As the coronavirus crisis unfolds around the world and in our communities, it will likely increase the demand for certain business services, while causing labour shortages for others. Call centres are overwhelmed because anxious consumers are looking for answers to response and impact of the virus or trying to change travel plans.
This has resulted in long wait times and dropped connections, preventing callers from getting help when they need it most. At the same time, call centres are understaffed because agents have called in sick or are unequipped to work remotely.
Businesses now face two crises: unpredictable spikes in demand for services and the need to prepare for a possible economic recession.
But one aspect remains crucial: How do organisations survive lockout and curfew situations. There are really three aspects to this.
- Allow staff to work remotely, with security around applications and data
- Manage business as usual, with little or no impact on business
- Allow essential service teams to provide their services, with efficiency as close as possible to proximity
The immediate challenge that we see for all of us, as well as for our customers and partners, is the shift to entirely remote workforces, as we follow all the guidelines presented by the World Health Organisation, as well as by governments and medical agencies around the world, to practice social distancing and/or stay at home. There are a few silent automation proposals to enable organisations during these times:
Enable remote work
This is by far one of the biggest challenges that most organisations have faced. From the identification of non-essential staff, providing them with the appropriate assets, tools and technology to collaborate and guarantee staff productivity has taken up a lot of bandwidth for managers.
For perspective, in India, less than 50% of the workforce needing to work on computers owns a laptop for remote working. Many public sector organisations are required to facilitate internet connection for their employees to enable them to provide work. Business continuity planning reaction teams need to address these pressing ground challenges.
In addition to this activation, these teams monitor, support and facilitate collaboration, with adequate security protocols for data and applications. During the epidemic of this magnitude, when response time must be measured in hours and minutes, it is a herculean task for response teams to allow people to be empowered. In this context, automation remains very relevant:
- Setting up remote workstations. This includes registration included for new equipment, VPN configuration, linking of employee IDs with registration numbers.
- Creation of a secure service delivery model while working remotely or in a distributed distribution model and monitoring access and health of the application
- Compilation/delivery of daily communication on Covid-19 to all employees, authorisation and status for senior management
- Employee engagement and employee health monitoring through daily surveys and aggregation and publication of results
- Update managers regularly about their teams
Manage business as usual
The usual business sentiment is weak. Many companies are unable to cope with the drop in demand. Employee absenteeism and/or unavailability of the required systems/tools delays usual processes. On the other hand, there is a sharp increase in demand from the essential products and services sectors.
There is a breakdown of toilet paper and manufacturers are having trouble supplying retailers, and retailers have no employees to put it on the shelves. The government is struggling with increasing processing of requests for increased demand for food stamps. Airlines and hotels have phones that ring 24 hours a day for cancellations and reschedules. Insurance claims have increased.
There is so much for organisations to run the business as usual during lockdown: Accelerated hiring for frontline workers using automated claim processing and background checks, or to engage with the external partners for the business transactions as usual.
- Use bots to conduct financial processes such as accounts payable, account reconciliation and debt management, and salary processing, with limited hands available to handle exceptions
- Bots used to process an increased volume of transactions, such as orders, invoices, WH operations, IT operations, and HR operations
- Expand the customer support team to respond to simple queries like rescheduling, order status, etc, which reduces anxiety with customers
- Bots can help maintain rapid proactive communication with customers / partners
- Bots can process insurance claims at a rapid pace, distinguishing the exceptions to be handled by agents
- Bots can speed up the testing process by automatically running multiple scenarios, thereby speeding up time to market for new and essential products
- The automated KYC process can help accelerate the integration of new customers and highlight compliance issues
Think about it, a Covid-19 assistant at play: an army of bots that interacts with different government and public sector authorities to aggregate patient data, and thus trigger resources in the right direction, enabling hospitals/laboratories to integrate test results with EHR systems, physicians may be allowed to estimate patient volumes, and hospitals may establish quarantine facilities as required. Organisations engaged in manufacturing and providing essential services can request and obtain valid movement passes for the required employees, and doctors can do a remote patient examination and diagnosis.
- Organisations can identify critical roles and agencies can automate personnel verification and activate valid movement pass, as required
- Speed up patient diagnosis, automate Covid-19 test results for laboratories/hospitals and allow data entry into the EHR system
- Bots can help pharmaceutical companies automate clinical trial data entry across systems and teams
- Agencies can use bots to centralise multilingual data entry for areas affected by Covid-19
- Health care providers and doctors can use automation to schedule and manage remote patient consultations and subsequent data updates for greater security and higher throughput
During these periods, the concept of automation, bot or “digital worker” is more relevant than ever. Digital workers are immune to viruses. They can be cloned with little or no effort, and they can be productive from day one.
Work roles that have high repetitive work are sensitive to speed, prone to errors and tasks with irregular work demands are good candidates for a digital worker. They can perform various tasks or roles, such as computer tester, supply chain planner, purchasing manager, category managers, insurance brokers, customer service agents, and IT support executives. This allows people to work remotely, thus respecting the need for social distancing.
Bots can present a significant solution during these testing times. It is up to leaders to support the challenges they face and find solutions in the automation stack.
Mayank Jain, vice-president, automation, ITC Infotech.
This article first appeared on Quartz.