During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was hard to find an upside to the health and humanitarian crisis. Even now, some organizations are struggling to get past the uncertainty. As many countries surface from the impact of loss and lockdown, and executives take stock of the dramatic shifts they have had to make to established business models, green shoots are emerging around a longed-for recovery. Some business leaders are discovering that their operational changes were not only long overdue, but also have acted as a breath of fresh air for business continuity.

As Accenture’s recent report explores, many companies are looking to the future with a spirit of reinvention—accelerating digital transformation and implementing agility into the fabric of their operations. Nearly all (92%) of the C-suite executives that were recently surveyed are accelerating investments in digital transformation. Three-fourths (74%) also plan to completely rethink their processes and operating models to be more resilient—and many called out supply chain as a key priority.

Being an agile operator

Business operations—from procurement, finance and accounting and HR, to supply chain, learning and enterprise reporting functions—have all been subject to a significant stress test in recent months. The problem is that COVID-19 isn’t a linear threat. Some countries are yet to see a peak, while others are facing a potential second wave. Holding true to reinvention plans, business leaders must now also consider how the pandemic’s progress, strength or recurrence in different geographies will affect recovery strategies.

The only way to outmaneuver this uncertainty is by course correcting, again and again, as circumstances change. But doing so correctly requires that they have the right digital capabilities in place to continually reassess basic business assumptions, re-evaluate future scenarios and continue to strengthen their ability to sense and respond.

As companies accelerate investments in digital transformation, they should also retool their operations to enable agility. Intelligent enterprise systems are essential both to improving the speed and quality of decision making and repurposing capacity across locations. But this cannot be a technological response alone. True dexterity will come from putting in place a distributed approach of people and technology. Businesses must prioritize strategies that allow for regional dexterity and are laser-focused on the workers, customers and partners that are reshaping market demand and causing businesses to reimagine their operations.

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92%

Of C-suite executives surveyed are accelerating investments in digital transformation. 

74%

Plan to completely rethink their processes and operating models to be more resilient.

 

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Automation as your essential stabilizer

You might say that automation is the social distancing of business resilience.  By eliminating application and infrastructure bottlenecks and freeing up human resources to focus on higher priority issues, organizations can accelerate existing automation investments and ensure long-term system health.  For instance, during the pandemic, hyper automation is being used to track the location, safety and productivity of all resources as part of an overall business continuity plan.

At Accenture, we know this works because we have already tried and tested it. Long before the pandemic we had positioned our organization to maintain business continuity, even in difficult times.  For more than three decades, we have operated our business as a virtual team without a headquarters, and with our top leaders spread across the globe. A massive 95% of our apps are in the cloud. We are one of the largest Teams users in the world and were able to increase our video usage 642% in just a month to make remote working easier and more collaborative.

Our company’s own use of hyper automation has helped us prioritize bottleneck areas. We use a bespoke tool to drive rapid identification and automation of tasks. The resultant analytics-based assessment gives us critical insights, using structured and unstructured data, to find where human touchpoints can be reduced.  

We’ve also been able to augment areas that can’t be completely automated with digital co-workers. Our virtual agent "buddy" bot reached more than 125,000 Accenture people daily to track daily work-location and provide timely reporting to make critical decisions during the pandemic. Using automation to process this information meant we could be sure that our people were safe, secure and able to work effectively remotely—at a scale that humans alone could not manage.

Seize the (automated) day

With standard practices and functions disrupted almost overnight, business leaders have found themselves free of “normal” constraints. In these unusual circumstances, they’ve been able to rethink and take a bold, new path; often a departure from what was comfortable and expected. Gut instinct has proved unhelpful in predicting either the pandemic or its outcomes.  But data has shown itself to offer intelligence-driven decision making that leads to greater, more sustainable control, new levels of trust and improved governance.

So, what does the post-COVID-19 period teach us about managing our business operations better? I believe there are three aspects we can learn from and employ in the future:

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Be Ready

Advance the tools and mind-sets to enable your organization to be prepared and efficient.

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Optimize operations

Augment employees to be the change using a human+machine approach and encouraging them to think about automation differently.

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Reset the conversation

Augment employees to be the change using a human+machine approach and encouraging them to think about automation differently.

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Manish Sharma

Group Chief Executive – Operations

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