Business continuity requires that we innovate with technology to contain the pandemic and gear up for recovery.

As the rising cases of COVID-19 in Asia Pacific inundates hospitals with new patients and governments with data, as well as businesses with new constraints, ensuring continuity and productivity while mitigating risks and the spread of the virus has been key.

With increased measures in place, from contact tracing to mandated remote working practices, technological innovations have been increasingly emerging in response to the changes brought about by the new normal that we live in. Yet, the big question has been the sustainability and impact that this will have on our societies and businesses.

What could be the answer to mitigating disruption during these unprecedented times? Can technology provide us with solutions for containment and eventual recovery? We ask Adrian Jones, Executive Vice President, Asia Pacific & Japan at Automation Anywhere, for some answers.

In what key ways could technology provide us with solutions for containment and eventual recovery from situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jones: In this unprecedented time, we see the evolution of work and life as we know it. The deployment of technology has not only been instrumental in enabling healthcare providers to access tools for effective patient care and the mitigation of potential risks, but also in equipping businesses and individuals with resources to innovate and navigate the new normal.

Intelligent automation has proven to be key. In combining Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, it empowers rapid end-to-end business process automation, accelerating digital transformation in the process, while continually improving over time. At a time where resources are increasingly constrained, intelligent automation is providing a solution that reduces time and the need for human interference, while increasing processing speed and regularizing outputs.

To help improve access to intelligent automation, Automation Anywhere recently unveiled a library of free, ready-to-use software bots for our free Community Edition product, to automate processes in key business areas that have been impacted the most by COVID-19 and help achieve key business priorities today, including continuity, effective remote working and team communications.

We are seeing how this is empowering both frontline workers and organizational employees to direct their energies away from cumbersome tasks to more meaningful work. This is improving the responsiveness to new constraints and developments during the current situation, facilitating more effective management of the economic and human impact of COVID-19 across industries and sectors.

Please provide some healthcare examples, during this difficult time, of how containment is better managed with technology and automation.

Jones: With the increasing number of COVID-19 infections around the world, healthcare organizations are overstretched continuously and racing against time.

Intelligent automation can help with increasing efficiencies by taking on manual, repetitive tasks, enabling frontline workers to focus on the delivery of critical patient services, while responding to new developments. This has included:

  • Automated processing of clinical case forms to advance public health: The World Health Organization (WHO) initially launched the Anonymized Clinical Data Platform, which required the manual processing of critical clinical data and lengthy case record forms for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

    We collaborated with Microsoft to design a solution with our AI-powered IQ Bot, which now enables the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom to automatically extract critical patient information and process anonymized forms with speed and accuracy. In the process, saving stretched healthcare organizations time to focus on improved patient outcomes.
  • Facilitating business continuity with contact tracing to reduce transmission: Automation Anywhere’s new Health Status Manager bot helps employers plan for adequate staff levels when employees are out sick, with anonymized aggregated results displayed on a dashboard, distributed by email to designated supervisors and analyzed using Automation Anywhere’s Bot Insight analytics technology. Bots are now also deployed to support containment efforts to trace contacts between infected individuals to reduce further transmission.

    For example, the Contact Tracing Bot has been developed to automate the contact tracing process in Singapore – from data extraction to assessing risk for the purposes of aiding in containment efforts.

In the Asia Pacific region, what are some best practices for containment and recovery gleaned from Automation Anywhere’s customers?

Jones: In the last few weeks, we have seen the situation continues to evolve and become increasingly unpredictable. Countries are seeing surges of new infections despite earlier containment efforts. This has led to enhanced measures to detect, contain and test cases earlier and for nation-wide public health interventions in efforts to contain and stop the spread.

Some best practices we have observed include:

  • Automation of contact tracing
    In Singapore, bot prototypes have been developed to support contact tracing of infected individuals, from data extraction to risk assessment, and provide real-time information as we work with healthcare providers and the government to reduce further transmissions.
  • Keeping citizens connected while maintaining strict social distancing
    The Macao Anti-Epidemic Real-Time Interactive Map, which was created within five days in collaboration with local partner NetCraft, functions as a public service dashboard that provides real-time, vital information, including infection sites, hospital wait times, local availability of masks, bank status, and other useful information. Citizens are kept connected and informed across the country, helping them understand areas to avoid, and where they can go to access essential services. Within its first few days, the site received 50,000 visits as the people of Macao logged on to obtain trusted, live information.
  • Maintaining high levels of employee engagement and accountability
    In Mainland China, we partnered with IT consulting firm Shenzhen Pactera Information Limited to develop the Pactera Employee Risk Assessment Tool to determine employees’ risk of infection as they return home after traveling outside of the region. The tool utilizes AI and RPA to collect and analyze data – including travel history and confirmed cases from the public health department – to keep employees accountable and effectively trace contacts and suggest a course of action to mitigate its spread.

What are the key business priorities for organizations in the region now and in the immediate future, and what role does intelligent automation play?

Jones: The immediate priority for businesses all around the world is continuity. Even as the pandemic results in challenges to existing work processes and in-person collaboration, implementing measures to do more with less is a crucial challenge and objective to help organizations get on the road to continuity, and eventually recovery.

It is imperative that talent is prioritized during this period as well. It is ultimately the most finite and valuable resource that a business has, especially as skills evolve and demand for skilled talent continues to grow. Prioritizing talent looks like, in the current situation, enabling employees to achieve their potential and deliver significant value as they work remotely. This will require businesses to optimize workflows and would allow employees to have the tools they need for effective remote working.

Prioritizing talent also means that organizations invest in talent, providing them the training they need to harness the power of digital technology and automation tools effectively – in turn enhancing employee skills, ensuring that they will be able to make the leap as the business transitions toward recovery.

Intelligent automation achieves both the immediate as well as eventual priority. In helping businesses to offload mundane and repetitive tasks to a digital workforce, workers have more time back to focus on business-critical aspects using their creative problem-solving skills. In allowing for on-going learning and process improvement, employees can enhance their digital skills in the process, to learn how to effectively work with digital workers and navigate intelligent automation workflows, which will elevate their skillsets in the long run.

Intelligent automation will not only improve the way we work but reinvent the workplace as we know it beyond the current pandemic. In prioritizing the improvement of process and, more importantly, the investment in talent, intelligent automation will ultimately pave the way for digital transformation.