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How COVID-19 has been the catalyst for robotics and automation

By Paul Bogan, Chief Digital Officer, Serco Middle East

In a post-COVID-19 world, technology is transforming our lives in ways like never before.

As countries begin to kick-start their economies, technology will play a powerful role in every single facet. We see this already in the way that governments are looking to make financial efficiencies, but still accelerate out of the pandemic so that they are continuing to deliver world-class experiences for citizens. Ultimately, it is technology that is the linchpin that will empower these experiences.

In a post COVID world, technology is innovating how we operate. But when it comes to robots in particular, we are not talking about humanoid robots that are the preserve of the realms of sci-fi, but rather robots designed purely for functional roles to take on tasks and to support with more efficient ways of working. COVID-19 has been an unlikely catalyst here when it comes to supporting the acceptance of robotics in industry, enabling us to empower experiences like never before.

 

Empowering the citizen experience

With the world starting to open up and daily life resuming (albeit in a social distancing way), robotics and automation are the invisible layer that is helping to make our country the happiest and smartest in the world post COVID-19.

Take for example, people’s experiences when they interact with a digital product or service; this could be when a passenger uses public transport networks or facilities at an airport. Real-time qualitative behavioural insights combined with real time quantitative data driven insights provide valuable information to help those operating public services to adapt their services based on an individual’s experience. This then provides the opportunity to act on decisions to improve services where needed so that they ultimately meet (and exceed) the expectations of citizens. In a post pandemic world, this is about putting the customer at the very heart of each experience and how we innovate for residents and tourists travelling into our region.

Contact centres and complex case management is an area where technology has the power to transform the experience and drastically improve efficiencies. Citizens expect seamless interactions and governments need to deliver this while remaining fully compliant with complex regulations and often within very tight budget parameters. This is something Serco is a market leader in globally, and through our technology enabled solutions, we can quickly and efficiently transform legacy contact centre systems into digitally enabled centres.

One thing we have learned along the way, however, is that when dealing with complex case management and citizens, technology alone is not enough. There will always be the need for human compassion, empathy and flexibility, especially when cases aren’t clear cut and need further investigation. We must not underestimate the value and power of human interaction here.

 

Empowering industry sectors 

One industry on the frontline that is clearly benefitting from the power of technology and specifically robotics and automation is the healthcare industry. When it comes to decision making tools, technology is having the power to automate the backend of the facility, by using aggregated data points to drive analytical insights. Machine learning techniques then help to prioritise where doctors and nurses spend their time so that they focus, with a sense of urgency, on the critical tasks first for patient care. Using technology for rapid deployment is at the core of our DNA, especially in a region where efficient and quick mobilisation of services is important to regional governments.

 

Technology for faster decision making

Ultimately, we see that technology is helping us to make better decisions faster, and in a more efficient and effective way. What we are seeing now is an aggressive behavioural change in the adoption of technologies across all nationalities and across all age groups through necessity. Overnight as the pandemic has spread, robotics and automation has supported us – a great example is the global ability to shift almost immediately from in-office work to working from home.

With the need for cost efficiencies, and optimisations of service, there is a need for clients to look at maximising value from their existing asset lifecycles. What parts can be automated and what parts still need to have human intervention? Far from a case of it being humans versus robots, both need to work in tandem, in a complimentary partnership.

In a post-COVID world, it is clear that we need to leverage technology, and embrace a mind-set where robotics and automation are enablers. This will help us to accelerate towards a future founded on creating world-class experiences for the citizens of the countries in which we live and work.