Only three weeks ago, there were 125 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. That number, at the time of publication, has swelled to nearly 50,000 and is still accelerating. As state governments consider and implement stay-at-home directives designed to arrest the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, businesses are struggling to survive. Those that can are having their employees work from home, while others are forced to reduce headcount or shutter altogether.
They are all grappling with an economy that has ground to a halt, planning for what they can do to ramp up quickly when restrictions end. Very few non-government entities are positioned to help businesses with those plans for life after the pandemic. Even fewer can help them through the crisis itself. Several RPA providers, however, have harnessed the power of automation to provide resources to businesses engaged in a fight for survival.
At least two RPA providers have made announcements in the last week responding to immediate challenges organizations are facing as a result of the pandemic: tracking the health and safety of employees and ensuring business continuity while shifting to work-from-home mode. Both of those companies have made the decision to provide automation services for free during the pandemic.
McLean, Va.-based Appian said it has created a COVID-19 Response Management application for enterprises and government that acts as a central command center for tracking employee health. The application is designed for and being offered for free to enterprises with at least 1,000 employees. They do not have to be Appian customers.
The application automates tracking of health status, location, travel history and any COVID-19 incident details, Appian explained in a press release. Employers can see the health and work status of all employees, by geography and department in a HIPPA-certified environment.
“Centralizing accurate information about our people, where they are, and what they might need, and reaching our whole community is key to coordinating our organization during crises,” said Sidney Fernandes, CIO of the University of South Florida, in the Appian announcement. “During the hurricane season of 2018, Appian helped us build and deploy an application for tracking our 50,000-student community in just one day. We use it to ensure the safety of our students and faculty during all crises.”
Managing a New Work Environment
According to U.K.-based RPA provider Blue Prism, the most immediate challenge for organizations in this environment is managing a newly remote workforce. The company is accepting applications from organizations to benefit from its COVID-19 Response Program.
Under the program, Blue Prism will donate resources and its “Digital Workers” to automate processes related to applicants’ issues with COVID-19.
“With so much uncertainty surrounding the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the economy, RPA can support companies by giving them greater operational agility to do more, even with resource constraints,” Pat Geary, chief evangelist for Blue Prism, told RPA Today in a conversation via email. “Businesses can scale up any processes using automation, and then have more flexibility to redeploy workers across the organization in areas where they can be most impactful.”
Glaring Need in Health Care
From the start, health care has been an area of focus for RPA providers, and the current crisis has made the need for that focus even clearer. As the virus has taken hold globally, health care providers have had to do more with fewer resources and a dwindling pool of able workers.
“Now more than ever it’s imperative that healthcare systems have foundational support to keep mission critical processes running smoothly so they can be confident in their ability to provide the best care possible to patients without any interruption,” Blue Prism’s Geary noted. “For example, the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is a Blue Prism customer, and right now we’re supporting them to respond to the coronavirus, as more cases put more pressure on their network and IT systems.”
While pandemics involve widespread pain and hardship, they also offer lessons and spur innovation that can be tapped for decades after the danger has passed. The health care industry is front and center of the response and no doubt will search for ways to be more efficient for the next crisis, according to Steven Gerhardt, CEO of consultancy Element Blue.
“The volume of activity at various points in the provider system has exposed significant automation opportunity in various electronic medical records (EMR) functions,” said Gerhardt. “Just as we’ve seen the start of Telemedicine access and reimbursement come down, when the dust settles on the pandemic, new investments will include data portability and control of health records that speed care access.”
Administrative Burden on Public Sector an Opportunity for RPA Post-Coronavirus
While the current coronavirus outbreak is a crisis for the health care industry, it’s also an incredible challenge for local, state and federal governments. In a post on its corporate blog, Keith Nelson, public sector global lead for Automation Anywhere, reminds the RPA industry just how much help governments are going to need.
“[T]he responsibilities of the public sector are immense,” Nelson writes. “When the dust finally settles, the number of unemployment claims filed, business loans administered, government grants distributed, and payments processed will no doubt shatter previous records. During this critical moment in time…speed and urgency matter most.”
Governments in crisis mode are doing their best to keep up with crushing responsibilities. In a post-coronavirus environment, automation will be a necessity.
If you would like to share with us how your company is also making a difference during the pandemic, please email Steve@RPAToday.net. We look forward to hearing from you as we are all in this together.