At the start of Macao’s Covid-19 outbreak in February, critical information on the pandemic was all over the place. Citizens had to scour through multiple websites and social media to get information on a piecemeal, word-of-mouth basis.

A local company decided to build a GPS-enabled dashboard to provide real-time information on infection sites, hospital wait times, and availability of masks. Unattended RPA bots were used to aggregate and continually update this dashboard, providing citizens with a one-stop site for key information about the pandemic.

Automation wields multiple benefits during a pandemic and beyond. GovInsider spoke to experts from Automation Anywhere to find out how intelligent automation can address skill shortages and value-add to processes, and how organisations can get started on this journey.

Reshaping the workforce

First, automation can help address skill shortages. Ageing populations and decreasing birth rates are issues that have plagued countries for many years. According to United Nations’ projections, almost half of Singapore’s population will be above the age of 65 in 2050.

This is problematic as organisations grow and look for new hires. “We are always having problems trying to hire the people with the right skill sets that we need,” says Edmund Tsui, Director, Enterprise Sales, Automation Anywhere.

A digital workforce can fill in the gaps by automating some existing roles with the help of RPA, AI and machine learning. Organisations should look to convert 10 per cent of their workforce to a digital one, says Tsui.

The digital workers can take over routine tasks while leaving the complex ones to the staff. This way, human workers are freed up for more meaningful work, and the productivity of a workforce is enhanced.

The University of Melbourne’s student admissions team initially had to navigate through numerous spreadsheets to assess student results and enrollment details. With automation, data entry was automated, giving faculty members more time to value-add to the admissions process. Nearly 10,000 hours of labour is saved annually.

Employing automation will eventually attract and retain more young workers, says Tsui. “Young workers are very comfortable with technology and they find it more interesting to work with technology than even a human being sometimes,” he adds. With more tech-savvy employees in the mix, an organisation will be better prepared for the inevitable digital future.

Generate new insights

Together with artificial intelligence and machine learning, automation can aggregate masses of data to generate new insights. Such insights can value-add to organisations’ processes, or uncover errors that are hindering productivity.

For example, IT consulting firm Shenzhen Pactera Information Limited used AI and automation to determine employees’ risk of Covid-19 infection as they returned home after traveling outside of the region.

The bots analysed employees’ travel history submissions, information from the public health department on Covid-19 cases and sites of infection, and verified employees’ GPS records with their mobile carriers.

Following that, the bots defined the potential risk of exposure to Covid-19 for each employee, ranging from low to high. This knowledge gave the company the ability to take suitable measures to prevent the spread of the virus to colleagues and customers.

Taking the first step

So, how can organisations get started with automation? Forward thinking leadership and executives who are open to change will help to forge a clear path for automation, says Markoss Martina, Senior Director of Next Generation Technologies, Asia Pacific, Automation Anywhere.

Then, organisations need to understand what kinds of work are best automated. “When you start, what you don’t want to do is do very complex cases first,” says Martina. Rather, start with the simple ones to build trust and confidence within the organisation.

Organisations should also consider possible resistance from people. “When you start to roll out a digital workforce, the human workforce is going to ask questions: ‘What does this mean?’ ‘What do we do?’” says Martina. From there, leaders need to engage and explain why digital workers are needed.

“The organisation must make sure that the messaging back to the employees is not about cost cutting and reducing workforce,” says Tsui. Rather, the management needs to show that automation will allow them to focus on innovative and creative work. Organisations also need to upskill workers to manage the digital workers, or be redeployed to other departments.

The pandemic’s effect on the world is a permanent, irreversible one. A digital future with automation may form the blueprint of a new model of work that will help organisations be more resilient to future stresses.

To find out more on how automation can prepare governments for the future of work, please check out Automation Anywhere’s website.