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Intelligent Automation in the Battle Against COVID-19 and Securing Business Continuity for the Future
Anoop Tiwari Senior Corporate Vice President, Digital Process Operations | May 20, 2020
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All too much as already been said about the drastic impact COVID-19 has had on the world. Within a matter of weeks, COVID-19 or the coronavirus has become a household name. So far, it has spread across more than 140 countries and infected over 800,000 people, placing entire nations in a lockdown. It has forced national economies and business alike to reassess how they move forward. There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will go down in history as one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. But even as we attempt to overcome these challenges, there is a heartening display of community, collaboration, and generosity that is rising the world over.

The power of humanity to rise to such challenges is an admirable force and one which keep getting better with time. Each setback serves to teach us valuable lessons so we may better prepare for an unknown future. But the means to bridging the vast chasm between the known and the unknown has always been the domain of technology solutions, such as automation solutions. And given the rapid advancements that we’ve made in the last 20-years alone, I’m certain that artificial intelligence and automation hold the key to securing our tomorrow.

Intelligent Automation vs. COVID-19

It’s worth mentioning that the early indications of the COVID-19 outbreak were first detected by intelligent automation systems. For example, in December 2019, a Canadian health surveillance company called BlueDot first noticed some anomalies in Wuhan China. The company’s machine learning based solution ingested and analyzed a vast data set that included airline travel routes, livestock reports, health organization records, along with many other data points. Using this data, the system was able to detect a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in the region that were similar to the 2003 SARS outbreak. The system was right and nine days later, the WHO happened to declare the emergence of COVID-19. Such systems are already proving to be instrumental in order to track the spread of the outbreak and take steps to minimize exposure.

Similar applications of intelligent automation are also being deployed across numerous other domains in the battle against COVID-19. A key area being the efforts toward inventing a cure or treatment to the coronavirus. Typically, the process for finding a pharmaceutical cure can be tedious and time consuming. However, with intelligent automation tools driven by AI and ML, scientists can develop vaccines, discover exisiting drugs for current applications, and design drugs that can prevent future outbreaks. And while the development in this domain is in its early stages, the current crisis is giving it the impetus needed to accelerate their growth.

Other areas of application for intelligent automation also include proactive monitoring programs, such as the Baidu AI-powered scanning system which uses infrared sensor systems to monitor body temperature. This automation solution was deployed in Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station as a means to detect passengers who may be potentially infected. The zero-contact scanner could examine the temperature of nearly 200 people per minute without disrupting the passenger flow at the station. By using tools like this along with other intelligent automation systems, we can see how this technology is instrumental in mitigating the potential damage of this pandemic.

Intelligent Automation and Business Continuity

Despite all the advantages that intelligent automation offers, the current pandemic caught the entire world by surprise. The scale and suddenness could have scarcely been imagined and has forced people to disrupt their professional and personal lives. With the risk of infection driving all the decisions, it was clearly necessary for governments and business to advise social distancing and self-isolation.

This shift posed massive challenges to business operations as it forced the single largest migration of people to a work-from-home model in modern memory. And while the operational challenges were immense, this was only the beginning, as the real challenge remained in ensuring productivity, business continuity, and operational agility. Under such circumstances, the collaboration between human and machine tools and the matchup of intelligent automation vs. COVID-19 becomes critical toward ensuring business success.

Automation, in any form, whether physical or virtual, has already been the next paradigm shift in business, just waiting to happen. And while we’ve been steadily evolving on this trajectory, advancing scale and service in exceeding increments, the current crisis has shown us how important it is for business to support their workforce and adopt a “digitalCOLLEAGUE” approach.

digitalCOLLEAGUE: Enabling Humans, Protecting the Workforce

During times of crisis, it’s important that every essential workload that can be automated, must be automated. With automation, this becomes the norm under which organizations are structured. As processes evolve, intelligent automation will take the form of “digitalCOLLEAGUE”, whose core mantra is to empower the human potential and to remove operational complexity. In the rapidly emerging era of uncertainty and volatility of business operations, the role of the “digital colleague” is to support human ideas while reducing human effort.

In the rapidly emerging era of uncertainty and volatility of business operations, the role of the 'digitalCOLLEAGUE' is to support human ideas while reducing human effort.

Our current cadre of “digitalCOLLEAGUEs” are designed to work alongside the human workforce and take on the form of chatbots, intelligent analytics for next best action solutions, robotic process automation, and insight-driven dashboards for business intelligence, outcomes, and operational metrics. In the upcoming time, these “digitalCOLLEAGUEs” will prove instrumental in enabling their human counterparts to achieve higher productivity, make insights-based decisions, and raise their innovation quotient.

Tomorrow’s era of business requires enterprises to reimagine and re-engineer how they conceive of work. Modern workplaces need to enable the synergy between their human workforce and machine resources, where the former can focus on customer-centric initiatives while the latter assures repeatable activities. As machines help free up more time, the human workforce will be able to devote its energies on efforts that require human empathy, customer sentiment, and judgement. And perhaps more importantly, this partnership will no longer be limited to office spaces and production environments thereby ensuring that business continuity is maintained even during the most disruptive circumstances.

This is a future that is well within our grasp, but it can only be assured if we make intelligent automation a priority in the aftermath of the current crisis. I am confident that this will surely be the way forward, but until then, I wish you safety and health.