4IR – The Revolution will not be Televised

SEP 24, 2020  |  Business |   SoluGrowth

As social distancing and the aftereffects of various lockdown levels across the globe infiltrate every facet of our lives, to say we live in unprecedented times is inarguable. The devastation this pandemic has caused in terms of loss of human life, and the impact on its victims’ families, should by no means be understated. And this piece doesn’t seek to downplay the human toll this disease has claimed.  

However, for companies, the impact has also been marked. After the initial shock of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the ensuing response around the world to contain the pandemic, the question that poses itself now is:

How will world economies and organisations recover and augment their future operations to remain relevant and navigate these tumultuous times?

The Problem with Covid-19

The pandemic has unearthed three core truths:  

• In a globalised and ever-densifying, populous world the threat of more frequent pandemics is becoming a reality

• Digitalisation and 4IR are no longer nice-to-have’s, but are need-to-have’s

• For the short to medium term, the new normal is simply that there is no longer a normal.

The problem with Covid-19 is that it caught many companies off guard and laid bare the lack of agility, flexibility and robustness in their systems and processes. The overnight implementation of remote working solutions to maintain operations during hard lockdowns around the world has, in large part, been reported as successful. However, connectivity and security remain big concerns.

In some Shared Services Centres (SSCs) the disconnect between departments, or the need for manual interventions in processes, has meant that functions were hamstrung in the execution of their duties while the office remained off limits. For example, in the case of dispute resolution where physical copies of documents had to be submitted, it would have been impossible to settle a matter during hard lockdown when employees could not leave their homes.

Needless to say, the organisations with more advanced digital processes were able to adapt to forced remote working much more quickly than those who still had a need for such manual interventions.

Galvanized by this crisis, digital transformation is likely to stop being an interesting discussion point for company leaders. Rather, we expect it to become an actual target for organisations going forward. Aggressive process automation is likely as companies work to minimize the implications of globalisation on the supply of human labour.

O2C – Underestimation leads to devastation

Order-to-Cash (O2C) is a process that has been enormously susceptible to failure in organisations where digitalisation was behind the curve before the pandemic hit. Cashflow is the lifeblood of any company yet many organisations underestimate, or even ignore, the connection between taking the order, to collecting, to banking the money.

When an organisation is battling with poor-performing working capital it is very tempting to throw additional debt collection staff at the problem, or even engage a debt collection agency. Unfortunately, these solutions simply add to the delay in debt recovery when the issue simply boils down to a reactive and manual process that is prone to error and delays in resolution.

For us, and as the name suggests, O2C puts cash at the heart of this cycle. It should prioritise opportunities to minimise error through process improvement and remove manual interventions with appropriate process automation. For example, the upstream process in sales usually links to collection metrics directly within AR. This can lead to stunted cashflow if the process is flawed, whether because of poor master data through flow or duplicated sales order numbers.

The Right and Wrong Solution

Speed and agility are vital but at what cost? Pre-pandemic, an outsourced model offered clear cost benefits with loss of control posing only a weak argument against it. Now, loss of control has become a much bigger issue as companies grapple with the security and quality control risks that come with allowing employees to continue to work from home.

Companies must interrogate the control environment of an outsourced solution vigorously, especially if it requires manual intervention. But then, manual processes within the O2C environment typifies the source of most organisations’ pain points.

As such, a robust process flow without manual interventions will inherently assure control and should be the goal for companies that want to make their O2C process more robust in future. Whether the solution should be outsourced, insourced or take the form of a hybridised option depends on the organisation’s circumstances and the maturity of its O2C processes.

It is true that complexity is now an elevated risk as organisations come to terms with the pandemic, but it is one that can be mitigated by enhanced skills and processes. Rather than using RPA and semi-automation simply to cut staff levels, organisations are increasingly seeing 4IR as an opportunity to upskill workforces and allow historically transactional staff to add increasing value and analysis within the business instead.

SoluGrowth has partnered with many organisations across industries and geographies to support their digital transformation within O2C. We have the necessary skills to assess the maturity state of organisations and provide appropriate recommendations to help them gain quick wins in the short-term, as well as long-term optimisation of O2C.


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