this through the tap of a button on smartphones or workstations.

If we look at insurance, healthcare, banking, manufacturing or even retail in particular, we find a large chunk of paper trails. Efficiency, customer service, and competitiveness have in the past often relied on paper trails. Now, with employees working from home and facing restricted movement, intelligent automation can streamline and manage these paper trails. AI-enabled automation can sort through semi-structured or unstructured data and remove existing limitations on data extraction from documents.

This can speed post-pandemic recovery, allowing companies to return to ‘business as usual’ and augment straight-through processing rate.

Automation can also positively impact customer and employee satisfaction. By optimising customer experiences while protecting client data, automation platforms can dramatically improve an employee’s daily productivity. It can enable customer service and procurement employees to perform routine tasks with far greater efficiency and accuracy. Additionally, automation technology can seamlessly integrate with third-party tools which can make accounting and payroll tasks simpler with less human intervention. It’s commonly accepted knowledge now that robotic process automation (RPA) components within such processes boost business objectives and ensure that an enterprise can continue operations smoothly.

Currently, enterprises are primarily focussing on surviving the scenario and sustaining workforce and operations. But companies will also need to invest in technologies to speed up recovery. Intelligent automation is expected to feature high on that list as it will become a boardroom-driven strategy, requiring buy-in from business and IT teams together.

Changing skills in an automation-led recovery

The post-pandemic business world is looking increasingly different and there is acceptance of work-from-anywhere, a rise of the gig economy and a renewed consideration of human emotions at the workplace. This is reshaping HR policies as well as business operations. Automation is a key factor in each of these shifts, as enterprises are increasingly turning to bots to work alongside humans in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.

Some industries are also witnessing paradigm shifts as demand contraction is leading to a situation of ‘excess talent’. Enterprises are, thus, giving their workers the platform to upskill themselves and focus on more creative and value-addition tasks. From a technical viewpoint, basic coding skills, communication and collaboration skills, and the ability to innovate novel products is something employees are focussing on. In these instances, automation also has a critical role to play.

The changes are not limited to middle or lower management. Approaching the post-pandemic workplace is also leading the strategic layer of enterprises, including the top leadership and C-level executives, to get actively involved in the technological transformation of business operations. With the importance of leveraging technology in operating models becoming clearer, seismic changes in the mindset and skills of employees regarding technology are fuelling the post-pandemic recovery.

In boardrooms across the country, digital transformation has become more important than ever. RPA and intelligent automation have become more visible and their benefits more widely accepted. To fuel post-pandemic recovery, intelligent automation is one of the most potent weapons that enterprises can turn to. It can boost efficiency, customer retention, and brand visibility. The post-Covid-19 world will look very different, and how well companies leverage data in this era will determine their relevance and importance.

Views are personal. The author is executive vice president-India, Middle East and Africa, Automation Anywhere.

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