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How AI is throwing a lifeline amid Covid-19

(Image credit: Image Credit: Razum / Shutterstock)

Retail, supply chains and healthcare are some of the key industries putting AI to work amid Covid-19. The rapid adoption of new technologies and software has highlighted the importance of being able to rapidly deploy and adapt to software to tackle and navigate unknown challenges. People are operating online more than ever before, and in order to deliver the best customer experiences and services, the quality of software is vital. 

Digital disruption events comes in many forms, the coronavirus pandemic is one such event. It has made an impact across just about every industry. Whether it’s retailers closing their brick-and-mortar stores, air carriers cancelling all flights or demand for home deliveries skyrocketing, companies around the world have widely been impacted. However, despite the disruption, operations haven't grounded to a halt. In fact, the restrictions in place have actually led to fast and ingenious innovation across the board, with technology playing a major role in combating and navigating some of the obstacles of the ongoing pandemic to stay relevant with the changing times. In-person meetings have been replaced with conference calls (perhaps too many!), fashion brands have started producing PPE and alcohol companies have switched to producing hand sanitiser as pubs shut down. Companies are finding ways to adapt in order to survive, and tech has been at the forefront of this change. 

 It is in times of need and ambiguity, businesses change their pace to become more creative and receptive to solutions to help them withstand the impacts of unprecedented events. It is now that Artificial Intelligence’s full capabilities are being realised as it helps to transform organisations into becoming more efficient, easing pressure points, enhancing customer experience and most importantly, developing a vaccine for the virus.  

Retailers leveraging AI to modernise

The retail industry is perhaps one of the industries hit the hardest, causing huge swings in demand for countless products. As a result, many retailers have been forced to close the doors to their brick-and-mortar shops as purchases move exclusively online. This pivot has led the customer journey to get even more complex as multiple devices are being used for shopping. 

As they are forced to digitally transform, retailers are leveraging AI to capture and manage data collected to improve the consumer experience. Chatbots and recommendation engines are some of the key features enabled by AI to help enhance the user journey through rapid responses. Additionally, as more people work from home and do their shopping online, web and app traffic is at an all-time high as Virgin Media reported, with a 50 per cent increase in daytime traffic. To handle the surge in online users, retailers need to prioritise performance and load testing to ensure they can cope as the online presence increases.

Covid-19 has forced online platforms to reprioritise and reassess their testing measures to ensure flawless services. Unrivalled customer experience is vital for retailers to survive in today’s current environment. With testing teams working from home and being under an enormous amount of pressure, it can be difficult to execute tests promptly. AI testing eases this pressure by automating tests to provide constant and timely insight. AI software testing enables companies to gain insight into the user experience, allowing companies to detect UI errors and fix these bugs quickly as well as test how their platform performs with heightened users. Additionally, this AI enables companies to identify customer behaviour in order to increase personalisation and reduce bounce rates, ultimately increasing revenues and performance. Grocery delivery apps are an excellent example of this, making headlines as they struggle to keep up with demand and pressure on their apps - underlining why technology performance is so critical. AI models learn about what has changed in the digital product and how users have been really using it, and then intelligently build tests to focus on the risk points and to ensure the user experience is amazing.

I want it all and I want it now: Keeping up with supply chain demand

The pandemic has caused an unprecedented demand for essential products, just as production of other products vastly slows down due to lack of labour and materials. Supply chains are complex systems that span borders and industries and makes identifying key pressure points difficult. By digitising supply-chain management, it improves the speed, accuracy, and flexibility of supply-risk management, strengthening capabilities to anticipate risk, achieving greater visibility and coordination across the supply chain. Research conducted by McKinsey found 61 per cent of executives reporting decreased costs and 53 per cent reporting increased revenues as a direct result of introducing AI into their supply chains. 

During this pandemic, manufacturers are increasingly using AI and machine learning tools to identify pressure points within their supply chains. This enables them to shift resources where needed. Additionally, distributors are using models to determine where to direct fleets of trucks and trains to keep shelves stocked. Once immediate risks to a supply chain have been identified, leaders must then design a resilient one for the future. Companies must ensure that as they digitise and automate their supply chain, continue to test their software to ensure they can scale and adapt to incoming pressures and risks.

Technology coming to healthcare’s aid 

As the virus spreads across every continent, the healthcare industry has come under an immense amount of stress and are turning to technology, especially AI and robotics to alleviate some of the hardships faced. For example, AI has accelerated the development of new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines for the virus, as well as being used in developing apps for contact tracing apps and monitoring how the lockdown affects mental health. California-based manufacturer CloudMinds has provided 100 XR-1 service robots to hospitals in China to help provide information to patients and guide visitors to the right department. Additionally, the European Commission has launched an initiative to collect ideas about deployable AI and robotics solutions as well as information on other initiatives that could help tackle Covid-19.

Tackling coronavirus feels like a relentless task; however, there has been a remarkable global effort into finding a vaccine or drug to treat the virus. To find a safe treatment, pharmaceutical companies and scientists have to decipher a huge amount of data, and AI is speeding this process up as firms use their computing power to crunch vast amounts of data. For example, Exscientia, an Oxford-based AI firm using AI to develop new medicines, has offered their services to screen 15,000 drugs for their effectiveness as a treatment for Covid-19. 

AI is rapidly minimising the time at which key drugs can be identified to treat the virus, with some AI firms claiming to have already isolated drugs that could help. BenevolentAI for example, claims to have identified Baricitinib, a drug used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as a potential solution to treat the virus. We are also seeing a rise in the use of robotics (with the help of AI) making significant steps forward to make digital helpers more useful by improving tasks like processing speech. 

As the healthcare industry takes advantage of the full capabilities of AI, it is important to consider its long-term role. When integrating technology into the field, it’s imperative to make sure it works and can handle the vast amount of users, and identify any failures early on. Testing healthcare software and technology with every new release is essential to make sure there are no issues in order for the industry to prosper once the pandemic comes to an end.

Ensuring resilience and agility

Since the coronavirus pandemic, AI has brought countless benefits and transformed nearly all industries, especially the ones mentioned above. Software testing needs to be top of mind to provide a frictionless, high-quality digital experience that results in successful outcomes. To continue benefiting from these technological advancements, business leaders must investigate every possible user journey through continuous, automated testing. 

During times as uncertain as today, businesses must realise the importance of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. Through end-to-end test automation, they can deliver much better quality software at a faster pace while simultaneously freeing up the necessary teams to be more productive.

John Bates, CEO, Eggplant

John is a visionary technologist and highly accomplished business leader. He pioneered the space of streaming analytics as Co-founder, President and CTO of Apama (acquired by Progress Software in 2005 and now part of Software AG).