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Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with AUTOMATION concept related words imprinted on metal surface

The cost of halting innovation: why a recession is precisely the wrong time to put your automation plans on hold

 

Gautam Moorjani, Head of Product, SS&C Blue Prism

Interest rates are rising, credit availability is shrinking, and covid policies and geopolitical conflicts have caused numerous supply chain issues. The 2022 economic outlook hasn’t panned out as positively as many of us hoped—however, times like these often-present opportunities for change and accelerated innovation. 

Periods of economic contraction have historically been followed by longer periods of expansion. Most recently, we saw the pandemic unleash unprecedented levels of innovation out of necessity: speeding up digitalization efforts by several years to meet consumer needs; quickening R&D timelines to develop a vaccine in under a year, bucking the usual 10-year timeframe from concept to approval; and hastening availability of financial assistance from governments for struggling small businesses and citizens in record time. 

The looming economic downturn  and growing skills gaps present gaps present another opportunity to drive innovation. Accelerating digital transformation will help businesses overcome the slowdown and address talent shortages. The choice can also help firms get ahead of their closest competitors who choose to make cuts and slow digital transformation plans. Such austerity will create market gaps and unleash skilled tech professionals in the job market.

Why is innovation imperative during an economic downturn? 

Businesses are failing to innovate and re- and upskill employees risk losing their long-term market share, consumer and employee loyalty, and growth potential in a shortsighted effort to weather the storm. When faced with volatility and financial downturns, it is understandable to cut costs instinctually: ceasing projects, curbing discretionary spending, reducing spending on human capital and internal training, etc. However, this is risky, putting a business’s post-crisis viability on the line. 

Consumers are usually more hesitant to spend during downturns, making investments to meet their needs and expectations essential. Customers and clients will naturally be drawn to companies whose offerings, products and services are paired with quality and an accommodating experience. The businesses best positioned to meet changing consumer needs, spur innovation, and deliver more than just lip service are those using intelligent automation to service these goals. 

What is the value of doubling-down on digitalization? 

Digitalization enables businesses to mitigate fallout and foster agility and resilience, making future volatility easier to withstand. The benefits of gearing up digital transformation are multifold – from productivity and efficiency gains to better supply chain management, customer experience, and resource visibility. 

No-code automation platforms ease the burden of reskilling employees to use advanced automation technologies. Robotic process automation (RPA) can then be used to automate time-consuming, repetitive tasks, which are often error-prone and painstaking for workers. Pairing this advanced technology with artificial intelligence (AI) allows for scalability and decision-making capabilities within business process automation

By automating these processes, workers get back time and access to invaluable insights for creative endeavors and to enhance customer experience, promoting growth and revenue. 

Whether it’s changing a beneficiary on an insurance policy, withdrawing significant funds in a short period of time from a bank account, or even something small like changing one’s address – this is all data that can be collated and assessed for insights. Human workers can step in to improve customer experience or flag issues, such as a customer potentially closing an account or canceling an insurance policy. 

Even implementing a simple automation solution like intelligent document processing is a powerful step towards digitalization. It has the potential to save tens of thousands of hours, including those spent on rework for mistakes, and create immense value. U.S. companies spend an astonishing $5.3 billion annually on wages for manual document processing. By automating processes like this, resources can be redirected to improve other key business objectives, such as customer and employee experience.  

Common missteps and how to avoid them

Digital transformation is amazing and exciting, but only if done right. Too often, companies get swept up in something most of us are familiar with – FOMO, the “fear of missing out.” They get sold on all the wonders of digitalization and jump the gun on implementing solutions. 

This is an easily avoidable obstacle. Businesses need a well-considered digital transformation plan. This is often done most successfully with the right digital transformation partner who can help them mine processes for automation, select the right solutions, integrate automation into their existing infrastructure and train/upskill existing workers or, if preferred, maintain their new digital infrastructure on their behalf.  

Vendors offering a platform of solutions will be better able to help businesses find the right digitalization plan for their unique needs. Rather than working with five different vendors to implement five advanced automation technologies in a piecemeal fashion, a single vendor strategy enables businesses to integrate their digital solutions cohesively. In an integrated scenario, these advanced technologies work together, maximizing value as intended. 

Subject matter expertise is another key differentiator because a vendor offering in-depth knowledge of your sector will understand your pain points and which business process automation will add the most value to your operations. For example, suppose a hedge fund is looking to invest in more digitalization. In that case, they will want to partner with a vendor that understands processing in their sector and can perform net asset value calculations, etc. 

Another common trap businesses fall into is not investing in the cultural transformation needed to make any digital transformation plan successful. To get the most out of business process automation during a global talent shortage, you need to upskill engaged workers with an aptitude for such training. It would help if you also educated all workers on the purpose of a digitalization plan. Why should they care? How are they going to benefit? These are key questions and if your employees don’t know the answers, you’re already positioning your plan to fail. Workers play a significant role in overseeing digitalization implementation; if they feel antagonistic about it, their chances of success diminish. 

Estimates suggest that for every dollar businesses spend on licensing an automation solution, they spend five times more trying to figure out how to implement and scale automation. This is an avoidable waste of resources, especially when many can’t afford it. All it takes is a well-developed strategy and for those not sure how to create such a plan, the right partner is more than happy to help. 

Play the long game

The world doesn’t stop during downturns, so you can’t either. A Harvard Business Review study that looked at the outcomes across three recessions found those most likely to flourish post-downturn were the ones that successfully balanced improving efficiency with investing in the future. That is the power of advanced automation technologies: they improve efficiency and free up resources for innovation and human capital investment, paving the way for long-term success.