COVID-19 and Back Office Automation

Blog

September 1, 2020

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive effect on the business world. Some consequences will become afterthoughts as soon as the world sees a return to normal, but others have changed it permanently. Technology empowers organizations to adjust to changes quickly and avoid downtime caused by massive shocks like COVID-19. This pandemic will reach a resolution, but the agility that investment in technology empowers will endure. One of those tech investments organizations can make is adding software to their back-office processes, which automates, gives visibility into, and makes those departments more efficient.

COVID-19 highlights how implementation of this software can help companies solve problems specifically brought about by the pandemic and has simultaneously challenged software providers to tweak their products to tackle issues their customers face:

The Need to Work Remote

The pandemic has transformed many professionals’ lives in one enormous way: many of them are now working remotely. Relying on fully manual, paper-based processes is not in the cards for most businesses. They’re unable to print out or open mailed invoices, unable to sign checks, and unable to get rubber stamp approvals from managers on purchase orders and expense reports. While there are horror stories of CFO’s visiting the office during the pandemic regularly to check the mail for these paper documents, automation software helps avoid that: procure-to-pay (P2P) technology moves away from paper and email, where employees have no visibility into purchasing documents and spend, and centralizes this information into a single source of truth where staff and management can see the real-time status of the back office.

This software also adds standardization to processes that may have lost it in the shift to a disparate workforce or may have never had it in the first place. Software providers have been forced to react to this by ensuring that implementations that were in place can continue smoothly or, if the customer has been negatively impacted, postpone implementation. Providers have told Levvel Research that they are using this as an opportunity to hone their skills doing fully remote implementations, which also validates the advantage of using a cloud-based tool over an on-premise one, which would need to be installed locally.

The Need to React Quickly

All companies strive to be agile enough to react quickly to business needs, but COVID-19 has amplified this to an unforeseen level. As covered in Levvel Research’s 2020 Procurement Insight Report, procurement in particular has felt the effects of this. In the midst of the pandemic, organizations have been forced to source goods in categories they have no experience in, from suppliers they have no relationship with. This can be a very risky proposition, as it is both time sensitive and reliant on goods meeting a standard for quality.

An example of this is healthcare, where hospitals need to quickly procure a significantly higher number of personal protective equipment, patient beds, and sanitary goods. This may require them onboarding additional, unfamiliar suppliers due to item shortages with their usual ones. This also applies to businesses deemed essential such as manufacturers, distributors, and grocery retailers. These companies may have no prior dealings in procuring these types of items and now the health and wellbeing of their employees and the public depends on it.

Schools and universities have also gone through pandemic-related business continuity challenges, being suddenly forced to move their entire workforce and student population to a remote learning setup. The supplier management, supply chain risk management, catalogs, and RFx features of back-office tools assist with this multitude of challenges by moving processes to an electronic environment and giving professionals insight into new companies.

By leaning on the network created by software, corporates can see potential new suppliers’ history, performance, and verification documents. Software providers have responded to customers’ new challenges by introducing features specifically designed to address COVID-related issues and by making already existing features for the same purpose free of charge on a temporary basis.

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Increase in the Importance of Visibility

Dealing with a massive, sudden economic downturn and a movement of the organizational workforce to a remote environment simultaneously comes with a unique set of issues. Improving visibility into operations is one of the biggest hurdles businesses have been tasked with overcoming. Organizations now require additional insight into their budget to ensure financial well-being. The reporting functions of P2P software helps enable this and the most cutting edge tools give vision into what the future could look like with predictive analytics, allowing companies to better plan and forecast financial obligations and performance.

A need for additional visibility and communication with suppliers is also a must. Suppliers must be able to communicate stock shortages and slowdowns to buyers, both of which can be conveyed via a supplier portal. A P2P tool also features visibility and advice around fraudulent invoices, which software providers have told the Levvel Research team have been on the rise during the pandemic. Additionally, while employees are grounded now, travel and expense tools have a pivotal role to play. Organizations need to know their employees’ locations before and during the pandemic to ensure that they are safe and were not exposed to COVID-19 during business travel. A duty of care feature enables this ability and helps assess employee safety throughout the company.

Many companies have seen the importance of software in ensuring that business as usual continues. Investing in technology is not merely important because of a singular pandemic, natural disaster, or other world event, rather these occurrences highlight the importance of treating this philosophy as an ongoing effort and organizational commitment, not a static target. Those that prioritize this have the upper hand over tech-averse competitors and create advantages that last throughout positive and negative business cycles.

Authored By

Major Bottoms Jr.

Senior Research Consultant

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Meet our Experts

Major Bottoms Jr.
Senior Research Consultant

Major Bottoms Jr. is a Senior Research Consultant for Levvel Research based in Charlotte, NC. He plays a key role in the analysis and presentation of data for Levvel’s research reports, webinars, and consulting engagements. Major’s expertise lies in the Procure-to-Pay, Source-to-Settle, and travel and expense management processes and software, as well as technologies and strategies across DevOps, digital payments, design systems, and application development. Prior to joining Levvel, Major held various roles in the mortgage finance field at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Major graduated with a degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

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