Cristian Carstoiu, Partener, Consultanta, EY Romania
It’s only fair to say COVID has brought for businesses around the globe a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to implementation of digital processes, as most organisations have experienced, without much time to prepare upfront, a lack of personnel hence an impact of daily tasks.
For the sake of clarity, what I mean by implementation of digital processes is primarily the redesign of business processes in the light of the new user expectations and existing / expected maturing technology. This does not mean just implementing RPA technology, or a business process management solution, but a truly re-think of the core processes to eliminate the redundant steps, reduce non value-added human interaction or adoption of a technology like live face recognition to eliminate the need for human visual inspection.
As most firms, EY is facing three important challenges, two of them being ubiquitous to most companies and the third one being more specific to professional services firms. One key challenge is how to meaningfully engage with your clients, while being on the other side of a laptop screen; another one is how to further optimise the internal processes to reduce the dependency of people needed in the physical office. The third challenge, more specific to professional services firm, is how to keep your own people engaged in innovation – consulting being one of those areas where team work and staying ahead of the industry trends is crucial to deliver high quality and relevant outputs to your clients.
I am lucky to be active in a firm that has been at the forefront of innovation not only globally, but also locally. The Intelligent Automation EMEIA Center of Excellence is based in Bucharest and has helped digitizing Finance and HR processes (AP, AR, invoicing, people on-onboarding, salary certificates, etc.) for EY first, before taking the services to reputed clients in FMCG, Banks, Energy or Public Sector. Our consultants have helped implement over 63 bots for our colleagues in Tax & Law departments – for example reducing the time to calculate impacts of various tax deductions. The Data & analytics department have helped the Consulting and Assurance departments to reduce the time for decision making (audited documents are relevant and enough?) and increase the quality of decisions (is my stock quantity enough for the next 2 weeks and do I have the right items?).
Still, with a solid team in place and continuous improvement activities as part of the regular business-as-usual objectives, we had to act swiftly to respond to the three challenges mentioned above. Some of the key activities we have undertaken:
- we have redesigned our client-facing materials to be relevant for online sessions (crisper messages, more interactive interaction, shorter sessions, revised Q&A sessions);
- we have launched innovation jams and COVID-related innovation challenges on our collaboration platforms (Cognistreamer) to ensure all voices are heard and get relevant input from all our colleagues and
- we have increased the mandatory training hours and revisited the training curricula of all our colleagues to ensure the awareness of emerging technologies, their applicability is well understood, and the adoption is swift across the teams.
Looking in hindsight, was it easy? Not at all – as I like to joke, COVID is just another setback that is being thrown at us to slow down the transformation journey, but it turned out to be a major accelerator of transformation programs. The hardest thing to act upon was the people mindset, as in many other organisations. Some people got scared, others get in survival mode, others thrived.
The main tasks of leaders during these times is to recognize those that can become champions of innovation and transformation and offer them the right platform to create the office v2.0. One of the defining moments for me was when I got asked in the 3rd week of the lockdown why can’t we accelerate the implementation of the ideas we have identified one week before! My colleagues were eager to move beyond the discussion point and go into the implementation mode and I am sure most of my clients felt the same way.
Whether the cure will come sooner or later, my take is that most organisations have learned that a significant aspect of our daily business is to be ready for sudden changes and that flexibility provided by a widespread use of relevant technology can be the determining variable that can predict winners and survivors.