Acceleration of Automation to Fight Covid Crisis


Covid-19 has obviously had far reaching consequences to 2020, leaving few, if any, facets of modern life untouched.

Pre-2020 cost savings and TAT reduction were the primary metrics of value and as such Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and automation as a whole were part of the slow but burgeoning wave of digital transformation, affecting manufacturing and service sectors alike.

However, though that change was expected, an overnight shift to 100 percent digital operations for an extended period of time was not.

As opposed to a Nice-to-Have priority level, Automation and RPA specifically have become necessity of basic day-to-day operations. There were challenges of remote working, e-commerce, security, supply chain, business processes and software use all of which became bottlenecks that collapsed under the sudden load.

For the first time automation became a necessity for business continuity and stabilization instead of growth and optimisation.

This has cast the spotlight on two specific issues.

• Contactless environments

• Unavailability of resources

Fixes for these issues need to be reliable as well as agile to deal with everything ranging from production to distribution. To be clear, with manpower availability still hobbled, production houses are trying to meet consumption demands that are high enough to overwhelm existing ramshackle production planning and distribution fixes.

Manufacturers still have to meet sky-high demands, reduce costs and ensure availability. Those rules have not changed.

The buying behaviour of the masses has shifted horizons since the lockdowns have been put into practice by the government. Historically, Indians have proved to be more resistant to e-commerce solutions, especially when it comes to grocery, foodstuffs, household hygiene and high consumption consumer goods. Though the economy is slated to ‘unlock’ customers are apprehensive about visiting crowded marketplaces like malls and supermarkets.

Here enter the Omniretailers like Amazon and e-commerce platforms that are brand specific. Which means the Indian consumer buying behaviour is getting more of what they need from the increasingly few platforms that can still stock their shelves.

For instance, according to a survey by NRF, more than 50% of consumers have ordered products online that they would normally go to stores to purchase.

Another knock on consequence of this shift is that once the consumers get a taste of the convenience that E-Commerce brings, they may cross the cultural roadblock that prohibited them from shopping online till date.

One of the other fractal consequences of this paradigm is the surge in the demands of food delivering services. Since dine-in is no longer an option, consumers are turning to ordering the delivery of food items online in order to treat themselves during the days of social distancing. Many delivery services like Zomato, Swiggy, UberEats have responded to this crisis by introducing contactless delivery options to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus between the customer and the driver.

Another factor which has driven considerably higher demand for food delivery services is the increased number of restaurants offering home delivery. Since social distancing measures forced restaurants and bars to shut down for indefinite period of time, many have switched to sending orders at the doorstep to stay afloat during the pandemic. UberEats has also recently expanded its services into grocery deliveries with several supermarkets and convenience stores that will allow customers to order a selection of essential foods, cleaning and hygiene products to be delivered to their homes.Top fine-dining restaurants and five-star hotels from Marriott International to Grand Hyatt have opened doors now to take orders for gourmet food with curated menus and innovative packaging via online delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato.

Delhi and Mumbai are nearing full recovery, 95% of pre-Covid, while metros such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai are a tad behind the curve, nearly 80% of pre-Covid, according to a new Zomato report.”Some cities such as Kolkata, Patna, Jamshedpur, Ranchi, and Siliguri have recovered completely and have exceeded pre-Covid levels,” said Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal.

In Delhi-NCR, affluent residential areas like DLF Phase 1 and 5 have recovered to 1.5 times of pre-Covid levels. In South Delhi, average order value has risen by 65% between February and September 2020. Food delivery business in South Delhi is viewing the heights of 110% of pre-Covid levels.

None of this is possible without Robotic Process Automation which is in essence automation that simulates an existing process which relies upon human intervention.

“The global and India industry will require unprecedented and concerted attempts to recover and revive from the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, and in this process, it will find itself at a crucial tipping point of mass-transition towards wide-scale automation adoption.” said Nasscom President Debjani Ghosh.

There are other business models as well which have eliminated the retailers out and linked the manufacturers directly with their customers via internet platforms which are expected to thrive. Such models are called as Direct-to-Consumer business models. For example, PepsiCo burgeoning with

E-conferencing platforms have also stepped in as an analog to convention halls and co-working spaces. For instance, video-conference app Zoom has registered a sharp spike in the total number of users despite security concerns. A rise of 50% has been observed in only the last three weeks reported by CEO Eric Yuan.

The rising shift to robotic process automation based on the data sketched above has stated and sealed the fact that India is racing fast for digital utility. Ajith Nayar, Co-founder and CMO of a tech startup Camcom, which provides an AI platform for automated quality control, says, “There is more interest in our solutions, and the number of proposals being sent by us has grown exponentially since the lockdown as enterprises are looking at how the level of human interaction can be future-proofed.

He cites the example of car insurance, which requires onsite inspection, and hence necessitated human interaction is now being done remotely through a platform that was developed for this purpose. This offers up twin dividends of lowered manpower cost and stabilizing services and securing revenue for the insurance companies.

UiPath, a global RPA unicorn with its research and development centre in Bengaluru, stated that as the pandemic continues to impact business operations, organizations are facing extreme challenges including increased need in customer support. For example, OTP Bank Romania is using an intelligent automation solution that integrates the capabilities of both Druid chatbots and UiPath’s software robots to process requests to postpone bank loan installments. The integration allowed the bank to cut down the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, and cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents, enabling it to process three times more deferral requests with the same number of people in the back office.

There is also the deployment of artificial intelligence and automation in perennial industries like agriculture. Plantix, an agritech startup founded by Rob Strey and Simone Strey, which has its base in Hyderabad and Berlin, leverages artificial intelligence to identify plant diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies. The only thing the farmer needs to do is click an image of the crop with the app installed on the smartphone and the software identifies the problem. Plantix then gives recommendations to find the right product, which helps to fight the disease. The app also gives disease alert to farmers.

All of these are examples of better business practices even when absent the context of Covid. However, industries that have been bearish at the benefits of this approach to process re-engineering through RPA have now been forced to adapt in order to stabilize operations. But the results of those operations over 9 months are showing best-ever results for process parameters by any standard.

Benefits any company can expect within 30 days of full scale RPA deployment are as follows:

Resilience and scalability of critical processes:

• Digital workers can operate at scale 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to spikes in business activities.

• They are not at risk of COVID-19 infection, subject to travel restrictions or affected by physical office closures.

Secure out-of-office working:

RPA eliminates the need for employees to perform sensitive activities outside the office.

• Digital workers are securely and remotely deployed enabling businesses to overcome the challenges and costs of establishing local teams where overseas effort may not be suitable.

Cost Reduction:

• Identify high-value processes that can be automated to prevent costly, manual efforts.

• Digital workers can be trained to work across any function. This includes order processing, procurement, finance, employee on boarding, IT and service desk tasks as well as customer contact centre responsibilities.