Leveraging AI and data to create a rapid response to any crisis
- Posted on April 29, 2020
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
With travel bans, border shutdowns, and finally the lock-down in response to the COVID-19 crisis, both small and large businesses have had to focus on mobilizing their workforce and enabling everyone where possible to work from home, keeping emergency services running and temporarily suspending secondary activities. Thanks to advancement in the cloud and communication technologies, the world is able to respond to such a crisis in a very timely and responsive way. While various governments continue to build strategies to curtail this crisis, discussing the duration of the current lock-down and assessing the chances of a re-lapse, there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy.
While some might want to believe that the world will go into recession, true leaders will be the ones who will tide this wave gracefully, re-invent themselves and emerge from the current crisis even stronger.
A rapid and thoughtful response to this crisis is key to success.
The rapid response
Every business and its processes has been impacted in many different ways. The hospitality industry including travel and tourism, lodging and boarding, event planning, as well as the automotive sector, are examples where there has been an immediate drop in demand. On the other hand, there is an increased demand in healthcare, public sector, logistics and supply chains, insurance and banking industries. As more and more companies apply for “Kurzarbeit” in Germany, both HR and application processes are being stretched.
Similarly, the processing of orders and the dispatch and delivery of goods (in logistics) is difficult to handle for companies due to increased demand. With circumstances changing daily, communication becomes key. Call centers servicing reservation cancellations/re-bookings for travel agencies, help desks answeringemployee queries, banks processing loan applications and even health organizations addressing insurance claims or COVID-19 related questions are all being completely overloaded.
A natural way to respond to such a crisis for any business would be the following; 1) analyzing the impact, 2) efficiently managing steep variations in affected processes and 3) Laying the foundation for a data driven, AI first strategy:
- Augmenting data sets, creating new insights: Every organization measures progress of their processes based on certain sets of data and KPIs. There are standard ways of reporting Year-on-Year, or Month-on-month, or Quarter-on-Quarter performance. In a crisis like this, performance of organizations is also based on a lot of external factors like the availability of resources, the rate of spread of the current pandemic and government regulations to name a few. Organizations will need support for extracting new insights out of their data to analyze the true impact of such a crisis.
- Leveraging reporting tools: Efficient, intuitive, easy to roll out, self-service tools are of great value in creating meaningful insights. Most organizations use Office 365 tooling for their workplace. Microsoft Power BI in combination with office tools like Excel, Word and Power Point forms a holistic reporting suite that can be easily integrated into most of the line-of-business applications.
- What-if analysis: We live in a world full of complex interdependencies between processes, between businesses, also comprising of geospatial, geopolitical dependencies. A holistic impact analysis may call for various “what-if” simulations. A few examples of common what-if scenarios are stated below. A data lake, with algorithms and a good visualization tool can help create such simulations.
- Demand and supply balancing: Efficient demand and supply management results in cost optimization, operational efficiencies as well as customer satisfaction. Especially where complex supply chains are involved and cost of production or warehousing costs are high, such what-if scenarios can become a real money saver.
- Cost control and risk management: Flexibility in procurement of raw materials from alternate sources or the use of alternative raw materials to mitigate a shortage or an excess either due to a geopolitical situation or due to a natural disaster can help manage risk in a supply chain and reduce costs.
- Logistics optimization: Most efficient ways to transport essential commodities, especially in crisis situations, balancing transportation costs vs. time to delivery - what-if simulations can help bring the right goods to the right place at the right time with optimal costs.
- Return to normalcy planning: The current state of lock-down will most likely be released in stages. Also chances of a re-lapse are predicted. What-if simulations support in the planning to slowly get back to normalcy in optimal ways with maximum efficiency and at the same time being flexible to react in case of a re-lapse will be extremely helpful to have.
- Predictions, forecasting, finding value spots in data. Finding hidden patterns in data can help drive further efficiencies. Finding outliers, creating predictions, calculating forecasts and such using data science algorithms can help increase confidence in the measures organizations take to respond to a crisis like this.
2. Efficiently managing steep variations (crests or troughs) in affected processes
Making processes leaner and faster leveraging cognitive services and automation: Be it contact centers or your internal information hub, virtual agents can be utilized for tasks as simple as answering questions or, combined with cognitive skills such as OCR and NLP, can even handle the processing of request.
For example, Microsoft with its Healthcare Bot Service, has already deployed 1230 Covid-19 bots for health care systems around the globe catering to 18 million cases. Most of them took only a day to set up.
Not just limited to COVID-19 self-assessments, citizen’s request in public sector, loans and claims in finance and insurance, cancellations and re-bookings across hospitality and travel sectors are a few more typical use-cases. At the end of it, the workforce is free to handle the more complex cases.
Identifying quick wins for automation: Even though end-to-end processes are often complex to comprehend, a partial automation is often easier to identify and can bring a swift return -- that too in a matter of few days!
Business processes can mostly be broken down into small chunks of Input, Process and Output and a quick mapping with industry specific automations can identify the soft spots. For e.g. invoice processing and manual data entry are a must in every supply chain process and leveraging RPA can substantially reduce human effort and subsequently drive down costs.
Ability to maintain the normal mode of operations despite steep variations in other processes: A sudden shift in the demand around processes has as well led to relocations of task forces. Businesses are venturing into totally new areas such as, for example, breweries, oil & gas and even automotive enterprises have ventured into the hand-sanitizer sector.
Now, it is important to remember that many of such spikes, irrespective of high or low workload, are temporary. Hence, it is necessary to:
- Not to halt the normal mode of operations
- Ramp up with speed and agility to learn the processes
Evaluating the technology stack that can speed up automations or even setup temporary solutions would help manage this ‘detour’.
3. Creating the foundation for a data driven and AI first strategy
There is no going back. While businesses will come back to a state of normalcy, certain aspects of consumer and customer behavior are here to stay. The crisis has revealed new buying patterns, new ways of working, new possibilities of partnerships, new possible value chains and new necessities. New business models will emerge. Having an AI first strategy will enable businesses to adapt to the new normal.
Additionally, businesses will strive to be even more resilient, adaptable and agile to face such a crisis in the future. Establishing a strong back-bone of data will help businesses in faster decision making and together with AI capabilities be more resilient, adaptable and agile.
Avanade is holistically supporting our clients to also beat the downturn and to emerge as stronger, resilient and even more successful businesses post-crisis.