The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through global supply chains, and heavily disrupted the operations of wholesale manufacturers and distributors. Rapidly, companies had to adjust to fulfilling orders and stabilizing operations within a whole new paradigm. One of the biggest challenges was the sudden shift to a fully distributed workforce.

As the pandemic continues, leaders are faced with the ongoing issue of how to bring connectivity and smooth functioning to a workforce that is spread across multiple locations. Zoom can help. Slack can help. But at a deeper level, what can help make the business more resistant to shocks like the pandemic, now and into the future? Here’s one answer: automating manual processes with business process automation solutions

When a company’s core business processes happen more efficiently, and place less of a burden on staff, a distributed workforce can focus on tasks that only people can perform. Automation can take care of back office processes. When this happens, even a workforce well outside its comfort zone can keep performance high, thanks to the efficiency gains conferred by automation.

 

How the Pandemic Exposed Business Inefficiencies

As Deloitte reported, the pandemic curtailed transportation, caused delivery delays and volume stalls. These effects “exposed the vulnerabilities of many organizations”. One of these vulnerabilities was the degree to which many staff were swamped with inefficient manual tasks. 

For example: CSRs (customer service representatives) spend a third of their workday manually entering customer purchase orders into their ERP systems. In the United States, half of all B2B sales are processed manually. This amounts to $7.37 trillion in unnecessary spend. This slow and highly inefficient process creates a cascade of effects:

  • CSRs spend an average of 20-30 minutes manually converting every purchase order into a sales order.
  • This adds up to hours every day, typically consuming one whole third of the workday.
  • Cost-per-order climbs to an average of $9.05.
  • The order-to-cash cycle lengthens to an average of 45 days.

This was inefficient before the pandemic. But the switch to a distributed workforce saw CSRs stranded without their usual environment or tools. Processing purchase orders manually grew even more inefficient. 

 

Automation Creates Rapid Business Resilience

A rapid transition to a distributed workforce is a challenge. However, automating manual processes can create an enterprise-wide resilience and agility. It isn’t that your distributed staff will see this automation themselves. But when business processes are made smoother and more automatic, an “all boats rise” principle kicks in. Even staff working from their living rooms can ditch mundane, repetitive work and focus on valuable tasks. Even if an enterprise is suffering from disruptions like the pandemic, by improving overall business efficiency, they can better ride out the storm. They can absorb supply chain shocks, and integrate flexibility and agility into their operations.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Deloitte report concludes, organizations will need technologies that will “dramatically improve visibility across the end-to-end supply chain, and support companies’ ability to resist such shocks.” This is precisely what the efficiencies created by business process automation solutions provide.

Automating manual processes can create a newfound business resiliency that is so profound it can offset even the worst disruptions. 

Take sales order automation. With a SaaS platform like Conexiom, a company can automatically convert emailed purchase orders into sales orders into their ERP system with 100% accuracy. Touchless order processing converts an enterprise’s steady stream of purchase into flawless sales orders – without any human input. Processing speed is cut from hours to minutes. Onboarding a platform like Conexiom takes less than 30 days, and the supply chain is rapidly optimized and accelerated. CSRs win back a third of their entire workday, so they can over-deliver on customer service.

 

Learning from a Fortune 5 Leader

Here’s some real world evidence of how onboarding a technology like sales order automation can bring benefits at a time when workforces are distributed. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world was suffering from lockdown pressures like everyone else. They began searching for technology that could help unlock efficiency gains, and they zeroed in on the 200,000 monthly orders they were processing manually. 

Onboarding Conexoim’s business process automation software saved them from hiring hundreds more CSRs, and immediately conferred a net efficiency benefit on their distributed workforce.

“To meet aggressive efficiency targets, exacerbated by COVID-19, we needed new digital transformation ideas,” said an executive at the company. “Conexiom is a very, very, cost-effective automation solution.”

 

Future-Proofing a Workforce

A World Economic Forum report on the pandemic said the following:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the business environment for many organizations around the globe, and has highlighted the importance of being able to react, adapt, and set up crisis management mechanisms in order to weather situations of uncertainty.”

One of the biggest uncertainties we now face is managing a fluctuating distributed workforce for months or even years. This is not a short-term challenge. Future viral “waves and spikes” can happen, and new types of legislation could be established. This sense of unpredictability could persist well beyond 2021, and take different forms depending on the regions and the industries. 

Weathering these “situations of uncertainty” will require organizations to adopt strategies in order to build business resiliency. Automating manual processes is a key first step. With the right business process automation tools, a distributed workforce can achieve net efficiency gains and future-proof themselves against future supply chain crises.