With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have been scrambling to adopt remote working technologies. The biggest beneficiaries of this, of course, are the developers of web conferencing systems. During the first quarter, Zoom’s daily user base skyrocketed from ten million to 200 million.
“We are in the midst of a massive shift in how we work that happened almost overnight, and we’re never going back in many ways,” said Craig Malloy, who is the CEO of Lifesize.
Let’s face it, with sudden investments in new technologies, why will companies abandon them when the virus runs its course? It does seem far-fetched. In other words, companies will likely be less focused on business travel and there will continue to be more employees who will have remote working arrangements.
Such changes will certainly have wide-ranging impacts on other tech sectors. Just look at RPA (Robotic Process Automation). The technology allows for fairly easy automation of repetitive and tedious processes.
“Demand for RPA was already very high before the world shifted to working from home,” Mike Beckley, who is the CTO and co-founder of Appian. “And while RPA isn’t a great way to help homeschool the kids, it is a great way to quickly change a legacy process. How many companies have had to adjust their paid leave and sick day policies in the last two weeks due to COVID-19? It’s easier to program a bot than to rewrite your HR and Finance systems.”
Vadim Tabakman, who is the director of technical evangelism at Ninex, believes that RPA can solve really tough problems–and quickly when managing remote workforces. “New hires can be provided with bots to help them access parts of the systems they aren’t used to yet and have trouble finding,” he said. “Imagine a new employee needs to create a new task in a CRM system they have never used. You could show them how to get there, but if it’s something they only do occasionally it may not stick. Instead, provide them with a bot that performs all the necessary clicks and keystrokes to take them to exactly to the spot they need to be in the CRM system.”
Or consider UiPath, which has been creating solutions to help with remote working. Here are some examples:
- Automatic Slack updates: When working from home, your teammates do not know when you are not at your desk. So this bot updates your Slack status based on your calendar activity.
- Call notes distribution: UiPath has a bot that automates the sending of notes for a conference call that is sent out to the invitees.
- Call scheduling: With no more water cooler run-ins, this bot will find conflicts on your Google calendar and send requests to reschedule.
RPA still has considerable risks with remote working. If anything, companies will need to engage in even more planning with their systems. “Enterprise grade security needs to be baked into any RPA platform from the start, which helps provide greater resilience and business continuity,” said Jason Kingdon, who is the Executive Chairman at Blue Prism.
There will also need to be more attention paid to managing bot development and deployment. Otherwise there could be much more sprawl across an organization, lessening the benefits of the technology. This is why its important to have a Center-of-Excellence or COE (you can learn more about this from one of my recent Forbes.com posts).
“You need to have a group of champions who control the system, and monitor what bots are being built and who is building them,” said Tabakman. “It’s best to provide regular training around bot design and consider an approval process, where your champions review bots before they’re deployed. You’ll want to ensure that a bot being created doesn’t create more problems than it solves, such as bots that go into infinite loops, resulting in more work for IT teams. Making sure your bots are successful will minimize the strain on IT, which is already spread thin, and help businesses continue to run well.”
Artificial Intelligence Factor
AI has been top-of-mind for RPA vendors. But expect even more urgency as this technology will be essential for remote working environments.
An example of what we will likely see is from Automation Anywhere. The company recently launched its Discovery Bot, which uses AI to map and optimize processes by tracking keystrokes, mouse movements and other actions within applications (here’s one of my posts about this offering).
There will also likely be more development with process mining. This technology analyzes log files to visualize processes and find the bottlenecks.
“With remote working, there will need to be a rethinking of processes,” said Yousuf Khan, who is the CIO of Automation Anywhere.