Since the disruption of the pandemic upended our normal mode of business, many companies have been pushed to rethink and reprioritize their technology investments —especially as they cope with the realities of the new normal. Before the crisis, automating manual, paper-based business processes and digitization were somewhere on companies’ to-do lists. Now, these initiatives have jumped right up to the top of the itinerary.
An increased focus on technology-fueled innovation is one of the central themes that emerged in a recent Harris Poll survey of business leaders in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, a study commissioned by K2. Across regions, 92% of business leaders believe that companies must implement digital channels and process automation in the workplace to survive the current climate, as well as drive ongoing success moving forward.
Many will, however, agree that setting goals is far easier than putting them into action; and the path from prioritizing digital innovation to realizing tangible benefits can be a rocky one.
The survey found that as many as 86% of businesses face one or more key barriers to process automation. And many of these obstacles were tripping organizations up well before the virus outbreak. Sticking points include the complexity of process automation and a lack of skills to navigate this challenge, limited budgets and internal resistance to change.
New pressures have emerged
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot more complexity and many more obligations into the mix. With 80% of organizations facing challenges they have never come up against before, resources are being stretched thinner than many could have imagined.
Automating pandemic-related processes include:
- COVID-19 testing
- Safety equipment and resource tracking
- Outbreak response planning
- Sanitation tracking
- Employee self-screening
- Visitor screening
- Worker compliance tracking
- Worker proximity tracking
And beyond this long list of new virus-mitigation requirements, organizations also need to keep operations running smoothly and efficiently in an entirely new type of working environment. Due to lockdowns, social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders, business leaders have had to adjust to managing a remote workforce—as well as rush to find the tools and strategies to power virtual productivity. Given the rapid pace of disruption, only half (51%) of the survey respondents said they were “very prepared” to address task management for a remote workforce.
While process automation has been a cross-industry focal point for some time, the upheaval experienced since the outbreak has spurred a shift in mind-set. Eighty-eight percent of business leaders agree that a significant consequence of the pandemic is a growing need for process automation. With the right tools and strategies in place, companies can improve processes, drive down costs, provide more value for customers and face the future with greater agility.
It’s therefore important to understand the progress organizations have made on their process automation journeys; and how far they still need to go.
The survey revealed that many companies are still in the early phases of automation, which means teams are still dependent on manual processes to get work done. This is not ideal, given that manual approaches and distributed workforces do not gel.
While adoption rates vary across regions—with US-based organizations having automated a greater proportion of business processes than those in the UK and Germany—on average, only 51% of business processes are automated.
Drilling down further, across regions:
- 9% have automated content management systems only
- 18% have automated simple workflow or electronic forms
- 28% have implemented business process automation for human-based tasks
- 22% have implemented business process automation combining human-centric tasks, robotic process automation and business intelligence to drive continuous process improvement
- 22% have implemented machine-based automation utilizing AI, machine learning, loT and/or chatbots to drive company-wide digital transformation and efficiency
Ambitions going forward
While it is clear that many organizations are just beginning to tap into the potential business value that process automation can offer, there is a general consensus that it’s critical to step up the number of processes that are digitized or automated over the next 12 months.
On average, companies are planning to scale up automation initiatives by 20%. And, encouragingly, this upward momentum is largely driven by those in the initial phases of automation. Overall, business leaders have made it clear that process automation is a strategy for business resilience and gaining a competitive advantage as the world begins to emerge from the crisis.
Finally, while it can be overwhelming to focus on new technologies and process transformation now when there is so much to adjust to—it is critical to recognize that slow and inefficient manual ways of working are no longer viable.
Those who are willing to welcome change and build organizational cultures that support innovation are more likely to chart a path through these choppy waters with ease and confidence.
To learn more about the Harris Poll survey results, download the Accelerating Automation: How Businesses are Adapting to a Post-COVID World white paper.