Features, Insight, Opinion

How COVID-19 Inspired a Reimagining of Enterprise Workflows

By Bill Scudder, Senior Vice President and General Manager, AIoT Solutions, AspenTech

The Middle East has had an impressive run of distributing vaccines to residents, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who rank first with 158.24 doses per 100 people, crossing 15.5 million doses. No minor feat when you realise how rapidly the authorities had to scale up distribution to make sure shots get into arms ASAP. But this use case is really just a microcosm of a broader trend, and need, rolling through the enterprise world right now – the need to reimagine workflows in a more agile, data-rich, and actionable manner, in order to expedite the delivery of real value into people’s lives.

COVID-19 dropped on businesses like a hammer last year, disrupting business processes and continuity across the board, and enterprise workflow management was one such piece of these strategies radically impacted. All of which begs the question: How has COVID-19 inspired enterprises to refine and redefine those workflows to be flexible, smarter, and richer in data? And what kind of value can these reimagined workflows bring to the table?

COVID-19 Exposed a Workflow Gap Between People and Processes

In the industrial world, organisations rely on a complicated integration of business processes to execute on big objectives. Trying to streamline this process with new data workflows often runs headfirst into a debilitating reality: The data that would be fed into those workflows is spread out across any number of distinct and unlinked systems. This ranges from legacy Data Management solutions, like Excel spreadsheets, to physical sheets of paper. Some of the programs most constrained by this fact are people-centric initiatives, like Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental (HSSE) activities.

COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem, but at the same time, also illuminated a way forward for organisations. The pandemic meant that it was suddenly both business-critical and critical for public health to be able to track COVID-19 cases across the organisation, if and when they emerged, and feed that data into the HSSE protocols accordingly – a sort of internal contact tracing program. For enterprises that had already created these kinds of workflows, this became a validating use case, allowing business leaders to quickly notify other employees about exposure within the organisation and plan work shifts accordingly.

But for enterprises that didn’t have these workflows already in place, COVID-19 highlighted just how crucial it is to tightly integrate people, data, and workflows into an automated digital process. By this time next year, the need for specific COVID-19 contact tracing hopefully won’t be necessary – but the workflows that that application was built on will continue to remain business-critical.

Smarter Workflows That Can Manage Resources Efficiently

Not only has the pandemic exposed how enterprises are, or aren’t, bridging the gap between people and process in their works, it has also exposed how efficiently or inefficiently resources are being managed across workflows. COVID-19 changed how organisations manage resources for the better, impressing upon them the need to create more agile enterprise workflows that can allocate resources in a more dynamic and responsive manner.

In a COVID-specific context, that use case looks like tracking employee trends on cases, hospitalisations, and recoveries, and building customised triggers that respond with specific, targeted business actions based on employee conditions (e.g., automatically reassigning job duties to others based on when given employees or contractors may be out for COVID-related reasons).

This kind of agile enterprise workflow management is essential for remaining flexibility in a year where adapting to a rapidly evolving situation is absolutely critical, to both business continuity and employee health. But the logic underpinning these workflows goes beyond COVID-19. If anything, these contact tracing and work-shift planning use cases paint a picture of exactly the kind of enterprise workflows that organisations should be modeling after going forward. That model should be able to:

  • Rapidly allocate resources to HSSE initiatives based on employee information received in real time
  • Aggregate both site- and enterprise-level reporting on employee stats
  • Configure and manage new workflows based on workplace conditions as they evolve
  • Capture and integrate information generated across a diversity of data sources, feeding that data into higher-level decision-making processes

Agile, flexible enterprise workflows need to move beyond the limits of traditionally static reporting systems. Those workflows didn’t work in a pandemic, and industrial organisations shouldn’t feel like they need to go back to them post-COVID.

For as disruptive as COVID-19 has been for businesses on every level, there have been minor silver linings, lessons to be learned for the future, along the way. Refining and redefining agile enterprise workflows to ingest more dynamic, high-value data from industrial AI and machine learning models is the way forward for making faster, more adaptive business decisions. This new approach to enterprise workflows was tested with COVID-19 contact tracing and vaccination tracking and passed that test with flying colors. Industrial organisations should map these new models of enterprise workflows across the board.

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