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Mumbai/New Delhi: The covid-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses like never before, but has also created an opportunity to invest in digital solutions that will build resilience in the long-term, said technology stakeholders during Mint’s Pivot or Perish webinar on automation in the new normal.

The demand for digital solutions across cloud services, consumer-facing businesses, and education, among others, has gone up significantly during the pandemic, the panelists said. However, businesses are first and foremost investing on keeping track of their workforce and operations functional.

Traditionally, sectors outside of new age businesses, banking and financial services, have not turned wholeheartedly towards automation solutions yet. The lockdown has clearly demonstrated how technologically-enabled businesses have thrived during the crisis, but many businesses are still figuring out where they want to start their automation journey in the new normal.

The entire focus of enterprises during the lockdown has gone from automation for cost optimization to business continuity and resilience, said Kamal Singhani, managing partner, IBM India. “Most of our clients are trying to embed automation into the workplace among others. We have also seen the automation narrative turning from return on investments to how resourceful the solution is at keeping the business operational," he said.

The pandemic has increased the level of automation by 4-5 times and certainly more than what demonetization had done, said Singhani. Sectors such as retail and industrial manufacturing are still catching up to these solutions, but others such as financial services are ahead of the curve.

“This is the scenario, both globally and in India. When you look at local consumption, the demand has been very strong," said Prakash Mallya, VP and managing director, sales, marketing and communications, Intel India.

However, the challenge is to ensure a non-disruptive supply chain to channel the demand effectively, said Mallya. The state of automation in India today is not the highest. In the 7 crore small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, contributing to approximately one-third of the gross domestic product, the level of automation is not very high as compared to other countries. “Definitely, automation can help SMEs ride this crisis and come out stronger than how they entered it," said Mallya.

“Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation of three years within three months with massive adoption of digital solutions for supply chain management and remote collaboration among other areas," said Sangeeta Gupta, VP and chief strategy officer, Nasscom. However, access to relevant data sets for firms to start their automation journey across sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare is still a stumbling block, she said.

The kind of solutions that businesses are looking at to build resilience through automation are multifold. As businesses started moving to the unlock phase in addition to workforce safety, they wanted to know how they could engage with employees, customers and partners better through digital solutions, said Dulles Krishnan, area vice-president, Salesforce. “Smaller companies are much more agile in the context of such change and are taking the leap in such engagements, be it in terms of creating apps for their sales teams or to track employee distribution for better visibility of how their resources are being used," Krishnan added.

romita.m@livemint.com

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