Digital transformation has been an underlying theme of business for quite some time. The promises of a more efficient, and therefore more profitable future convinced most companies to embrace this transformation. But the path to this future is murky. Which technological change do we embrace first? Most of us can’t spend unlimited resources to make these changes all at once – and even if we could, the disruption to our business and employees resistant to change, prevent a sudden transformation. So how do we chart the appropriate path forward?
The difficulties of 2020 and the COVID-19 related lockdowns put a focus on two specific areas of the digital transformation that we believe will continue to deserve your attention: Location Independence and HyperAutomation.
In some industries, location independence might mean closing down your entire office. In our industry, that isn’t feasible — warehouse workers cannot ship inventory from their living rooms. But with the right tools and processes, your office workers can work from home without missing a beat. By having your vendor invoices emailed directly to a Document Management System, and scanning the packing slips into the same system the AP team can work without paper. Similarly, your purchasing department can become almost entirely paperless. Implementing an ACH payment system eliminates, or at least greatly reduces, the printing and mailing of physical checks – untethering your team from printers, piles of checks and boxes envelopes.
Once the reliance on physical paper is eliminated, VPN or other remote tools make the home office a reality. But “location independence” doesn’t just mean working from home, and I’m not talking about working from Starbucks. By simply digitizing the documents that drive your business processes, it no longer matters which facility your staff is in or where the paperwork originated. Digitization allows for a more flexible workforce.
Hyper Automation is a new buzzword, but an old idea: Automate as many manual processes as possible for faster processing and reduced turnaround times while also reducing human error. All businesses have processes that can be automated, but in the past the cost-benefit analysis wasn’t compelling enough for the disruption, or resistance from the employees always pushed it to the bottom of the to-do list. In today’s new reality, where an employee can suddenly be out for a week or more because they *might* be sick, there isn’t excess capacity in our labor force to keep doing things manually.
2020 should have convinced us of how important automation is, and shined a light on the processes that haven’t yet been automated- but ought to be. Activities that are time consuming, impacted by changes in transactional demand and are highly dependent on employee attention and involvement are suitable candidates for automation. Automating workflow of documents that are central to a company’s business is a great example of where and how to begin automation. Companies that aren’t already emailing invoices to their customers are spending money on busy work. Accounts Payable automation is another key example where companies achieve more results with fewer efforts and a quick ROI. These examples are just the beginning of a long list of possibilities.
The concept of a digital transformation of business wasn’t born during the pandemic. The business interruption caused by COVID-19 demonstrated how important it is for business to be resilient and flexible. This pandemic will fade and be a memory some day, but now is the time to transform your business to be ready for the next crisis/catastrophe/business disruption.