IBM Partners With Airtel and Echo Mobile to Launch Ebola Containment Initiatives in Africa
IBM Research Africa, Airtel and Kenya's Echo Mobile have joined forces to launch several initiatives to help curb the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
The initiatives include a citizen engagement and analytics system in Sierra Leone that enables communities affected by Ebola to communicate their issues and concerns directly to the government; a donation of IBM Connections technology in Nigeria to strengthen the Lagos State government’s preparedness for future disease outbreaks; and a global platform for sharing Ebola-related open data.
READ MORE ON THE GLOBAL COMPANIES AND CEOs WHO ARE HELPING COMBAT THE EBOLA CRISIS IN AFRICA:
- Nestle Keeps Ebola at Bay in West Africa
- Africa’s Wealthiest Man, Aliko Dangote, Promises to Aid Liberian Ebola Relief Effort
- Mark Zuckerberg Donates $25 million in Fight against Ebola
The efforts combine expertise from IBM’s global network of research labs with the company’s years of experience in humanitarian disaster response by applying mobile technology, data analytics and cloud computing to help governments and relief agencies as they seek to contain the deadly disease.
The work benefits from contributions from a number of partners including Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project, Airtel and Kenya’s Echo Mobile.
Citizen Engagement in Sierra Leone
IBM’s new Africa research lab, in collaboration with Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, has developed a system that enables citizens to report Ebola-related issues and concerns via SMS or voice calls.
It provides actionable insight to the government about the day-to-day experiences of communities directly affected by Ebola to help improve its strategy for containing the disease.
“For us to tackle Ebola, it is crucial to maintain an open dialogue between the government and the people of Sierra Leone,” said Khadija Sesay, Director of Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative. “IBM has enhanced our work on citizen engagement through the use of innovative technology and opened up an effective communication channel with the general public so that we can learn from their input and create actionable policies in the fight against Ebola.”
Tapping supercomputing power and analytics capabilities via the cloud, the system is able to rapidly identify correlations and highlight emerging issues across the entire data set of messages. As the SMS and voice data are location specific, IBM is then able to create opinion-based heat-maps which correlate public sentiment to location information.
For example, it has already brought to light specific regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases which require urgent supplies like soap and electricity, as well as faster response times for body collection and burials.
The system has also highlighted issues with the diagnosis of Ebola empowering the government to approach the international community to request more testing facilities and equipment.
“As Africa’s first technology research lab, we are uniquely positioned to use innovation to help tackle some of the continent’s biggest challenges,” said Dr. Uyi Stewart, Chief Scientist, IBM Research, Africa. “We saw the need to quickly develop a system to enable communities directly affected by Ebola to provide valuable insight about how to fight it.
“Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government.”
The system uses radio broadcasts to encourage people to get in touch and express their opinions. Cambridge University’s Africa's Voices project has helped to develop a radio engagement model, incorporating questions into public service announcements to elicit feedback from citizens in both English and Krio, one of Sierra Leone's most widely spoken languages.
“Radio is a powerful medium in Africa but its potential to gather and analyse audience feedback has not been fully seized,” said Dr. Sharath Srinivasan, Director of Cambridge University’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights. “We are working with IBM to offer people across Sierra Leone a channel to voice their opinions and, crucially, to ensure that the data is rapidly analysed and turned into valuable insight about the effectiveness of public service announcements and possible public misconceptions about Ebola.”
Telco operator, Airtel has set up the toll-free number via which citizens are able to send SMS messages.
“Mobile technology is Africa’s most powerful communications platform providing an important channel for reaching large numbers of the population,” said Sudipto Chowdhury, Managing Director, Airtel, Sierra Leone. “As one of Africa's leading mobile operators, we will do everything we can to ensure that mobile technology contributes to tackling the spread of Ebola and we are partnering with IBM to ensure the effective flow of information between the government and the citizens of Sierra Leone.”
The SMS data is anonymszed by Kenyan start-up Echo mobile which specialises in leveraging basic mobile phones to give voice to underserved communities.
“We're working to make sure that the stream of messages from patients, health workers and the general public can be used to augment the response effort and provide a direct and near real-time view of the situation on the ground," said Jeremy Gordon, Product Director, Echo Mobile.
IBM is currently looking to extend the work to analyse mobile phone signal data in order to monitor and track population movement enabling scientists to map and predict the spread of disease.
Come back for part two tomorrow, where IBM’s coordination facilitating technologies in Nigeria are explained, and Jeanne Holm, Evangelist for Data.Gov highlights the rationale behind creating an Ebola Open Data Repository in Africa
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”