As the world continues to reel from the mandatory lockdowns spurred by Coronavirus (COVID-19), offshore outsourcing is coming back to bite some of Australia’s largest companies, particularly in the telecommunications, banking, government, aviation and other services led sectors.
Large portions of workforces have suddenly become unavailable overnight, impacting the smooth delivery of call centre, IT and business process workflows conducted on behalf of Australian customers. It’s a sobering realisation how unprepared many organisations are to support ongoing operations in the face of a widespread labour shortage.
With India and the Philippines the two major outsourcing locations for Australian businesses, call centres and support operations have either closed or significantly reduced staff in these countries due to social distancing rules. Many support staff are ill equipped to work remotely, due to inadequacies in the technology, Internet or living conditions required to support them.
But it’s not just call centres suffering
While call centre operations are being heavily impacted, so too are the many back office business process outsourcing services that Australian businesses offshore. These are the repetitive, trivial and mundane tasks that are outsourced due to cheaper labour costs, such as data input, loan processing, accounts payable and receivable, expense processing and digitising of document streams.
Those impacted are being forced to rethink their offshoring strategies overnight. Most already have a business continuity plan in place that enables them to switch operations elsewhere if a particular city or country becomes unavailable. But very few take into account what happens if all outsourced centres suddenly become unavailable, or at least working to a significantly reduced capacity.
This has caused a massive scramble to build a blueprint to get through this period of disruption, but also for organisations to redesign what their future operations will look like six to eighteen months down the track.
Many enterprises are now starting to initiate programs to remove the offshoring risk and bring these activities back in-house. This not only comes with increased labour costs, but it strains the existing workforces in Australia as they take on the additional workloads.
Some have or are in the process of undertaking a massive hiring spree to deal with the impact of Coronavirus on their offshore call centre and support operations and relieve the pressure on their domestic support. Telstra, for example, recently announced it’s in the process of hiring more 3,500 temporary roles across the country.
Others are looking at technology as an alternative to support their operations moving forward to avoid the risk of having to offshore services again. Automation, in particular, has been flagged as a more sustainable and viable option.
Employing digital workers
With the ability to automate time-consuming, mundane and repetitive tasks, robotic process automation (RPA) offers enterprises the opportunity to employ automated digital workers to augment and complement their human colleagues.
This is an appealing option for Australian businesses that have traditionally offshored back office business processes and workflows. The first step is to review the processes that they currently outsource to determine if they could be automated and brought in-house.
Digital workers won’t replace humans with machines, it isn’t a plot to dismiss humans from the workplace altogether. Instead, they ‘free the robots’ inside of human talent, enabling them to focus on higher value and more rewarding activities that serve to differentiate the business and enhance the customer experience. This in turn increases their overall job satisfaction.
One of New Zealand’s largest banks, for example, has 40 call centre employees receiving 500 change of address requests a day from customers. This used to take an average of four days to complete. Since implementing a Digital Workforce, the bank has reduced this wait time down to minutes and freed its employees to work with customers on complex problems and enquiries.
Since Coronavirus hit Australian shores, we’ve seen a rise in interest from banks in employing digital workers to take the pressure off their call centres in direct response to the increased demand for financial assistance, mortgage extensions, and so on. Likewise, airlines are assessing how a Digital Workforce can help them process the massive influx of refunds due to cancelled flights, which has led to very long wait times for frustrated customers to reach call centres.
A Digital Workforce can quickly perform what would normally be time-consuming tasks for humans. This gives employees the freedom to provide a quicker and more personalised approach to customer experience.
Ensuring a future workforce
While it remains unknown what the overall impact of Coronavirus will ultimately be, it has lifted back the veil of offshored outsourcing to show the potential vulnerabilities that Australian businesses are relying on. It’s forcing these organisations to reconsider what their future operational strategies will look like.
Intelligent automation through a digital workforce is a viable and sustainable option for taking complete control of your business processes through a legion of virtual workers that your business will easily manage.
Greg Eyre is VP ANZ for Blue Prism. With deep expertise in robotic process automation (RPA), he leads Blue Prism’s growing ANZ operations.