WFH and India Inc’s automation dilemma

Chenthil Eswaran | Updated on January 31, 2021

It is crucial for firms from all sectors to embrace automation for employees to do value-added work remotely

As 2021 approaches, everyone has a strong opinion on work from home (WFH) — considering its vast impact on the business world. From employees and partners to vendors and customers — everyone has had to change how they do business or at least a part of it.

Earlier this year, WFH went from being an uncommon employment engagement strategy to the foundation of business continuity. It all happened in a matter of weeks. Companies had to significantly change how their workforce operates over a very short period.

Today, with WFH increasing, the question is — How much should companies automate?

While there is no simple answer, the Covid-19 impact of the industry dictates the level of automation needed to thrive, not just thrive in an increasingly WFH-led era.

Limited, short-term impact

Industries like healthcare, life sciences, telecommunications, and media had already started to go digital to avoid going out of business. As 2020 began, many of their back-office and front-office processes were already automated. Hence, WFH had a short-term impact on their business that soon turned into opportunities. For instance, online pharmacy services and telehealth solutions led to skyrocketing sales in the healthcare industry. They must now focus on adopting full digitisation so that their systems can be agile, scalable, and efficient. It would go a long way to enhance patient care while offering more value-added services, along with routine medical tasks.

Telecommunications and media providers can create a unified and interactive data communication hub, led by AI and automation. It will not only pandemic-proof their data management strategy — it will also help generate more intuitive content for customers.

Deep, short-term impact

The banking and securities industry immediately took an operational hit due to the shutdown of physical branches. Furthermore, the macroeconomic slowdown and lowered interest rates led to sharp declines in profitability. Banks have since been able to capitalise on rising credit markets. Their customers have also begun to show more affinity towards digital banking, which might increase growth opportunities.

They must look to move from using an incremental automation strategy to a longer-term automation-first technology ecosystem.

Insurance providers also witnessed a major dip in sales and productivity. But for future-ready players, it presented an opportunity to reverse both trends by automating more of their critical business processes. From underwriting to claims management, automation can increase process efficiency and eliminate tedious paperwork that leads to higher workforce productivity. From the customer’s perspective, they get more ease, convenience, and speed in their insurance journeys.

Manufacturers have felt the most resounding impact in this segment. As they continue to face the pressures of decreasing revenue, they must harness emerging automation-driven technologies to solve production disruptions and break free of physical dependencies that consume too much time, effort, and labour.

Deep, long-term impact

The retail industry has probably been the worst-hit with the long-term impact of discretionary customer spend and low margins. Retailers are under pressure to digitally transform their business operations and provide unified omnichannel experiences.

Their first step should be to adopt the e-commerce model and move their data to SaaS ERP and CRM. This can make all the difference between being profitable and going out of business. Retailers can also bring back or improve their brand value by automating their data analysis with AI and ML to get actionable and personalised customer insights.

The sudden impact of Covid-19 and its subsequent WFH outcomes have affected industries in varying degrees. For some, it was a need to accelerate their existing automation-first mindset. For others, it meant they had to take the first step towards digital transformation.

Irrespective of the industry, it is crucial for companies to raise employee awareness on the need for automation and increase their future-preparedness to do value-added work remotely. Once there is some semblance of the new normalcy, this will help improve business process efficiency and workforce productivity.

The writer is Practice Head of Enterprise Business Applications, Aspire Systems

Published on January 31, 2021

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