AI and Coronavirus: Providing Business Continuity with a Hybrid Workforce

By Juan Martinez, Senior Writer
March 12, 2020 • 4 minute read

As the Coronavirus threat spreads, some local and state government agencies, as well as some major tech brands, have implemented work from home policies, or are considering such a move. Although technology has made remote work possible, many businesses find this scenario less-than-ideal. Fortunately, AI can provide a high layer of business continuity through an empowered digital-human hybrid workforce.

As the Coronavirus threat spreads, some local and state government agencies, as well as some major tech vendors such as Google, have implemented work-from-home policies, with many others considering such a move. Although technology has made remote work possible, many businesses find this scenario less than ideal.

Fortunately, AI, in the form of conversational Digital Employees, can help ensure that companies keep running even when employees are forced to work from home. What’s more, a hybrid workforce made up of digital and human employees collaborating to execute processes and transactions can provide a high level of business continuity, and reduce the risks of lost business and revenue, especially when people are ill or unable to work from home at all.

AI Can Make Remote Work Effective

Introducing (or mandating) work-from-home policies isn’t as simple as locking the office door. Remote work comes with many challenges for employers, such as providing agile, flexible and intuitive employee services spread out across numerous time zones. For example, simply getting workers logged onto the corporate VPN could present a logistical not to mention technical nightmare.

This is an ideal business case for AI investment. Conversational AI systems can automate access to employee software and services, and make them available 24/7 to staff around the world. With Digital Employees (such as Amelia), employees regardless of location no longer need to wait for responses from other workers to take action on basic tasks.

Digital Employees, by their very nature, are virtual, cloud-based and always-available anywhere. They can deliver global services that can assist employees with everything from requesting time off, to invoice reimbursement, to IT support. Whether employees are full-time or contract-based, office-based or remote, an always-on AI-powered support system enables a holistic approach to any work-from-home situation. In addition, Digital Employees can step in for ill or absent human workers — processing transactions, handling internal and external user queries, and maintaining business processes — until staff return to their jobs.

Again, think of the simple use case of automating VPN access. Hundreds or thousands of employees accessing the corporate VPN for the first time can lead to rampant confusion, frustration and miscommunication, particularly in environments where normally only a few dozen employees require VPN access at any point in time. Adding hundreds more to the network can lead to flooded email inboxes for IT and HR support staff, not to mention additional technical hurdles to scale VPN access effectively.

With conversational AI, employees are empowered by self-service support. Any questions can easily be handled by Digital Employees that can lead a worker step-by-step through processes such as logging into the VPN and verifying credentials. This form of automation requires little-to-no involvement from human team members, allowing them to focus on more critical projects – such as how to maintain high levels of external customer service when much of the staff is forced to work from home.

AI is More Than Just Self-Service

As more companies expand work-from-home policies until the Coronavirus outbreak stabilizes, AI can play a critical role in delivering off-site and remote employee services. However, it’s important to note that this is not the only use case during this crisis where AI can prove invaluable. AI solutions such as Amelia also are intelligent and sophisticated enough to handle complex business processes and crucial decision-making, not just within individual companies looking to keep their businesses running without disruption, but in the handling and managing of the Coronavirus outbreak itself.

On the latter point, Dr. Vincent Grasso, IPsoft’s Global Lead: Healthcare & Life Sciences, views AI as a partial solution to maintaining the epidemic, both in-person and via remote medical care.

AI “could provide much-needed relief in countries where the Coronavirus has spiraled out of control, namely in China and neighboring countries, and where doctors are reportedly being ‘pushed to the brink,’” Dr. Grasso told The Express. “Hiring more doctors for these situations is costly and difficult, especially when the outbreak is spread across multiple countries lacking the resources. Conversational computing enables and empowers doctors and nurses to manage the care of affected patients with minimal human contact.”

Using AI within quarantined areas could be the key to safely providing patient care.

“For example, hospitals can implement conversational AI in quarantined areas to help them obtain important information from patients while limiting external exposure, such as details of their physiological state, or logistical information concerning exposure sites,” he said. “Conversational AI solutions can also act as a digital care assistant by providing quarantined patients with updates and information, i.e. giving them medication reminders, or by notifying human doctors when patients report more serious symptoms to ensure that the gravest cases are dealt with first.”

AI Can Maintain Operations

On the corporate operations front, conversational AI agents allow organizations to rapidly mitigate internal IT and service issues that would otherwise impede operations, whether those are the result of natural disasters, technological breakdowns or in the most current case a new global virus.

AI can provide 24/7 monitoring of critical corporate systems to ensure that they are always working at optimal and expected levels. In the event that an IT monitoring tool discovers an outage of some kind, it can automatically diagnose and address an issue based on a company’s relevant policies and procedures. Conversational systems also can also be an avenue for external customers to access relevant information in a company’s digital systems. For example, companies that sell products related to containing the virus are seeing dramatic spikes in orders and service calls. If those companies’ call centers are shut down or reduced in capacity due to the outbreak, conversational virtual AI agents can be trained to field inventory queries or process purchase orders, providing continuity in service quality.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing many companies to consider how their workforce can continue to function under difficult circumstances, and how business can go on with limited interruptions. With a digital-human hybrid workforce, companies can provide any newly remote employees with the tools they need to do their jobs, leverage digital workers to allow ill human staff time to recover, and ultimately, and most importantly, play a major role in limiting the spread of coronavirus within their communities.

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