With more and more uncertainty around how long this pandemic will last, we’re all trying to understand the ways our professional and personal lives will be impacted in the short and long-term. If this crisis follows the same path as others, there’s some hope. Every major crisis has gone through three phases; fear and waiting, withstanding the impact, and the new normal. While no one can predict with exact accuracy how long each of these three phases will last, we can predict with some degree of certainty that this will come to an end.
Phase One: Fear and Waiting
As I’m writing this, COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Here in the United States where I’m based, New York State has seen 200,000+ cases, leaving government officials scrambling to rapidly seek more medical supplies and support. Twenty-five hundred miles west of NYC in California, a similar picture is emerging where the governor has ordered residents to stay home and prepare for a multi-month fight. Unfortunately, this is a similar story unfolding across the globe. COVID-19 has already forced a ‘new normal’ but as the daily onslaught of news highlights, the worst may still be ahead of us.
Phase Two: Withstanding the Impact
Many industries are faced with two very different challenges today: a lack of demand or a lack of capacity. Industries like government, digital entertainment, communications, digital education, logistics and healthcare are scrambling to identify capacity and solutions quickly. And in some cases, this equates to saving lives—because with every passing day, we lose more and more of our fellow citizens. Conversely industries such as retail, travel, transportation, hospitality and entertainment have almost completely shut down operations and are now trying to adapt to the emerging “home economy”—digital experiences enabling consumers and employees to collaborate, be productive and consume virus-reducing services from the comfort of their homes.
Increasing Capacity with the Digital Workforce
Doctors, nurses and medical staff are on the front lines of our fight against the virus. At a time like this, the capability of hospitals to place critical staff in the right place at the right time is paramount. Genus is a company that’s helping hospitals quickly and efficiently add additional capacity. Their AI-powered solution combines robotic process automation (RPA) with broader Intelligent Automation platform capabilities to help hospitals quickly identify, place and pay healthcare specialists.
Jeff Stratton, Senior Project Manager at AMN Healthcare, who leveraged the Genus solution, notes, “We help healthcare professionals find the work they need, whether on a contingent or permanent basis. In fact, a little over half our revenue comes from matching a workforce of around 8,000 travel nurses to 14-week long assignments at healthcare facilities throughout the United States. We connect these workers with open hospital vacancies, pay them for their labor, and then bill the hospitals for that labor.” As the current crisis continues to unfold, a digital workforce powered by RPA will provide the much needed on-demand capacity to help strategically place and pay critical medical professionals, the true heroes of this outbreak.
Another group of workers coming to the forefront in this battle, is within the transportation and logistics industry, delivering essential goods across the country to continue to fill the needs of a population stuck at home. The ability to scale capacity for these organizations will be critical too.
Leveraging robotic process automation (RPA), a large north American logistics company looked to RPA to dramatically increase organizational capacity. Prior to the outbreak, they went through a period of rapid growth, finding their administrative processes under strain. Their goal was to continue expanding, but without the cost of hiring additional staff.
Invoice processing was one of the organization’s most labor-intensive workflows when a carrier filed paperwork, they prepared an invoice and sent it to their customer. After implementing RPA to handle invoices they later added complementary Intelligent Automation platform capabilities across their business. They were able to quickly process over 500,000 invoices a month, increasing capacity by tens of thousands of man hours and saving an estimated $75 million a year.
Increasing Capacity in the Cloud
Another technology enabling rapid capacity during this crisis is the cloud. Cloud vendors have long touted the value of elastic, on-demand resources during peak usage, but this value proposition has fallen to the bottom of the priority list for many organizations. In today’s environment, organizations are beginning to reevaluate how they prioritize and evaluate value.
Cerner, for example, is a large provider of patient-centric healthcare solutions, leveraging cognitive computing and artificial intelligence in their flagship Millennium product. Millennium is an electronic health record with cloud-enabled solutions, empowering hospitals to document and access critical patient data, streamline workflows and improve overall patient experience. Cerner continues to support health systems around the world as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and is well positioned to respond quickly and effectively in part due to their cloud investment.
Phase Three: The New Normal
Organizations have already begun breaking from their existing business practices. While the immediate priorities for many companies were focused around employee safety, enabling remote collaboration and cost cutting, savvy leaders have now turned their attention to strategies for accelerating growth as we emerge from this crisis. Many are looking to historic trends for clues where there may be some opportunities.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) highlights that every major recession over the past 30 years has followed a similar accelerating pattern. First, there's an initial shock, followed quickly by a significant increase in automation and digital investments that rapidly reshape the job landscape. In the last three recessions for example, 88 percent of job loss after a recession took place in routine highly automatable occupations, according to NBER research.
While looking to automate in the new normal, many organizations will also assess and prioritize value differently. Technologies like eSignature, mobile capture and conversational user experiences aren’t just frictionless, digital interfaces anymore. They're touchless, virus-reducing interfaces supporting the evolving home economy that’s quickly going to institutionalize new business practices.
Cloud capacity may be a short-term benefit for some organizations, but leaders across every industry will also look to manage their cash positions closely throughout 2020; accelerating adoption of cloud- and term-pricing models.
Overall, one trend seems to be certain, whether you’re in an industry searching for capacity or an industry trying to adapt and drive demand, this crisis is going to rapidly accelerate the adoption of digital experiences and automation. Companies that prioritize digital, cloud and automation from ‘nice to haves’ to ‘must haves’ will likely emerge stronger and with greater market share in their respective industries.