With the global COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of process automation for the resilience and innovative strength of companies seems to have taken on a completely different significance than was the case just a few months ago. Abruptly, the loss of key personnel triggered by the lockdown has made many companies aware of the fragility of manual business processes. But although process automation is the logical expression of digitization, many companies are still very concerned and afraid to automate existing and functioning processes, even if this would be, at least in many cases, much more efficient.

Many company management boards, which had been frustratingly slow in pushing these processes forward for several years, will now have increasingly been aghast that they have not invested more time and money in process automation in the past. And this despite the fact that a quick glance into the history books would have been enough to see that even a good 100 years ago, when assembly line work was introduced in the automotive industry, many companies had more than slight doubts about this new technology. It seems almost superfluous to note that those who were already convinced of this innovation back then (such as Henry Ford) and took the risk, quickly became the dominators and long-time “big players” in their industry. So this innovation had revolutionized an entire industry.

A good century later, a new paradigm shift seems inevitable and has long been necessary. The benefits and advantages of process automation on the resilience and innovative power of companies can be too great. Not only the current pandemic is gradually making it clear that this could be one of the key elements of a successful digitization strategy.

Resilient systems are flexible, agile systems, and in today’s fast-moving world, they are an enormous advantage, if not a must, not only to survive, but also to stay ahead of the market. Intelligent automation such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) offers opportunities to transfer repetitive, time-consuming and often laborious tasks from humans to technology, thus freeing up capacity that can be used to deal with higher-value or more complex issues instead. To use de facto valuable resources alternatively and thus achieve greater value generation.

Here is a small and non-exhaustive overview of the advantages for companies and employees:

Benefits for companies:

  • efficiency increases significantly (24/7 availability)
  • reduction of the error rate (increase in quality)
  • continuity
  • a plus in data-sensitive areas such as healthcare
  • tends to be very suitable for scaling
  • cost reductions
  • flexibility
  • creating new, more attractive jobs that did not exist until now and for which human skills are much more important

Benefits for employees:

  • more attractive work tasks
  • increased appreciation
  • more interactions on a human level (i.e. customer service can be greatly improved)
  • strategic thinking
  • creative work
  • focus on really important work

This can be illustrated, for example, by the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin. There, RPA can pass on the results of the COVID-19 test within a few minutes, massively reducing the administrative workload and saving several hours per day. Without RPA, the staff would spend hours passing on reports from the laboratory systems, as there are many other tests to process in addition to the COVID-19 results. With this significant time saving, the nursing staff can now be deployed on the frontline to help fight the pandemic on the patients.

Another recent example is at Israel’s largest healthcare provider, Maccabi Healthcare Systems. In order to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, rapid transmission of test results is essential, but this was not possible due to the manual upload of documents. This resulted in weeks of backlogs. With RPA, the huge amounts of data are now uploaded in a fraction of the time previously required, patients can be treated promptly and lives can be saved.

It is evident that process automation has a positive influence on the resilience of these companies and not only has medium and long-term benefits, but also short-term (vital) benefits. Employees are more flexible and can concentrate on more complex, non-standard tasks, which in turn can benefit the company as they feel more valued and important.

This can also strengthen the innovative power of a company. With the emphasis on “can”, because this is where other important factors come into play as well. The capacities freed up by process automation alone and the tendency for employees to have a different drive are of course not yet sufficient for this. Innovation in itself seems to be far more complex. But it they are certainly essential enablers that can be more or less controlled. In addition, it is important to reward or at least support unconventional thinkers with new ideas, even if they cannot be implemented directly. They must feel that the search for new ways to do things in the company is desired and that they are not immediately sanctioned if they fail. More and more people should be aware by now that for long-term success it is not enough to limit oneself to optimizing existing processes, but that innovation is the key to success. This includes process, product and social innovations.

In the future and in the face of further possible extraordinary events, such as the current COVID 19 pandemic, process automation can therefore have a positive and important impact on the resilience and innovative strength of a company.