Artificial Intelligence

COVID-19 recovery with Artificial Intelligence

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Accelerating COVID-19 recovery with Artificial Intelligence

As organisations across Ireland are looking to move forward and apply the lessons learnt from the first wave of the pandemic, they are faced with an overwhelming amount of information from within their business. Or ironically, a lack of the information they actually need to solve problems and help them rethink their digital and business models.

Organisations can waste hours looking for information hidden in disparate systems. Meanwhile, other companies acknowledge that their existing tools for business, manufacturing capabilities or operational approaches will not suffice in the face of change and competition needed in the coming years.

In a recent IBM Institute of Business Value (IBV) Study, manufacturing executives said 89 percent of plant operators would benefit from additional digital work instructions, process explanations, and manuals that are voice-enabled, where appropriated, on their production lines. Overall, 49 percent of these executives said they believed digital initiatives will deliver high value in manufacturing automation over the next 10 years.

Industries such as agriculture, industrial products, or telecommunications may have considered themselves exempt from the new approaches to remote working, distributed workforces, or the new digital tools and skills that these require. However, in today’s reality of uncertainty, many of the same digital tools and approaches – especially AI-powered technologies – will become a basic requirement for any organisation or government hoping to be resilient in the face of disruption, or to engage with citizens.

But simply saying people need digital tools and AI is the easy part.

How are leading organisations thinking about this? How are they ‘actually’ doing it?

In Ireland, the National Health Library & Knowledge Service (NHLKS) is a nationwide service to Health Service Executive (HSE), the health and personal social services for everyone living in the country. In order to support the national response to COVID-19 with stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines, all the HSE Libraries in Ireland were closed. Nevertheless, it continued to provide remote services at reduced capacity and its dedicated research team focused efforts on providing urgent evidence support requests related to COVID-19.

To compensate for the closure of the physical desk libraries at this highly critical time in healthcare, the NHLKS Digital team introduced a virtual service using an AI virtual agent called LAMA which responded to standard questions and directed people to resources. LAMA is based on IBM Watson Assistant and responds to common queries in English.

The Virtual Desk included a live chat function and replicated online many of the functions of a physical issue desk and enables all the HSE staff to access library services remotely. Using this type of advanced technology has helped to reduce the waiting times for general queries that the healthcare users make to the Library services. It’s available 24 x7.

At a critical time for healthcare in Ireland, the creation of the Virtual Desk Service has helped to galvanise its transformation strategy and accelerate its NHLKS digital plan.

Preparing the Future with AI

Virtual agents like this can provide trusted and timely information on health and safety procedures, risks and more to employees. AI and IoT systems can dynamically optimise environment conditions such as temperature or humidity within the workplace.

Another good example is farmed fish production, or aquaculture, which supplies more than half the world’s consumption but has lagged agriculture in its use of technology. A team at IBM Research in Dublin is developing an aquaculture management platform that integrates a variety of data sources, processed by AI technology, to offer a real-time view of farm dynamics and provide early warnings on risks. The goal is to transition the aquaculture industry from ad hoc decision-making based on heuristics and intuition, to real-time informed decisions backed by AI insights and IoT connectivity. This transition has the potential to greatly reduce operational costs while enhancing fish health and ensuring sustainability.

Another research team at the IBM Dublin Lab is investigating energy optimisation for facilities and building management, that has led to the development of TRIRIGA Building Insights. It uses AI-driven insights to ensure space planning meets demand with real-time occupancy monitoring. Using AI in the management of buildings has shifted the focus away from simply finding ways to save energy, to creating tools and deployable systems that can help facility managers to optimise building occupancy. Recent advances here include the capabilities that can now support businesses to cope with the pandemic, to figure out social distancing and the allocation of space within buildings and factories.

The pandemic has been a wake-up call, for some it’s a bitter reality while for others it has offered an unforeseen windfall to speed transformation. It presents an opportunity for executives who can manage complexity and drive competitiveness by tying digital transformation to business priorities. Governments and organisations across Ireland must accept that pandemic-induced changes in strategy, management, operations, and budgetary priorities are here to stay.

Country General Manager - IBM Ireland

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