How AI helps businesses respond to COVID-19

April 23, 2020

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has gained loads of attention during the COVID-19 crisis for its healthcare applications. Using resilient data systems, governments and researchers can move from tracking the spread of the virus to potentially finding a cure.

Lost among the headlines and television news reports is the business side of AI during this pandemic. How have businesses used this technology to manage COVID-19 and its fallout? From manufacturing to retail to the latest mobile apps, AI has helped organizations as they get through the current crisis.

AI has not solved every challenge. No one could have predicted COVID-19—at least not its extent and details—and the machines that deliver AI are still learning. But AI has given organizations the tool of predictive response. Organizations supported by a less mature data foundation have not fared as well.

Three AI responses—and what they mean for the future

AI will be a differentiator as companies emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet within this crisis sits an AI lesson for all organizations: The AI use cases during this extreme time can point businesses to AI as they plan for a new normal.

Modeling supply chains

The toilet paper rush around COVID-19 signaled one thing to business leaders: supply chain disruption.

Consumers emptied out store shelves, leaving manufacturers struggling to fill the spike in demand. Standard procedures ended almost overnight. Manufacturers needed to adjust the quantities for shipping and also the destination of shipments. In some cases, they needed to account for factories going offline, no longer contributing raw materials or producing finished goods.

Some of these companies have used AI to respond with agility when sourcing, producing, and shipping their products. Those manufacturers—not just of toilet paper—that integrated AI into their operations before the pandemic hit were better placed to respond. Under the current unpredictable conditions, businesses can forecast possible outcomes in the future. They can model different scenarios and test possible responses.

Recommendation engine: From Netflix to the essentials

AI is perhaps best known as a recommendation engine. It is this technology that allows Netflix to personalize its video content and populate its ‘because you watched’ stream—more popular than ever during COVID-19 for millions of homebound users. It is also this technology that has helped fuel the rise of UK meal-kit service Gousto, which personalizes meal recommendations. The company has seen an increase in demand during the COVID-19 crisis, and recently closed an additional US$41 million in funding.

During the current outbreak, government bodies can use recommendation engines to give citizens critical facts. Canadians visit government sites 24 hours per day, requesting information on topics like how to get treatment and how to access government financial programs. AI returns that information faster—at a time when Canadians need it most.

The magic of AI hinges on its ability to get better. Over time, it converts its trials and errors into predictions that increase in helpfulness and accuracy.

Faster routing, faster response

Look, for example, at an adjacent use: routing of incoming requests. Organizations around the world use ticketing systems to rout customer inquiries. Whether customers first interact with an online form or a chatbot, routing takes time—which increases customers’ wait for an answer and uses company resources. When the routing takes place in a hospital and refers requests for care, this wait can delay treatment and impact lives.

With AI in place, the organization can improve its efficiency, save time and money, and reduce delays for customers. The AI analyzes items like a ticket’s topic and urgency to route it to the right department or group of agents. As COVID-19 recedes, organizations will continue to increase their use of data, AI, and machine learning to automate the routing process.

Detecting fraud

The COVID-19 outbreak has given cybercriminals a new opening to defraud Canadians.

Playing on the fear and uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic, these scams channel old strategies in a new environment. Cybercriminals during COVID-19 typically pose as government bodies or financial institutions—asking users to give money or download an app.

Fraud figures in Canada have yet to be released, but numbers in the U.S. show the growth of the problem. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 7,800 complaints related to COVID-19 in the first quarter of 2020.

AI and machine learning technology detect fraud by noting abnormalities in consumer behaviour activities, based on past activities. For example, bank technology can spot stolen identities while the fraudster is logged in to the account. The technology does more than detect actual fraud—it helps institutions reduce their false positives for fraud, saving time and money.

This pandemic has broken all the norms. AI predicts the future partly based on historical, so it has at times been fooled during COVID-19. However, it remains a key tool for institutions in their fight against fraud. It will only gain in usefulness after the crisis passes.

How to implement AI in your organization

AI is just one part of a larger digital journey for any organization. Typically an organization progresses from digital to cloud adoption, then it creates a data-driven culture, followed by a business analytics service like Microsoft’s Power BI to visualize and make sense of the data. The journey reaches its peak with AI.

AI outputs are only as effective as the system’s data inputs. Organizations need an adaptive modern data platform to get the right insights from their data. The platform collects data from multiple sources, stores and transforms for optimal use, and helps stakeholders interact with the data to guide decision-making—using data visualization in close to real-time.

One such platform is called HeroPath. Created by Lixar, it is a scalable solution that helps organizations solve today’s business challenges while staying prepared for whatever the future brings. HeroPath helps organizations save money, optimize resources, and do more with less.

BDO + Lixar

Lixar joined forces with BDO Canada in March 2020. A premier AI and data company, Lixar provides end-to-end AI and data-driven solutions, including machine learning, natural language processing, machine vision, and data ingestion to data insights for its clients and partners.

Canadian mid-market clients understand the importance of digital transformation—especially now, in the time of COVID-19. Lixar and BDO are working together to help organizations move forward with tech-enabled resiliency in a new business normal.

Learn how BDO can help your business with its digital transformation.

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