COVID-19 has impacted the world in ways never imagined before. From altering our work situation to affecting our personal lives, we are all engaged in a battle to combat the crisis. Businesses have been equally impacted, from severed supply chains, hampered procurement channels, burdened IT capacity to modified working style. To understand this better, we’ve conducted a joint survey with SSON for taking a deep dive into how the crisis has impacted businesses and what are the next steps initiated to ensure a future-proof strategy.

To conduct this survey, almost 200 organizations, headquartered around the globe, took the time to respond. Roughly 3/4 of respondents are corporates. Most claim global footprints, with half of the enterprise respondents having operations in APAC (including China and India), compared to 2/3 of BPO respondents.
Here are some insights:

What are your major Business Continuity Planning challenges?

What are you doing today to adapt your service delivery models to the current business environment?

Wanting to delve deeper into these findings, we conducted a video chat with Satish to discuss the survey findings in detail. A seasoned professional with over 20 years of experience, Satish Nair heads Digital Services at Infosys BPM, and is responsible for re-imagination of existing business processes and creation of New Services to help customers navigate their Digital journeys. He has successfully enabled enterprise to navigate their Automation journeys and has also seen some large enterprises exhibit resilience over these difficult times. Here is an excerpt to the interview which throws light on how enterprises are coping and what’s the way ahead.


In Conversation with Satish Nair

Satish: The past 6 to 8 weeks have seen extreme automation and digitization, coupled with a need for business resilience taking top priority within enterprises, leading to a handful of key learnings and solutions emerging to address a post-pandemic era leveraging automation.

  • Decision making: Employing decision-making through the lens of a business function goal or outcome and going beyond individual task-based automation. For example, reconciliations may be a best-use implementation case; however, the business impact may be negligible compared to focusing on the outcome of a closing process, which is critical.
  • End-to-end process view: The weakest link in an E2E process will be your point of failure. From a success perspective, you must look at the entire process and not a specific activity when considering automation, to achieve a better business outcome, beyond the focus on tactical effort reduction.
  • Speed and Agility: Businesses have a burning platform that necessitates fast decisions and implementations. What’s interesting is that we are experiencing enterprises shedding their inhibition rapidly to make a decision that had been stuck in the pipeline for months. It begs the question, what was holding up the decision in the first place? We also witness organizations that have already automated, weathering the situation much better.
  • Breaking the silos: A Businesses suffer by working in ring-fenced silos, creating disjointed environments that negatively impact decisions and implementations. It’s time we build joint task forces across Business and IT to drive digitization with the domain context and prioritization being provided by the business.
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness: Enterprises need to look beyond driving digitization only through the lens of efficiency. Instead, they need to consider the effectiveness of their actions. As in the case for one of our customers, it’s one thing to be efficient in paying suppliers; the focus now was to rapidly prioritize payments to many smaller suppliers that will retain them in business and evangelizing automation to do that. That’s not just about efficiency — it’s about the effectiveness and stakeholder experience.
Satish: In the past, most automation decisions were based on ROI or simply put — arbitrage. Outsourcing was all about “your mess for less,” and automation was “mess for lesser.” As a result, efficiency featured heavily in the calculation. Now that we’re considering resiliency as key criteria, it means we have to address the opportunity from a business mindset.

For example, Accounts Payable was one of the earliest back-office processes outsourced, requiring a significant workforce. In recent years, it appeared to present an excellent opportunity for automation, compared to more decision-oriented processes such as month-end closing. But the latter is business-critical, and the former is about squeezing extra efficiencies out of the process.

Organizations embarking on an automation journey have the opportunity to make a business impact and resiliency focused view beyond the short- term financial implications. Additionally, there is a potential to leverage the latest improvements with process discovery tools that provide a comprehensive view of the end-to-end business process to identify areas of automation.

Satish: One of the flaws in the past has been the piecemeal approach to digitization. For example, for a process cutting across the front, mid and back-office, the focus of automation was often on back-office activities. What COVID-19 has done is to put the spotlight on the fact that business impact is end-to-end, the new one office. Given that the process is only as resilient as its weakest link, there is an opportunity to take an end-to-end process view and leverage automation to link all three parts of the business

There are three key aspects I’d like to highlight.

  • The ability to correctly identify critical processes based on availability and scale: In IT, the concept of availability and scalability is clearly understood, unlike business services where the idea of high availability in critical processes is limited. BCP is a start but only relates to a small percentage of crucial processes. In an extended lockout, organizations need to sustain a broader range of processes. An automated environment is easy to scale, especially where cloud is the channel for deployment.
  • Ability to “change” and improve the speed to market: Given a basic bot infrastructure, if a process or part of it needs to change as per new business conditions, it’s relatively easy to implement. Bots can be programmed fast, compared to training people, which requires unlearning and new learning.

    A financial services client, for example, realized that the voice process was not able to support increased demand for customer service during COVID-19. This meant pushing voice calls to email and leveraging an existing capability to respond digitally. Moreover, where calls were required, customers could receive a call back instead of waiting in a queue. Given the automated environment, these changes were implemented rapidly with minimal impact on customer experience. The bank has decided to continue with the new operating model post- COVID.

    Where automation exists, this can be done quickly —even in hours. But without a basic automated environment, it’s not possible. This is where the digital services model of human + bot stands out and provides inherent resiliency.

  • Consistency of experience for stakeholders: In the first few days, customers may face a deterioration in service, but it’s not sustainable. Whether your stakeholder is the finance controller or a supplier — the challenge is to maintain a consistent experience that can be enabled easily in a digitized environment. The challenge is not to slide back once the crisis passes, but to retain this experience.
Satish: There are two dimensions: maturity [of the automation program] and the business imperative — which extends from sustainability to growth- related challenges.

  • Enterprise with a mature automation program targeting sustainability: In this case, it needs to maintain critical business processes and target a consistent stakeholder experience. Compliance and cost might be key focus areas or working capital. The latter is a perfect example because this would entail a large quantity of data processing enabled rapidly through automation.
  • Enterprise with a mature automated environment with a growth imperative: Several enterprises currently are facing a number of queries as a result of COVID-19. Automation should focus on shifting to channels to support that growth.

    One manufacturing organization, for example, experienced a massive surge in customer orders as the imminent lockdown became apparent. Since automation was already quite mature, they were able to deliver on this surge.
  • Organizations that are at the beginning of their automation journey with inherent inhibition to make decisions where sustainability is the objective: then the focus needs to be on rapid decision making and implementation of automation required to sustain business services.


Navigating Turbulence

An enterprise technology approach

What is more difficult is where low maturity coincides with a growth imperative. Without the appropriate automation framework, the problem is staring in your face —and one I don’t have an answer to right now.

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