With the number of infections still rising on a daily basis in many regions, and the need for social distancing among humans, it’s robots to the rescue!

No, it’s not like the coronavirus and robots are wiping out the human race and taking over Planet Earth, as in some sci-fi movies.

But, as some would say, desperate times call for desperate measures. With the need to keep human interaction minimal to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections, there’s no better way than to engage the help of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to keep things running.

Organizations in the medical diagnostics field, as well as industries dealing with work-from-home requirements and increased online activities, are already seeing the benefits of automation in various ways. There are several great examples in the Asia Pacific region.

We’re not talking science fiction here, and to keep us grounded to the needs of the here and now, DigiconAsia sought out the expert and practical perspective of Malina Platon, Managing Director, Strategic Accounts, APAC at UiPath.

What are some ways, and in what industries, that RPA can help during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Platon: There are a number of ways that RPA has helped businesses and governments during this pandemic. In healthcare, RPA can help manage and organize the masses of data that hospitals are now producing.

In February this year, UiPath worked with local Chinese partner Wuhan Shuhu to develop a 24-hour online platform that gave the 2,500 medical workers in the hospital quick access to each patient’s latest condition through a database. The solution allowed doctors to get instant health updates as well as transmit those updates throughout the country.

RPA can help on the medical diagnostic front also. One of the challenges hospitals face is the backlog of x-rays that need to be reviewed by radiologists to identify and diagnose patients. By combining machine learning (ML) and RPA into a single deployable model, UiPath developed an experimental robot that has the ability to compress diagnosis timelines by 50% or more for tuberculosis and pneumonia. The robot uses a deep learning model to accurately diagnose pneumonia through chest x-ray image inputs and UiPath automating the deep learning training and testing process.

The robot has an accuracy rate of 90% and is being adapted to detect coronavirus.

For other industries, UiPath have developed a Healthcheck robot that automates the reporting of health data for companies with employees working from home (see more below). We see organizations adopting RPA to help them through this pandemic. Over the past month, we have amassed 30 COVID-19 business uses cases to and signed over 100 new customers to deploy a UiPath Automation Hub to engage their remote workforce.

This Automation Hub comes at no cost to enterprise customers and prospects for one year. With this tool, enterprises can capture automation ideas from their staff to build an automation pipeline that will support new and evolving employee needs, especially as they work remotely.

Please share some examples from the Asia Pacific region from your experience.

Platon: Over the past few months, UiPath have developed and made available a Healthcheck robot that is used to automate the checking and reporting of employees’ health while they work from home.

Many governments in the APAC region have advised companies to document employees’ temperatures each day as they enter the office or employees working from home to report their travel plans and any health symptoms to their employers.

The Healthcheck robot will remind employees to send through their data if they have not already done so. Behind the scenes, the large volume of health data (from the surveys) is collected, organized into reports, and analyzed by an unseen software robot. The robot sends and collect questionnaires through software and can be utilized or customized by human resources (HR) staff to suit their organization’s needs. This robot can be a critical timesaver, improving the health screening procedures for companies around the world.

The robot has been downloaded hundreds of times by organizations in APAC and, as a testament to the versatility of RPA, it is available across multiple platforms. In South Korea, it is used through Kakaotalk, WeChat in China, e-mail, WhatsApp and other platforms.

How does UiPath’s solutions help employers contain and recover from the pandemic?

Platon: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a wide range of challenges for organizations around the world including business continuity problems and hospital backlogs. RPA has helped bring relief to many organizations and the automation solutions will play a significant role in the future recovery.

For instance, UiPath’s RPA solutions have been used by the healthcare industry to automate the check in process of new patients, eliminating human error and allowing digital paperwork to be processed quickly and accurately, ensuring faster service. For customers who have seen an exponential increase in demand for certain items, our RPA robots RPA robots process all orders and enter them into SAP to get the order to the manufacturing center faster.

One of the features of this pandemic has been the surge in online shopping which has placed considerable strain on online retailers who are having to ramp up products and increase hiring in a very short period of time. One of our clients needed to add 100k full-time and part-time positions for warehouse and delivery workers to meet this demand, which meant they had to process a massive 800K to 1M job applicants. The retailer now uses 10 unattended robots to help with this selection process, checking eligibility and conducting background checks, speeding up selection and helping the retailer meet demand.

The aviation sector is another industry that has been hard hit due to the virus with many airlines having to cancel flights and refund millions of passengers. While airlines have to process these millions of claims, their non-essential employees have to work from home piling additional pressure onto their call centers which are struggling to handle the volume of calls. One airline uses UiPath’s robots to help their employees by pulling together information from multiple sources helping increase service turnaround.

Singapore has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 infections, and social distancing measures have been tightened. In what specific ways can RPA help Singaporeans return to normality as quickly and smoothly as possible?

Platon: I see RPA helping to accelerate existing digital transformation activities and enabling companies to reshape and reinvent the way they work and deliver services.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations deployed RPA to drive productivity, increase digital capacity to meet demand and improve employee satisfaction. As the pandemic hit, RPA was deployed to relieve urgent cost pressures, allow a remote workforce to operate effectively and meet surges in customer demand with a reduced workforce.

As we emerge from the pandemic, RPA will help organizations to get back up and running. The efficiencies found during the pandemic will allow companies to adjust to ongoing cost and revenue impacts that they may continue to face in the coming months, and it will even help find additional sources of revenue.

For instance, within contact centers, RPA is helping reduce the time it takes to find a customer in the IT system and, when combined with AI, is helping to recommend upsell solutions. We are also helping banks provide more digital services, healthcare companies make procurement for efficient and insurance companies process applications much quicker. All these efficiency savings will help build resilience as organizations go back to normal over the coming months.

Beyond that, though, RPA will spur organizations to rethink and reimagine the way they operate. The enterprise-wide automation that has suddenly taken place in many firms will become a new norm with employers following a ‘cloud first’ strategy as they realize that remote working can be productive and secure.

We will see more reskilling and upskilling of employees, more resilience and agility built within supply chains, and a better ability to adapt to rapid changes.