2020 has been a difficult year for the industry with everyone slowly trying to adjust to the new reality. The pivot to remote work has created newfound visibility for digitalization and enough positive sentiment from the broader organization to support reinvention of their digital foundations. The coming year will be the year of innovation that further propels acceleration of digital transformation and automation.
A few perspectives and predictions related to technology for 2021 are as follows:
- Automation will become essential, not extra and will accelerate the pace of digitalization: Many companies were in the early or mid-stages of digital transformation when the pandemic struck. They pivoted and sped up that transformation to address unprecedented global disruption and customer needs, and now they will be expected to continue operating within this new context. Digitalization is expected to be directed majorly towards improving employee experience. According to a Gallup study, employers who focus on employee engagement realize 17% higher productivity, 21% higher profitability and 4.3x increase in earnings per share. One big part of this is to provide the employees with automation solutions and mobile tools that can improve the overall productivity and experience of the employees leading to better retention for the organization.
- Demand for AI will become more mainstream: As businesses will continue to maintain hybrid remote-working models and anticipate other potential disruptions in 2021 and beyond, the role of automation and AI use cases in the workplace will grow. These may include enabling efficient day-to-day communications between knowledge workers doing their jobs from home and automating invoicing and expenses to keep valued partners paid and to preserve budgets. More businesses will lean on AI algorithms to make decisions to support real-time financial transparency in order to meet the business needs brought on by the pandemic. This includes managing spending in near real-time to improve budget management and liquidity, increasing compliance and eliminating errors, and maximizing profitability.
There will be broader use of AI and ML to add intelligence to applications and eliminate manual processes to give firms a much-needed competitive boost by improving their productivity. A recent SAP Concur-commissioned study, for instance, found that as much as 36% of employees in India submit expenses manually by filling out a form and enclosing physical receipts. Firms can save considerable money each year ? and improve employee satisfaction and experience? by automating their finance and administration processes. The need to optimize processes, consolidate assets and reduce costs will further kick demand for AI into overdrive for more back-office operations in areas, such as Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR).
- Blockchain and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) would drive the future: An increasing number of organizations are already aiming to automate their processes while ensuring proper tracking and secure capturing of all business transaction. In the times ahead, accountants using spreadsheets will be replaced by technology that does 90% of the work without human intervention and in the next five years, many transactions will be handled automatically, streamlining workflow management, such as expense approvals, invoices and reimbursements. Blockchain and RPA have emerged as disruptive technologies that can help the companies in transforming their existing models while increasing revenues and reducing costs. In the coming year, we expect the adoption of these technologies to further grow with organizations utilizing a combination of blockchain and RPA. While RPA would be able to automate the repetitive and manual tasks, interact with systems to process data, bring in flexibility and reduce operational risks, blockchain would be crucial for improving audit management, secure payments, recording business transactions for automated decision making and creating immutable records for reliability.
- Data will move from an analytical to predictive decision-making tool: In the coming year, many more organizations will start to realize the potential of their financial data to intelligently guide business decisions and leverage it to reach even greater levels of success. As operations become largely automated, finance will double down on business insights and service. According to an SAP Concur commissioned research done by Vanson Bourne, 98% finance leaders believe it is important to have total control over spend management. Organizations with good visibility into their spending are better equipped to identify cost saving opportunities, enforce higher levels of compliance and meet financial reporting requirements. They need to be able to isolate trends and patterns that bring down compliance, so that they can strengthen their policies to increase control.
There will be an uptake in the use of intelligent spend management (ISM) solutions that would help the finance department in automating monotonous and menial tasks and support consolidation of finance data and information from multiple sources enabling the CFOs in gaining a holistic picture. This implementation and adoption of technology would help the finance leaders in managing budgets better and identifying the priority areas to redirect monies.
- ?Super Apps? Adoption: With the pandemic in play, super apps are dominating mobile commerce and communications in India and are already reaching critical mass among consumers. True to its name, a super app is the number of apps within a single seamless experience. They tend to start as messaging or payment apps that merge and grow to include ride-hailing, dining, social media, health tracking, games, common business applications, and more. In India, it?s becoming easier to use super apps like Paytm, Amazon, PhonePe, Zomato, etc. This means, any vendor who wants to create a seamless experience for mobile customers, especially providers of transportation, dining, travel, etc. needs to keep a close tab on this promising trend.
- Mobile & Cloud Technologies will be baseline expectations: Higher-value work requires cross-functional collaboration among business executives, technology teams, and finance strategists. Technology like mobile or cloud solutions will simplify things ? example using a mobile to take pictures of the receipts and complete the request on their laptops or mobile devices that will speed up the process for employee, simplify things for your approvers and make it easier for you to track these unexpected expenditure.
- Technology will re-shape the way business travel happens: In the New Normal, technology will play a major role in transforming the way business travel is done. Consolidation to a single Travel Management Company (TMC) with a robust end-to-end technology platform would help the organizations in delivering the required duty of care to their employees on the road. It can help organizations in enhancing the safety of its employees while simplifying accessibility for different parts of the travel. In the SAP Concur Travel Survey 2020, 40% of Indian business travellers reported real-time updates and alerts on potential travel risks as one of the most important measures for companies to implement for business travel. Machine Learning (ML) along with predictive analysis can help the organizations in pin-pointing the location of their employees who are on the road. This is essential if any important information needs to be relayed in the case of any emergency incident and help can be made available whenever necessary.
Mobile applications would see wider utilization by organizations too so that travellers can access information regarding their travel on-the-go, stay informed about any changes in schedule and communicate whenever necessary, all in real-time. Although it is unclear when exactly the vaccines come and how long the disbursement will take, there will be emergence of digital health passports, displaying a traveller?s vaccine or negative test status, along with other relevant information, as the transition to the new reality of local and global travel takes place.
While the crisis has created unimagined challenges and uncertainty, it has also presented an opportunity to pause, reassess, and develop strategies to help organizations not only survive, but also become more resilient against future uncertain conditions. Each business must take a unique path that goes beyond simple recovery to instead drive reinvention, so you strengthen your business for the near-term while also building a rock-solid foundation for the longer term.
(The author is the Managing Director ? Indian Subcontinent, SAP Concur)