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COVID-19: adjusting to the ‘new normal’

As COVID-19 continues to impact the world of work, this article assesses how Operational Excellence and in particular Robotic Process automation (RPA) solutions might assist organisations now and into the future. This pandemic is attacking organisations’ people and placing their processes and technology under increased pressure. The questions businesses are asking themselves are how they can protect and maintain their workforce in conjunction with delivering service to their clients.

As leaders look to mitigate the impact of the current crisis on their businesses, core amongst their considerations should be process optimisation, supported by technology. The impact of COVID-19 on business operations has shown us that we cannot return to on-site working and manual processing on the scale we have previously. As time moves forward, we will rely on our workforce to solve real problems and innovate, without being burdened by inefficient and ineffective manual operations. The workplace is evolving at a rapid pace as teams are working remotely and have a rising need for efficiency across their function.

Operational Excellence considers seamless execution of business operations, unlocking the opportunity for organisations to deliver strategic objectives, while RPA is software that exponentially speeds up processes and reduces the cost of business. Leveraging RPA, the business processes are executed by mimicking the tasks that a staff member carries out manually on their computer. RPA is not a brand new system that replaces your existing systems, it is software that makes more efficient use of your existing systems. This will enable your workforce to focus on more important decision making tasks.

Operational Excellence and RPA together can help to alleviate the pressures and demands businesses are facing. The workforce can focus on initiatives that require human intuition and business decision while making the process more efficient and enhanced by technology. As seen in the examples below, organisations are faced with issues such as; large scale rescheduling appointments to a date in the future, issuing multiple invoices at a point in time to combat cash flow problems or dealing with large volumes of queries based on a changing environment, to name a few. By implementing Operational Excellence and Robotics the time taken to execute these tasks will be exponentially reduced, while their accuracy will be increased. 

Appointment scheduling and rescheduling

Appointment scheduling and rescheduling, particularly in healthcare, is often a time-consuming and error-prone task. Activities include:

  • Confirming personal data against a master list of patients/customers;
  • Confirming diagnosis;
  • Verifying insurance details;
  • Identifying available appointment slots in a number of schedules;
  • Issuing appointment letters;
  • Accepting requests for rescheduling;
  • Contacting the parties if appointments have to be rescheduled; and
  • Repeating the appointment scheduling process.

The good news is that all of these activities are rule-based. The data can be checked and processed in a standardised way, according to rules and not requiring the key intuitive and empathetic skills that make human workers so valuable. This makes these tasks ideal for Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The RPA process can be triggered by an event, for example the receipt of an email or the pressing of a button, and can log in to all the systems and diaries required to identify, check and process data, generate reports and communicate with all the people involved in the process. RPA does this in exactly the way the human worker would do it, but much more quickly and with much lower risk of error. This is ideal for the majority of cases and leaves time for the staff to deal with exceptional cases that need the human touch such as understanding the emotional condition of a patient and overriding the RPA ‘bot’ if necessary.

Improving cash flow by more efficient invoicing

Cash flow, particularly in difficult times, is the life blood of any business. There has long been a desire for automated “no touch” invoice processing, both from an Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable viewpoint. Both are important as the former supports efficiency and reduced overheads while the latter generates greater cash flow.

RPA helps in both cases:

  • Accounts Payable invoices that are generated by systems and received through email can be automatically picked up by the RPA bot and their contents extracted and typed into your A/P system. Any required validation checks, for example PO number or VAT status, can be performed before the transaction is completed;
  • Even if your suppliers do not have the facility to generate PDF invoices for emailing, they can take a photo of a physical invoice on their smartphone and send this to you. RPA software packages often include machine learning algorithms to interpret pictures of invoices and extract and process the contents as above;
  • Accounts Receivable invoices can be generated by the RPA bot in the same way as they are by the human worker, using the same systems and menus, but they are generated and issued more quickly and with fewer errors; and
  • Automatic communications can be sent to follow up on issued invoices based on whatever rules your organization has in place. For example, the bot can check your bank account to see if the relevant invoice has been paid and send an email to the correct customer if not.

The majority if not all of this requires no human intervention as it can be processed with unattended RPA bots. It’s sadly ironic that this “no touch” invoice processing now has an employee and public health benefit too.

In order to determine if your organisation is a fit for this you should consider:

  • Are your processes rule based?
  • Do you have inefficiencies in your process, with technology and process improvement could we address and rectify these?
  • Does your environment allow us to access your technology offsite?

We understand the need for acceleration during this period, as businesses and workforces are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 impacts today. Grant Thornton can work with your organisation to implement technology in a matter of days and realise those processes efficiencies through technology as quickly as possible.