Artificial Intelligence

New ways of working are here to stay thanks to COVID-19

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While video calls with our colleagues might be the norm right now, COVID-19 has forever changed the way every industry works.

Business, as we know it, will never be the same post-COVID-19. Companies all around the world have been pivoting with unprecedented speed as they adapt to new ways of working in a bid to move forward – and keep heads above water – during the outbreak.

Technology is aiding critical decisions across many businesses. For instance, Telstra is using artificial intelligence to decide how and where to distribute materials around its network to secure its supply chain and thousands of businesses have leaned on technologies like Slack and Zoom to enable remote working.


La Trobe University, based in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, deployed a COVID-19 chatbot, using IBM’s Watson Assistant for Citizens technology, to ensure its staff and students were kept up to date on symptoms, government restrictions, and the status of the university during lockdown. The tech company offered the tool for free to support enterprises navigating the rapidly-changing environment.

Stuart Hildyard, La Trobe’s Chief Technology Officer, says they had to meet an immediate need. The chatbot is able to process natural language and answer hundreds of questions. If it doesn’t know the answer to something, it can search the website using state-of-the-art capabilities. The bot was delivered within three weeks, and he says it’s “absolutely scalable” beyond the pandemic.

“We didn’t have any digital capability around a chatbot and being able to respond really quickly to our university community and help them understand the impact of COVID-19 on the university’s operations,” he tells “What was happening around parking fees, student services, exams – we had all the information on the website, but we had nothing to help synthesise it.”

The chatbot has helped streamline information, and kept information flowing to community members allowing them to connect to frontline business unit information rapidly during the disruption. Hildyard says they’re in the process of making it a permanent addition, while exploring where else it can be used to expand the digital capability across La Trobe.


A number of themes have emerged from the crisis and using information to cut costs, secure supply chains, support remote workforces, and reinforce the strength of whole communities is just the beginning.

Doug Robinson, Managing Partner of IBM Australia and New Zealand, says the crisis has challenged leaders to think about the speed of change. Where a normal change model might include a series of tests over a period of six to eight months, COVID-19 proved it’s possible for enterprises to roll out big changes in a matter of weeks. His position provides a unique vantage point, overlooking all the sectors using the company’s technology, and he expects many companies will rethink their workflows.

For example, he says airlines will require “a total rethink of traveller use cases and business models”, while banking will be “rethinking business processes and using data and technology for better risk insight”.

Mining is one of the surprising industries that is evolving rapidly, with a focus now on automating processes and improving the supply chain.

Mining is one of the surprising industries that is evolving rapidly, with a focus now on automating processes and improving the supply chain. Source: Getty Images

The firm is currently working with a number of local banks and a retail group to create a blockchain exchange for bank guarantees. Mortgage forgiveness is an issue, because mortgage guarantees cascade down into the retail sector and can be difficult to monitor, but he says blockchain will allow better security, better visibility, and better speed with no duplication.

Mining will also evolve. Iron ore exports dipped in February, when shipping to China stopped, but prices soared again in May. Robinson says the focus is now on automating processes and optimising the delivery supply chain.


This year has seen more than its fair share of crises, from catastrophic bushfires in Australia, to a global pandemic. Robinson says better data will help organisations respond more quickly to significant events in future. Supply chains are a perfect example.

“We experienced outages in retail stores recently,” he says. “If you were taking external data, like medical data, like news feeds from multiple countries where the trends were happening, you’d may have known toilet paper was going to be high in demand a month before it happened, would you have run your production differently a month in advance?”


For consumer-based industries, the catch is making sure the technological solutions are tailored to meet specific customer needs, which are changing rapidly, and investments made now aren’t just reactive in dealing with current circumstances.

Take wine, for example. Dean Taylor, CEO of start-up logistics company Wine Depot and the ASX-listed Digital Wine Ventures, says coronavirus has forever changed buying trends. This means e-commerce is no longer just something that is nice to have, but essential for many businesses to survive.

While we might love the idea of cellar door purchases, the reality is producers are much more likely to succeed if they invest in e-commerce, and deliver straight to their customers.

While we might love the idea of cellar door purchases, the reality is producers are much more likely to succeed if they invest in e-commerce, and deliver straight to their customers. Source: News Regional Media

“This is especially true of Australia’s wine industry, which has been forced to adapt in the face of cellar door closures,” he says. “Many who previously relied on cellar door sales as their only or primary direct-to-consumer sales channel have now invested in building their e-commerce, and this will drive a significant percentage of sales going forward.”

Damian Kernahan, CEO of Proto Partners, is a customer experience expert. He says the first step in responding to a situation like this is to find out what customers really need, then design a solution to meet their objectives.

“Customers are re-evaluating how they spend their money. What was important before is no longer important. They’re asking, do I really need that? Am I actually going to have a job? They’re quite anxious,” he says. “It’s important to really understand your customers deeply – emotionally, mentally – to find out what they’re going through. What challenges can you solve for them?”

When combined with technology, deep insights into customer values will pave the way for tailored solutions that ensure companies are delivering the right message, at the right time, in the right way.

High-quality information is undoubtedly our most valuable resource for the future.

Forward Slash is a podcast series about how massive changes in the world are colliding with advances in technology. The second episode is about how the way we work has shifted completely since the pandemic hit.

Originally published on

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