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The Coronavirus Crisis: A Wake-Up Call on the Importance of Enterprise Automation Companies around the globe need to realize that the post COVID-19 world will look markedly different and need to prepare themselves for a brave new world.

By Narendran Thillaisthanam

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Punch in the term "Corona Tracker' into Google and you will be taken to a map of global countries affected by the Corona crisis. Tucked in Azure blue color, you will see the geographical map of the world juxtaposed with light-blue bubbles. These bubbles, though appealing to the eyes, actually represent the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic in that region. Large bubbles dominate Western nations and the Google map will tell you that close to 2.5 million people have been infected worldwide. About 170,000 lives have been lost at the time of writing this.

India ranks 17th (in the list of top nations impacted by COVID-19) behind Portugal. With a death rate of 13.67 per million, compared to 2000 per million in the West, India has so far done really well to fight the pandemic, However, when and how humanity will fully overcome this pandemic is the singular thought in everyone's mind even as the world braces for an uncertain future.

A Brave New World

Though humanity will survive the Corona pandemic for sure, the effects of the virus are here to stay. Terms such as lock-down and social distancing have entered our daily vocabulary. Close to one-third of the global population or about 2.5 billion people have been locked down. Stock markets around the globe have tumbled by as much as 40 per cent even as pundits draw an analogy to the 1929 Great Depression.

Borrowing the words of Aldous Huxley, we can safely conclude we are embracing a brave new world!

In the near future, people would find it difficult to travel as governments would impose travel bans on non-essential travels. International travel would be hit even as countries would revisit their visa policies for tourists and workers alike. As a result, white-collar workers also would find telecommuting a bare necessity and not a luxury.

In the nations that are worst affected, Human Resource managers find themselves with a sudden spike in work relating to COVID-19. At a time when a healing touch is what the world needs, these managers are faced with the dilemma of forcing furlough (unpaid leaves), pay-cuts, and lay-offs, even approving leaves are often seen as difficult tasks. These professionals find prioritizing emails alone a difficult proposition.

The medical industry has been hard hit by an avalanche of victims even as they reroute many of its staff members towards fighting the epidemic. These front-line doctors and nurses are real heroes and heroes will always be in short supply. Tele-medicine and online pharmacies are frontiers that would benefit in these hard times.

Insurance companies are flooded with numerous claims. These agents are often buried under reams of digital paperwork. Reading and processing tens (and often hundreds) of pages to process an insurance claim can be a daunting task.

The economies of several countries are hard hit. A Bloomberg report says that the world has close to $13 trillion worth of debt with below zero yields! Small businesses and large enterprises alike are struggling to keep their employees on the payroll. The need to raise new loans (just to stay in business) will be acute and banks are likely to be inundated with new loans.

The US government has passed a mammoth $349 billion paycheck protection plan to enable small businesses (essentially a forgiveness plan) to continue their business. Several other countries are likely to follow suit. Suddenly, there is a huge demand for the loan officers and banks in the US are struggling with hundreds of thousands of loan applications. The decision-making process for a new loan can often be cumbersome.

The list is endless.

The Rise of The Digital Worker

New technological advancements have given rise to a new persona - the Digital Worker. These are silent and invisible software programs that can mimic the action of a human being. Many front-line employees such as the HR professional saddled with COVID-19 emails that we saw earlier can deploy these bots to assist them in the day job.

Known as attended automation, these bots can automate their email by processing the inbox, prioritize their mails in favor of a COVID-19 affected employee needing immediate attention from the rest and flag the HR person to take immediate action.

Companies can deploy these software robots to do back-office work as well. Known as unattended automation, these bots work 24x7 and can silently process reams of papers matching insurance claims or invoice documents and comparing them with the back-office system. The loan officer whom we saw earlier can greatly benefit from these unattended bots who in the thick of the night would have processed the incoming loan applications and flagged them for the officer's approval or rejection.

Is there a mismatch between the borrower's name and the ownership details he has submitted in the loan form? Or, does the SSN number not match with the borrower's name? No worries. These back-office bots can be trained to read documents using an AI technology called OCR and can flag any discrepancy to the human agent. No more red-eyes reading and comparing reams of papers or digital forms.

Finally, we will see how the world of contact center is being disrupted by extreme automation. With an unprecedented rise in customer support during these tough times, it is impossible to scale humans to handle call center related queries. This is where we see a number of digital workers or bots being deployed to handle customer conversations.

These bots are natural language-aware (NLP capable in software parlance) and can converse in your own language. They can answer most if not all your common queries, collect vital information such as verifying the caller's identification, etc. and "deploy' humans only if it cannot satisfactorily resolve the caller's queries.

Even when the human agent is answering the queries, another form of digital worker we saw earlier, called the attended bots, aids the human agents by silently navigating to various systems and fetching vital information about the order status or such others that the caller was looking for.

Thus, companies around the globe need to realize that the post COVID-19 world will look markedly different and need to prepare themselves for a brave new world. Automation can help them in their transformation.

Narendran Thillaisthanam

Vice President of Emerging Technologies, Vuram Technology Solutions

Narendran Thillaisthanam is the Vice President of Emerging Technologies at Vuram Technology Solutions, a multi-national technology consulting company that specializes in BPM, RPA, and Analytics consulting. Narendran brings more than two decades of industry experience and is based out of Bangalore, India. He has rich experience in the fields of BPM, RPA, and Data Management & Analytics. At Vuram, Naren and his team of RPA consultants provide solutions using Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, and UiPath.

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