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Widespread social distancing measures and disrupted physical operations have impacted automation plans for enterprises around the world, accelerating deployments for some organizations and motivating others to consider adoption for the first time. A recent Forrester study suggests the crisis will usher in a new wave of automation (paywall), stating the probability of automation increases with job uncertainty.

As the pandemic reshapes the modern workforce and accelerates automation adoption, it has also accelerated fears about automation taking away jobs. In some cases, automation can enhance jobs by streamlining mundane, repetitive and tedious tasks, freeing up individuals to focus on more valuable and engaging responsibilities. And recently, particularly with financial service organizations, automation tools have been used to help save jobs amidst the crisis.

New Challenges Require Innovative Solutions

The pandemic has fundamentally disrupted processes for organizations of all sizes, structures and industries. Companies are dealing with increased volumes of customer data and new types of business-critical content, including both structured and unstructured documents. Hospitals and healthcare providers are navigating new influxes of patient data and records following increased demand for services as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Government agencies are facing record high volumes of unemployment applications. Insurance companies are dealing with new waves of claim forms and supporting documentation.

Between disrupted processes and high volumes of customer content, organizations are adapting to a new way of operating. This challenge is particularly prominent for banks and financial service organizations, who have needed to pivot quickly to provide a critical new offering: the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, commonly referred to as the CARES Act, made this resource available to business owners. Banks are facing pressure to quickly and efficiently adapt to new document processes on top of their existing workflows, greater customer demand, modified operations as a result of social distancing measures and new consumer expectations.

While some banks are implementing loan and forgiveness processes manually, many have automated these processes leveraging robotic process automation (RPA) tools and intelligent technologies. This has sped up the process of manually reviewing loan applications and then classifying, verifying and entering data for final approval — a process which is especially time-consuming, cumbersome and error-prone when done by hand. Software robots, or digital workers, have been a significant lifeline for banks, allowing them to speed up processing times, better serve their customers and potentially save some jobs in the process.

Related Article: BPA vs. RPA: How Are They Similar, How Are They Different?

Implement Transformative Automation Initiatives

The challenge is that automation platforms, by themselves, cannot accurately and effectively process unstructured or semi-structured documents such as invoices, pay stubs and identification documents. Semi-structured and unstructured content are a critical component of the SBA PPP loan application process, as businesses need to submit supporting documentation, utility receipts, payroll reports and rent receipts to be considered for aid. Automation platforms are essential for reducing the processing time for applications, but these tools need to be paired with complementary technologies, such as content intelligence, to properly process the data that is core to these workflows.  

Content intelligence solutions, which leverage OCR, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML), help turn data into actionable information. These technologies classify and validate documents and extract the desired information from documents — such as application forms, receipts, reports or other supporting documentation — and then feed this data into automation platforms such as RPA and BPM, enabling accurate and high-value end-to-end automation initiatives across the enterprise.

Some banks have leveraged automation tools paired with content intelligence technologies to streamline and speed up the processing of SBA PPP applications, a resource which helped some small businesses keep their workforce employed amidst the crisis. Speed is imperative here. The first round of funding ran out in just 14 days. Applications that were not processed quickly enough faced increased risk of not being accepted and funded. Many businesses who secured funding are now seeking loan forgiveness, a process in which speed continues to play a part, so applications are processed in a manner that meets the specified deadlines and increases the probability of acceptance.

Pairing automation platforms with content intelligence technologies allowed some banks to reduce the processing time for SBA PPP applications to under two minutes. This level of speed and efficiency has made a tremendous impact particularly for smaller regional banks and credit unions who, in some instances, were unable to act quickly enough to secure funding during the first round. By leveraging intelligent automation solutions, banks had the tools to streamline workflows, increase efficiencies in otherwise complex processes, enhance customer satisfaction and rise to the challenge in time-critical situations. 

Related Article: Looking to Automate Your Workplace? Consider This First

Thriving Amidst the Crisis Leveraging Digital Intelligence

Other intelligent technologies are fueling high-value automation initiatives and helping organizations navigate the crisis by augmenting the capabilities of their teams. Between new digital customer experiences, changing demand patterns and brand-new service channels workflows have been upended for many organizations. Leaders need visibility into how workflows are performing to make data-driven decisions. Process intelligence technologies enable high-velocity decision-making by providing end-to-end visibility into how processes are performing across all operations. Attaining a bird’s-eye view of all workflows enables organizations to increase operational efficiencies, fix broken processes before deploying automation initiatives and predict future process outcomes.

Intelligent technologies are helping some organizations to thrive amid the crisis. For some financial service organizations, leveraging digital intelligence technologies paired with automation tools has been a game-changer. Automation is increasingly being applied to higher value and mission-critical initiatives thanks to intelligent technologies.

While questions remain about how the pandemic will accelerate the adoption of automation, one thing is clear: not only is automation helping enhance jobs but, in the case of the SBA PPP loan application processes, automation has also helped save jobs.