Stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 crisis forced employees worldwide to transition to remote work with little notice or preparation. This new virtual work situation has presented challenges for every organization, but none have been more affected than those using paper-based or manual processes.
Over 70% of organizations still rely on manual and paper-based processes, according to a recent report from Forrester, COVID-19 Remote Work Just Broke Your Processes: Here's What to Do About It.
"Fully or partially manual processes only function when workers and physical files are located in the same place," writes Forrester. "That's why millions of people working from home has resulted in complete breakdowns of key operations for enterprises that depend on manual processes."
Suddenly, employees and enterprise leaders have been left scrambling to solve new COVID workplace challenges. Forrester lists many examples of broken processes, including municipalities with paper-based parking fee systems, medical practices struggling to support patients because they're still using paper records, and an insurance company that noticed a lag in decision making processes before they moved their collaboration online.
Amidst all this, enterprise leaders who are already strained trying to automate manual processes and maintain efficiency are now starting to plan for a safe return of employees to on-site work. These transitions will be incredibly complex. HR professionals and crisis management teams have to consider a number of factors including health and risk screenings for every employee, whether different roles can be done remotely, corporate policies, and a variety of national and regional regulations.
The good news: Strategic automation can help both for solving immediate COVID workplace challenges and for setting a foundation for faster, more agile processes.
"When manual processes break, technology helps rescue them."Forrester
Teams that can no longer rely on paper files and manual processes need online tools to be instantly available at their fingertips. For example, consider a healthcare application to track patient communications. A low-code, rapid process automation (RPA) platform accelerates the development and deployment of purpose-built applications like this.
With drag-and-drop functionality and built-in collaboration tools, a low-code platform can help business experts themselves quickly build and deploy applications across their newly virtual enterprises. Systems that were previously manual can now finally be streamlined and secured, offering enterprise-wide visibility for personnel management (including credentialing, licensure, onboarding, and retention); governance, risk, and compliance; and payments, claims, and appeals across the revenue cycle. Visibility across your organization gets better as data silos become a thing of the past and everyone gets access to a single source of truth.
The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on countless processes that no longer function in a virtual work environment, including paper-based processes. Many organizations have already started to digitize their documentation. But even then, it often takes a human-driven manual process to analyze stacks of digitized documents. In this new virtual work environment, you must reduce your dependency on manual work wherever you can.
Artificial intelligence and intelligent documentation processing solutions can help streamline once-manual processes. Instead of manually parsing and sorting digitized documents, you can automate that process with AI and only bring in a human when needed.
For example, consider invoicing. Every vendor's invoice may contain similar data (invoice number, subtotals, payment information). But some are in Word, others in PDF, and they're all formatted differently. Manually turning every digital invoice into referenceable data is time intensive and error prone. But with an AI solution, documents can be analyzed and processed automatically, with only complex questions requiring a human for review. And because the AI tool gets smarter over time through machine learning, even if one of your vendors changes their invoice format, it will learn and grow with you. Having AI in your toolkit means you can take tribal knowledge and digitize it, putting it into an algorithm that's repeatable and helps you move faster.
The idea of automating complex manual processes can seem daunting. But, as Forrester points out, many organizations may be closer than they think.
"Many [enterprises] have already deployed platforms for digital process automation (DPA), low-code software development, robotic process automation (RPA), and collaborative work management (CWM)," writes Forrester. Because many of these platforms are built to be used by business experts instead of tech experts, organizations can get up and running incredibly quickly. If you have a low-code, DPA, or CWM platform already, "apply it aggressively now," urges Forrester.
It's also important to remember that, for a coronavirus management application, something is better than nothing. "Assume a messy response that improves with time," writes Forrester. "The goal is restoring operations, not achieving elegance and perfection."
No one expected to face all these challenges at once, and no organization wants to be forced to automate complex processes in a matter of weeks. But if there's a silver lining, it may be that all this disruption is laying the groundwork for the long-term digital transformation your organization has always planned to do.
"Radical and immediate automation will teach your organization new lessons in software design, development, and delivery," according to Forrester. "Some lessons will be painful, but the new skills, processes, and technologies you adopt will help you achieve strategic goals."
Now is the time to build your automation foundation. Digitize key records. Make sure they're secure. And get a platform for low-code development. "Simply put, you need a foundation for rapid process automation now," Forrester recommends. "If you lack a platform, go get one."