Last year, we did some research into how Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and algorithms are going to transform the workplace over the next five years.
We found that 72% of business leaders identify the transition to a hybrid workplace – where people work hand-in-hand with AI, RPA and algorithms in an environment optimised for technology – as their biggest challenge between now and 2024.
Here we are, just a few short months later, and the Coronavirus pandemic has turbo-charged automation in the workplace to a degree that it would have been impossible to predict when we published the Human to Hybrid research. The critical need to keep vulnerable people safe and to stop the virus spreading has forced organisations to introduce new ways of working that they may have known about for years but have resisted implementing – until now.
In the space of just 100 days, technology has taken remote working and virtual learning from the preserve of a minority of progressive organisations to the mainstream, and we’ve had to adapt incredibly quickly to this new normal. Organisations have risen to the challenge, although it’s not been easy for some: those that already encouraged people to work from home or study remotely were better equipped to deal with the sea change, while those that stuck to traditional requirements for people to be in the office or classroom every day had to scramble to adapt.
Here at Capita, we’ve seen how different industry sectors have responded to the demands of the public health crisis and how automation is one of the key tools to help them manage these new challenges as well as plan for the future.
In insurance, banking and travel, for example, more people have been contacting them with financial concerns just as customer service agents are calling in sick or self-isolating. The pandemic has also highlighted the dangers of concentrating too much knowledge or skill within a small group of employees: if the only person in your organisation who knows how to carry out an important task or process is off work, you risk becoming non-compliant or that action not being undertaken at all.
Our clients in these sectors have received help from our automation services and tools. Our voice activation service, for example, allows people to quickly get reliable and accurate answers to their questions without having to wait to talk to a human customer service agent, and we’re able to quickly automate key processes and give employees access to them, so clients can maintain compliance no matter how many of their people are off.
The pandemic is exerting the most pressure on healthcare, as the sector fights to beat the Coronavirus with a depleted workforce and restrictions such as the need to maintain social distancing.
I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to help acute healthcare providers to keep delivering crucial services – despite the difficulties – with technology and automation. Our Virtual Consultations tool, for example, lets GPs continue seeing patients remotely and our remote clinical coding service is giving hospital staff more time to treat patients while ensuring that critical data about the spread and effects of Covid-19 is collected. Similarly, automation is helping organisations to disseminate information to where it is needed not least in reporting on bottlenecks, issues and successes.
And while technology and automation are helping us to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic right now, it will also help us to cope with the aftermath. Once the current crisis is over, we’ll face all sorts of challenges trying to resume normal service: the transport and travel sectors will have to do mass mail-outs about new schedules, for example, while the NHS will have to notify millions of people about new clinic appointments and operation dates and schools and universities will face an administrative avalanche as the education system gets back on track.
Bots can be incredibly useful in this scenario. They can be created very quickly and, once they’re installed, can take care of big, cumbersome, time-consuming but ultimately fairly simple tasks. They’re an ideal way to prevent businesses and people getting overwhelmed. They further enable staff to use their time more effectively whether that is undertaking different responsibilities during this difficult time or planning for the post covid world.
Thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, today’s landscape is very different to the one we were working, studying and living in at the beginning of 2020. Automation has proved its worth in freeing people from repetitious, low-level tasks to focus on high-level tasks that really add value – something that all the participants in our Human to Hybrid research identified as a positive benefit of the hybrid workforce – and has enabled us to keep working and learning during the crisis.
Where do we go from here? We certainly can’t turn the clock back and return to the old ways once we emerge from lockdown. Our only choice is to build on the benefits we’ve seen so far, and to continue to explore them further. We must make sure we keep reaping the benefits of technology in the workplace and classroom long after the pandemic is over – this can’t be a technological flash in the pan.