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Another Big Event Brings Change, Opportunity

Significant events cause change. Sometimes they produce innovation. They can drive new legislation, which has its own effects. Many times, events boost changes already underway, particularly in terms of applying technology.

The 21st century has already seen several large-scale events that have impacted business. At the start, accounting scandals were underway at Enron and WorldCom that would bring about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. SOX, aimed at publicly traded corporations, impacted every organization. Nearly simultaneously, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 led, among other things, not only to a surge in disaster recovery and business continuity planning but also to the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act. The attacks had led to the grounding of all planes for several days. That caused a major disruption to the country’s financial transactions. Checks sat on the ground in the cargo compartments of aircraft. In the days following 9/11, the Fed holdover became an estimated $47 billion, compared to the usual several hundred million. Check truncation, already in the works, got the boost needed to become law two years later.

In 2008 the global financial crisis damaged worldwide economies and, in the U.S., led to the Dodd-Frank Act, which dramatically increased regulation of banks. Following on bank changes, just three years ago, the Harvard Business Review posited this: “We expect investment banks to embark on an even more fundamental makeover during the next decade. This second transformation will be triggered not by regulation but by rapidly evolving technology.”

Then came 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted not just the economy but how we work and live. Certain things became obvious immediately as countless workers suddenly went remote. But we don’t yet know what the full impact will be, and organizations are rethinking how and where their employees work.

What is ahead for commercial real estate is now debated. How much work must we do in an office? How much face-to-face time do employees need? Companies are talking about hybrid work models as state governments green-light reopening. And what about business travel?

McKinsey reports the pandemic has highlighted the importance of domestic manufacturing in providing products contributing to “health, safety, national security and continuity of multiple industries.” Will companies seize the opportunities?

Gartner says CIOs must think about what resilience and reliability mean as they move beyond the immediate situation to strategize for the future. They must consider the revelations of 2020. According to Gartner, “Many C-suite executives have been pleasantly surprised by how successful remote work has been as an urgent response to pandemic conditions.” But they still “question the long-term value of a full-fledged hybrid workforce.”

As a result of the pandemic, organizations are looking at an array of digital opportunities across their operations. They’re doing so at a good time given the availability of mature solutions and as some companies have successfully piloted new cognitive technologies. It is an opportune time for transformation.

In its report Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021, Gartner says, “Where digital acceleration is the name of the game, business leaders are clamoring for digital operational excellence. This was further accelerated by COVID-19, which rapidly pushed organizations to allow more remote, digital-first options … Organizations had to digitize their documents/artifacts and ensure their business and IT process workflows were digital. They need to automate tasks, processes and orchestrate automation across functional areas.”

This need applies to financial operations as much as any other area. In the past, purchasing and payables often had difficulty getting support for automation projects. Because of the pandemic event, they have a rare opportunity.

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