COVID-19 Calls for Organisations to Reassess Processes with Digitalisation & Technology

This article explores the need for businesses to adopt digitalisation and automation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Digitalisation, automation and technology are buzzwords we commonly hear in recent years. The question is, will this continue to be a want rather than a need? Pre-COVID-19, organisations had ample time to brainstorm on improving processes, and yet the change seemed far off.

The Need for Automation
Without a doubt, manual business processes can be less efficient, requiring more manpower and are prone to more errors. Despite this, many organisations still fail to see the urgent need to assimilate digitalisation, automation and technology into their business processes. The first step towards fixing inefficiencies is by
understanding the impact. How are other processes affected? How does it affect staff and customers? What is the impact to the organisation as a whole?

By now, most companies have come to realise the urgent need for digitalisation, especially following the imposition of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia. While some businesses immediately came to a halt as workers had to stay at home, some continued their operations and even saw a rise in sales as productions became automated and products are made available online. Today, automation tools have become an urgent need as the pandemic had kicked off the largest work-from-home experiment of our time.

Businesses, particularly those in the building industry, are greatly dependent on documentation. By embracing digital transformation through artificial intelligence (AI), companies are able to create effective practices by eliminating inefficiencies.

The generation today is more receptive to technology and is willing to adapt to changes; hence a massive spike can be seen in the use of technology. In a recent International Data Corporation info brief: “Transforming the digital decade, shows that over 50% of Asia Pacific’s (APAC) gross domestic product (GDP) will be digitised.” COVID-19 has highlighted the need for organisations to step up their Digital Transformation efforts to stay agile, resilient, and thrive in a new post-pandemic landscape.

The Value of Automation
All processes are intertwined in the procure-to-pay (P2P) and order-to-cash (O2C) cycles. A problem in one area creates a chain reaction that affects other processes. With paper-based processes still being used by many organisations, lengthy processing times, high costs, errors, and low visibility are common obstacles that ultimately lead to a lack of P2P and O2C efficiency.

Automating manual business processes delivers value by giving staff the time and insights to work on strategic tasks. A single digital solution can automate the processing, routing and archiving of documents, while gathering key data via machine learning and promoting collaborations through interactive tools.

Sunway Group’s Automation Experience
Theoretically, business processes could be 100% digital and can be done remotely with automation solutions in place. Sunway Group, one of the largest conglomerates with 13 business divisions that operate across 50 locations worldwide, automates its business processes with a cloud-based solution provider, Esker Document Automation.

Sunway Group can relate to how manual processing in the construction industry will affect business drastically and face challenges such as:

  • Manual processes: too many sites to coordinate in retrieving invoices (i.e. missing or incomplete invoices).
  • No visibility: inaccurate project cost and no visibility once the project is completed.
  • Tedious consolidation of documents: different formats and sources.
  • Untimely payments: without accurate information, delay of payments result in strained relationships with suppliers.

“We managed to stay competitive and operate as usual, even during the pandemic, as we had implemented automation in our internal processes with Esker since 2015. This enabled us to access documents digitally and remotely, which is critical for us as we have many divisions to collaborate with,” said Alex Hoo, Head of Business Solutions at Sunway Shared Services Sdn Bhd.

Business process visibility is an important element even before the pandemic, let alone the situation today. Being able to access data and information first hand gives us a powerful upper hand as it enables us to come up with fast problem-solving solutions and to be better informed prior to making important decisions such as budgeting, etc.

“With the correct information, I am able to drill down to details without much hassle. This enables our team to be more efficient; for example, we can prioritise our work better based on the information we have from the solution,” says How May Lynn, Senior General Manager.

During the recent MCO, Sunway Group experienced minimal disruptions as the automation already in place allows;

  • Transiting with ease while working remotely, with all necessary digital documents in place
  • Improved productivity with 50% invoice processing time improvement
  • Supplier portal enables suppliers to check invoice status anytime
  • 100% visibility from start to end allowing necessary actions to be taken
  • Team collaboration with digital workflow and communication tools
  • Minimise the search for missing invoices with all information on one platform
  • Smoother audit processes with audit trails captured on the platform

Tips on effective and immediate reassessment:

  1. Eliminate hard copy documents
    E-invoicing today means seamless processing where information flows automatically with the help of technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning without much human intervention. During this period of remote working and reduced postal services, paper invoices/documents are not readily accessible. Taking immediate action in embracing digital transformation and going electronic is what every organisation should be considering. By going electronic, staff can access all documents without having to be in the office physically, Additionally, moving to e-invoicing lowers administrative costs, reduces invoice delivery time, provides customers with increased processing and approval time as well as potentially resolve any invoice-related issues. Therefore, now is the best time to move customers/suppliers to e-invoicing, with high adoption rate expected.
  2. Eliminate manual processes and workflow
    Working remotely also means that you are unable to get physical documents signed on time. Digital workflow approval ensures that each request is channelled to authorised approvers for every invoice/document, allowing business continuity. Esker’s mobile application, Esker Anywhere™ delivers instant visibility into pending supplier invoices and purchase requisitions awaiting approvals. It’s also crucial to continue collaborating with your team, share information and resolve issues, particularly on dispute or escalation calls.
  3. Offer a flexible exchange of information with suppliers/customers
    If there’s anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that change is constant. As part of human nature, it will take time for us to adapt to changes. Look for a solution that can accept a variety of media for incoming and outgoing information. For example, Vendor A submits scanned invoices in JPEG format and Vendor B uploads original PDF invoices directly into the portal. This should not hinder the processing of the invoices since the information has already been cascaded. Esker’s solution is able to process documents in various formats such as PDF, JPEG, TIF, email or via the supplier portal, etc.

    During this crucial period, all organisations need to step up efforts in embracing digital transformation. If we focus on being agile and are able to adapt, we have an opportunity to emerge stronger from this crisis

-Credits: Esker, Masters builder Association Malaysia, featuring Sunway