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Automation and digital assistants in a post-pandemic world

From the food industry to manufacturing and healthcare, enterprises are looking for more ways to enhance their businesses and scale their growth with digital automation.

NEW YORK -- Digital assistants and automation are helping enterprises survive in a post-pandemic world.

In response to the labor shortage that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, many enterprises started employing automation and digital tools to redirect employees away from mundane tasks.

In the past year, restaurant chains like Jet's Pizza, Panera Bread and even Chipotle Mexican Grill are using AI virtual assistant technologies they say benefit both their workers and consumers.

Digital assistants are not only becoming a necessity in the restaurant industry but also helpful in a broad range of industries.

Humana's Allie

Health insurance and healthcare provider Humana uses digital assistants to help associates and workers manage and perform daily tasks.

The company uses Allie, a bot it created in 2019 using RPA vendor Automation Anywhere's technology.

Allie assists clinicians and associates burdened by repetitive administrative tasks. It gives more time to clinicians who regularly compile information about consumers into forms to make decisions.

Allie automates several tasks, such as collecting and curating information about patients, including allergies and health conditions, and sorting claims based on their level of risk.

Allie is not stagnant; it is a tool that grows, evolves, and takes on new tasks, such as document processing and natural language processing, said Joe Bechtel, principal of enterprise technology strategy advancement at Humana. He spoke during a media session at Automation Anywhere's Imagine 2022 user conference on Oct. 4.

"Allie will grow and mature with associates as they learn new skills," Bechtel said. "As their job transforms and evolves to more complicated work … Allie also evolves and upskills."

Photo of press briefing at Imagine 2022
Representatives from Automation Anywhere, Humana and Mars Incorporated discuss the importance of automation in today's economy.

Automation and fear

However, automation also comes with the potential of some degree of fear among employees asked to use the technology.

The key to alleviating that fear is making sure employees understand what the technology can do for them, said Adeel Fudda, vice president of intelligence, automation and emerging technologies at Mars Incorporated, a multinational manufacturer of pet food and provider of animal care services.

Before we would operate in silence. But now you have this new skill set and technology that you're layering in; now you're seeing that interaction happening horizontally across processes.
Joe BechtelPrincipal of enterprise technology strategy advancement, Humana

"Automation is a means for businesses to actually sustain their business or grow," he said. He believes that when workers resist automation, it is because they do not know what's next once they incorporate the technology into their work.

"The moment they have clarity on what's next, they embrace, and you get so much adoption and acceleration," Fudda said during the session. "The sooner they can automate and digitize, the faster they can move on to the thing that they are really passionate about."

Getting clinicians and associates on board with using a digital assistant like Allie involved awareness about what the technology could do, Bechtel said. Once they knew how Allie could help with mundane tasks, users started suggesting other tasks for the software bot and telling colleagues what they accomplished with it.

"Before we would operate in silence. But now you have this new skill set and technology that you're layering in; now you're seeing that interaction happening horizontally across processes," Bechtel said. "So now pharma systems departments A and B now have something in common. They both design automation, or they both build it, and then they talk about how they deploy."

Attracting employees with automation

In some cases, automation can help attract employees. Despite recent layoffs, many businesses still find it hard to fill positions, including Mars, according to Fudda. His company has numerous openings in its manufacturing department, for example.

The need for automation has also changed what some potential employees look for in employers, said Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere.

"The new workforce that you are recruiting -- if they're slightly on the younger side-- they won't even take a job if there's no automation involved, because they know it's a dead-end path," he said. "So now it has become a requirement for an employer to say, 'I want it.'"

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