A technological revolution is set to take centre stage in both life and work post-Covid 19 ...

ONE positive result of the current Covid-19 pandemic is that it has proved how technology can literally save lives.

Its use has enabled work and education to take place at home in a virus free environment, as well as stave off loneliness through the use of social media and technologies like Zoom.

However it has also shown that we could have been better equipped for such a “Black Swan” event and experts believe the use of automation and digitalisation will accelerate post-Covid in order to be prepared for future crises.

“A lot of companies did not even have remote working infrastructure so it has been an eye-opener that these things can happen,” said Sumant Kumar, director of digital transformation at CGI UK, which is helping organisations in both the private and public sector use technology to achieve their goals. “We expect automation and digitalisation to be accelerated by this because people will realise these things can happen in the future as well.”

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Examples where automation could improve working conditions are in warehouses where people currently work in close proximity or in hospitals where some cleaning and sanitisation could be automated. 

Remote working will become more common as people become used to communicating via Zoom and Microsoft Teams, according to Kumar.

“People will think about whether they need to go into the office for five days,” he said. 

“For some jobs they will have to but remote working will accelerate and become more prevalent. This could have added benefits such as a drop in carbon emissions as people will spend less time on the roads.”

Here the government has a role by making sure connectivity is improved. Kumar is hopeful this will happen with the advent of 5G and believes those areas where connection is poor should  be prioritised.

Online business is also expected to  become more relevant. Digital payments and online commerce have already increased.

“More of us are ordering online and that trend will continue,” he said. “Businesses will have to improve their digital footprint to manage these changes in citizen and consumer behaviour.”

It is not only the private sector that will have to change but also the public sector as people will expect better communication, for example. 

Many local authorities still use snail mail to communicate with residents even though simple messages could be sent more cheaply, quickly and safely by SMS or email.

“Electronic communications are better in situations like this and local authorities will have to think about how they engage with citizens as opposed to the traditional ways for simple communications,” said Kumar. “It’s about being smarter in terms of differentiating the services for different citizens.”

Good information sharing between different organisations has also shown to be lacking by the crisis. 

“What we need across both the private and public sector is an infrastructure that allows us to share information securely and quickly,” Kumar said. “It is really necessary for the infrastructure to be improved. We can see this especially in the social care sector - how do we get real time information out on what is happening in care homes, especially for families who have loved ones there and also for the health care agencies so they can provide a better service?”

Another problem caused by the virus is the effect on the economy and Kumar warned there would be a lot of pressure on both the private and public sector to become more cost effective.

“For some time there might be pressure on doing more with less and how we do that – it’s easier to use automation and so you can focus on more complex things where you need people to get involved,” he said.

“The key thing for organisations is to work with their employees and think about their development. They need to make sure their journey is managed with the right skills and training to help them move in their jobs.”

For example, said Kumar, many organisations have been giving low quality customer experience because their employees are bogged down by mundane tasks rather than focused on customer experience.

“Automation can help that,” he said. “Organisations should be enabling employees who have great insight and experience and moving them into high value jobs.”

How technology can protect employees and the economy

TALK of robots may have many people thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator but the reality is far from terrifying and more about how they can improve our lives, according to Kirsty Ramsay, vice-president of CGI UK’s Consulting Delivery Centre.

She believes the coronavirus pandemic is making society and business stop and think about where we could have been had automation been thoroughly embraced sooner.

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While public and private sector businesses, have established an element of automation, Ramsay thinks this will speed up in order to make sure employers, employees and students are safe, organise themselves quickly and are able to work and study remotely - if there is a second wave of the virus or something similar.

As someone with a background in the public sector, she is acutely aware of how efficiency could be improved with more automation and digitalisation. This will be crucial as so much of organisations’ budgets are, quite rightly, being used to support critical services, support clients and employees and introduce new services that mitigate the effects of the virus lockdown. 

However automation, she says, is not about job losses but about making sure that employees are focussed on the most valuable tasks, so they are not swamped with mundane jobs but can concentrate on what is really important.

“We are not saying that huge swathes of people will disappear and be replaced by robots,” she said. 

“That is not what is going to happen but some organisations may not, for example, be able to carry the same amount of vacant roles and will start to consider how employees can focus on critical tasks and process exceptions.”

An example of how automation can help can be seen in a robot that speeds up the process of referral of a patient to a consultant by a GP.

“The number of steps this one task goes through is significant but actually the doctor is raising a request for a patient to see a consultant, the appointment is put in his diary and a letter is sent out to the patient,” said Ramsay.

“We have built a robot that can carry out this repeatable task. Introducing this into the mainstream processing means time is freed up and can be used to deal with exceptions or more value added tasks.

“Many organisations have staff with a lot of experience and we should be thinking about how we can reduce repeatable tasks and give them time back to deal with process exceptions or value added work. It is about how we can help organisations get more from the investment made in their people.”

  • This article is commercial content in partnership with CGI that forms part of our STEM campaign