Intelligent automation is the technological antidote to COVID-19


Intelligent Automation (IA) is simply the use of new technologies to help organisations improve the way they operate. And it may be the ‘digital antidote’ to combating COVID-19 because it is so well suited to solving a number of the business challenges created by the pandemic.   

IA includes amongst other examples, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Object Character Recognition, Chatbots and Virtual Advisors. Its applications are widespread.

Reducing direct contact between people

In South Africa, we are still dependent on paper-based forms processing. Consider an administration clerk registering a patient at a hospital: the process requires that the patient complete a manual form which is then handed, along with ID, to an administration clerk.

All details are then directly recaptured by the clerk. The application of IA in this instance can support remote or pre-registration by facilitating the capturing of required details and images without an admission clerk having to directly engage with the patient.

This is also just as applicable to banks and other service companies required to execute instructions.

Supporting Business as Usual (BAU) processing and self-isolation 

Consider a contact centre agent whose job it is to process varying service query types, each of which requires navigating and executing activities across multiple systems.

IA can be leveraged to simply guide the agent through each of the required steps needed to service the received requests.

This includes correct processing, faster processing, reduced rework, increased client satisfaction – and the shift of an agent’s skills from knowing which process to follow, to being able to properly understand the client’s needs and choose the best solution.

Ensuring business critical processes keep working 

Large numbers of businesses have simply put critical processes on hold as they’re unable to manage risk while supporting remote working.

Consider the application of IA to a process like invoice processing. Specific data can be extracted from invoices, purchase orders and the like, the necessary checks done and the corresponding payments prepared.

The benefits in this situation, regardless of the current limiting COVID-19 conditions, is that a core process such as invoice processing, can be effectively fulfilled, while ensuring that the necessary risks and controls are adhered to. It can also be implemented quickly.

Forecasting no-go zones 

Taking a social view of the COVID-19 impact, by applying machine learning algorithms to infection data combined with mobile Global Positioning System (GPS) data, models that estimate the likelihood of infection within specific areas can also be developed.

The outcome is that it’s now possible to track real time  movement of people and therefore infer the most opportune time to visit your favourite store.

From a healthcare perspective, these results can be consolidated to proactively track and forecast infection rates as well as inform hospitals in advance of the number of patients to be expected and planned for.

The importance of the role of IA in supporting initiatives aimed at assisting the minimisation of the impact of COVID-19 cannot be underestimated.

Implementation considerations

Based on the applicability of IA, it would be a reasonable assumption that it should be widely deployed.

The challenge however is that embracing automation often fails at the start because the technologies are not used correctly and the problems that they aim to solve are not well suited for automation.

Additionally, the complexity of system access and database access are often underestimated.

In thinking about adopting IA, we recommend that companies define a very clear strategic intent for IA and then prioritise specific areas that will ensure continuity of key operations, thereby sustaining and enhancing revenues and margins.

It’s important to make sure that businesses have thought through each of the aspects of how to operate a new IA team within the existing structures.

From a people perspective, this means proactively guiding and coaching all employees through the new change and what is to be expected of them, both at a business wide level, as well as on a process by process basis.

Lastly, from a technology perspective, we recommend deployment over the cloud because it is quickly activated, provides the foundation to easily add new technologies and is easily scalable. As the world changes in response to the pandemic, the way we work has evolved. Embracing IA is now longer just a consideration, but a necessity.

Paul St Quintin | Intelligent Automation Lead | EY Africa | mail me |  



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