Hospital and Council start to test AI in undertaking tasks, as ‘virtual workers’

Ipswich Hospital, part of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has engaged three robots over the past three months to mimic keyboard and mouse clicks, to assist with routine admin referrals, using ‘virtual workers’.  Handling 2,000 referrals on average per week, this has saved the Trust considerable costs and increased efficiency amongst frontline staff.

• Tasks have included sending scan and blood test results from Primary Care GPs to Secondary Care hospital consultants, with intelligent automation supplied by British software company Thoughtonomy. This works over the existing applications and systems as part of the GP Electronic Referral Service (where patient data is collected and sent to the relevant consultant).

• Initial results claim the new system is eight times more productive than using humans, releasing 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time, working 24×7 and anticipated to save £220,000 over the next nine months. The referral process has been seen to successfully reduce down the referral process from 15-20 minutes, to 5 minutes.

Darren Atkins Deputy Director of ICT, commented, “At the Trust we have a philosophy of making time matter”.   Mr Atkins continued: “Done to scale, intelligent automation has the capacity to massively drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

Neurology department medical secretary, Christine Harvey added:  “We used to extract information from (patient records) from one bit of software and put it into another bit of software. This was time consuming and carried the risk of mistakes from the patient notes system”.

The technology has been received positively at the hospital, offering flexibility from ‘virtual buddies’, maximising the benefit of automation and enabling frontline staff to spend more quality time with patients and on workload, be more productive and enabled the Trust to cut down on short term agency use.  Technically, the queues and productivity can also be monitored very easily on the move through smart devices.  The scheme has the capability to be extended to using AI ‘staff’ to make appointments and do accounting and patient queries.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) states that automation could save the NHS up to £12.5bn a year, or 10 per cent of its annual budget.  The Department for Health identified that the NHS’ infrastructure was “not currently fit for purpose for AI” and would require standardising to fully harness the technology’s potential.  A move in this direction however is clearly signalled as a route to improvement and cost savings for the NHS.

Dr. Bernhard Kainz at the Department of Computing at Imperial College London said: “At the moment the NHS has still an IT problem rather than a data science or AI opportunity.. and rather, it marks an important step towards clinical decision making supported by AI because it makes sparse, unstructured data accessible for automated data processing”.

Meanwhile, in a bid to improve transformation of social care through technology, Bradford Council is in the process of developing a proof of concept for an AI tool in adult social care, funded by NHS Digital and the Local Government Association.  Bradford, working with Rescon Technologies has designed the relevant service requirements which take on board matters as diverse as dental care, financial matters and watching football.  The findings of the project will be known in December and decisions on how to take matters further determined at that time with stakeholders.

For an understanding of the core distinctions between IT transformation and Digital Transformation and routes of developmental interest for the public sector, read Amicus ITS’ latest White Paper here.

If you would like to discuss this with a member of the Sales department, please contact Amicus ITS on 02380 429429

Who’s My Mum? Our Ami Bot Throws Up Some Challenges


Following our first Bot blog on 23rd March which marked the start of our ‘Ami’ Bot chatbot journey, we find ourselves deep in talks off the back of discovery  and  as we explore what the technology can offer.  We are also asking ourselves some crunch questions about what precisely we want out of the Bot for the business.  This will continue, but views are starting to form.

Ami has thrown up a number of questions and challenges from our lead technical and architecture stakeholders in the Bot project’s team.   As a tech firm, some might regard it as an automatic shoe-in for us just to add the Bot simply as an additional cloud option for customers and visitors using our web portal.  However, it has to be right for the business, whatever the technology and right for purpose – and certainly before any costs are incurred.

A key question that arose in recent discussions centred on our technology.  We needed to check what the structure map was around our infrastructure and ITSM toolsets.  Our Service Desk toolset doesn’t come with a baked in chatbot which would have made things simpler, but it was an important exercise as a reminder and a review point for our chatbot options, which led to some positive API additions.  Our lead Technical Design Authority, Julian Green has taken time to investigate different Bot frameworks and potential options for consideration.  Being a largely Microsoft house, Amicus ITS has ready access to the Microsoft Bot framework.  However, whilst the set up would be very fast, that would still require substantial input as it developed.  Julian has also investigated the option for us of using IBM Watson as the backbone for the Bot.  Both of these options would require substantial input from our technical team and that is where the conundrum lies, as that route could tie up valuable resource.  We’ve also engaged with some market leading suppliers with off the shelf options.  These might be a more effective route for Ami as a Sales bot for us.

Either way, it has to be technically right to introduce into our portfolio of toolset service options and it has to feel right, so it’s a benefit not a hindrance for anyone to have a conversation with Ami.  We know we need a Sales bot at this stage, as a Service bot is a step too far that we are not ready for, but it remains the goal on the distant horizon.

So in terms of where we are today, I think we are on the verge of agreeing the right route on how to make Ami (metaphorically), which hopefully the Board can agree on in June. Then the project team can start to build on the content for the FAQs to respond to sales enquiries.  Plus, we have some general housekeeping to review.  We need to interrogate the existing routes, including email addresses etc., through which organisations engage with us – as it looks like there are some we no longer use.  If we tidy things up, we may see our Reception and Business Services resource time being used more efficiently in the first place, enabling greater focus on the right enquiries.  Using technology to work smarter.  Sounds good.  Above all, we want Ami when she joins us to become popular and user friendly, helping direct people usefully AND managing user expectations too.

Ami is causing us to re-evaluate what we do and how.  We will have taken a meaningful step if we can serve our customers more intelligently and flexibly – not only using joined up technology, but also joined up thinking behind the scenes from Board to floor.   Change can be hard for any business.   Our plans for a soft GoLive in July with Ami Sales bot were perhaps a bit too ambitious on reflection given our gap in knowledge and working implementation.   But I have no doubt that following our numerous discussions, research and conversations with experts, that we are heading in the right direction.  We just have to get over Ami’s toddler stage and commit to holding her by the hand.

 

Take Up For GP Online Services Hits 42% rise YOY in 2018

With 1 million patients now using the NHS every 36 hours, the pressure is firmly on the nation’s healthcare system to cope with an increased, ageing population, more complex medical conditions being treated, increased waiting time for treatment and more ingenious medicine which is keeping people alive for longer.  Tie that to Brexit and the drive for a 7 day service against today’s staffing pressures and you can see a perfect storm brewing.

Enter then, Health Minister Jeremy Hunt and reflect on his 5 Year Forward View for the NHS. Published in 2015, he laid out his vision for a gradual but persistent transition to patient power – in which digital technology would play a central role.  This was expanded on with his appointment of digital guru Martha Lane Fox to identify four key changes to map out a digital NHS for everyone.  Her stated targets included the following:

o  To reach the furthest first and leave nobody behind
o  To provide free WiFi for all throughout the NHS
o  To build the skills of NHS staff to support people’s needs in the digital age
o  To boost take up of online GP services

So it’s exciting three years on to hear good news coming from NHS Digital’s Leeds HQ. Their latest figures show patient registration take up for secure GP online services in England has risen sharply.  Nearly 14 million patients are now going to their GP’s online for a variety of NHS services without the need to visit a surgery or phoning the practice. These include:

•  Booking appointments
•  Ordering repeat prescriptions
•  Patients view their own records

The figure of 14 million patients is up 42% on February 2017 and amounts to a total of 24% of patients in England now being registered.

For the GP surgeries in local communities who have taken the plunge to embrace technology and overcome initial reservations in parts, these digital pioneers are now reaping the benefits from a variety of online GP cloud service providers.  The results are significant time savings for both the staff and practice GPs, fewer ‘no shows’ and improved patient awareness as patients become more knowledgeable about long term conditions.  The net benefit is derived because GPS have integrated the online public service with single source information clinical systems like EMIS and SystmOne.

There will always rightly need to be a hawkish attitude around protecting sensitive data, however if these new online systems are well governed and securely managed, the public that take up this offer can enjoy a degree of ownership of their healthcare data in intelligent partnership with their GPs and healthcare providers – and in so doing, feel good too they are contributing to improving NHS service efficiencies in the 21st Century.

Bots – Amicus ITS dips its toes in the art of conversation with our baby bot ‘Ami’

  

At Amicus ITS, with Spring looming at last, we are considering taking our first baby steps to explore the world of smart bot technology.  Developing a bot as a new route of engagement and communication is an experiment, demanding fresh thinking, analysis, reflection and nurture from us all.  We are up for the challenge.  However, just because Amicus ITS is a tech firm and IT solution provider, there’s no assumption that the route to adoption is a given.  It needs to be a positive compliment alongside our existing customer service.  Our baby bot, affectionately christened Amicus ‘Ami‘ by one of our Sales team, will have to prove herself, not just by being a smart technology, but by developing a good working vocabulary.  Her first words we hope will focus on helping customers with general sales enquiries before she has any chance of graduating to anything grander.

Why develop a bot?

The potential for AI in customer service is twofold. With machine learning and Neural Linguistic Programming it can seamlessly give customers the right information they need at the right time by offering self-service options and eliminating the need for a call to a service centre. Secondly, AI has the potential to give customer service representatives more information to help them handle the complicated issues that self-service cannot resolve.

Our instincts to start this journey now in our business lifecycle are borne out by the latest statistics.  At this week’s #MarketingExpo at London’s Excel, chatbots were trending as a key topic of conversation.  34% of call centres in the UK are stated as using AI now, with the expectation that this will rise to 68% by the end of 2018.

The human bit

How we as people communicate and our responses to different types of engagement, is fundamental to the art of good conversation and we have to seek to provide a great customer experience with Ami.  Yielding positive results in a customer’s interactions with a business through a bot has commercial potential in the long term.  But for now, it’s all about getting it right.   We know that a bot should not pretend to be a person.  If we can ensure Ami provides provide relevant information, answers and signposts for you, some of you will enjoy trying this route of enquiry.  But there will always be our people too, alongside and behind Ami, always on hand 24×365 to help support you in every way we can.

B2B

Having a bot in a B2B environment is perhaps less straightforward than if we were in the retail trade. However, there is as much opportunity to make a difference if we do this well.  Amy will need to become customer savvy if she’s to make a difference and be welcomed as part of our service family.  We are keen for our bot not to be a turn off and we would love to include you in helping raise this tech child!  There will be a feedback option built in to the platform when it’s launched in a few months time.  If you do choose to comment, you will help in our education too!  So, watch this space for news as we look forward to becoming a digital parent to this disruptive technology child.   What do you think of bots?   Let’s start the conversation!

 

Bot technology offers a new era in seamless business support

Conversational apps and services, such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana have managed to find a way into peoples’ everyday lives as a way of finding answers to questions, quickly.

These conversational apps, also called ‘Bots’ which are a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI), are not limited to just answering questions, but can, using ‘natural conversation’ enable users to interact with services (be it ordering a pizza without looking at a traditional menu, or providing technical support to an employee’s PC issue).

Bots can be interacted with by either voice or text and can come in the form of a website, an app, or integration into existing services such as:  Skype for Business; Facebook Messenger; Cortana; Microsoft Teams and more. Bots can be accessed via a wide range of devices from smart phones to laptops and even devices without screens.

So why should businesses consider developing their own Bots?

The advantages of Bots to a business should be obvious – without the need of a dedicated and extensive support desk to handle queries for your own website, app or service, you could bake in support for bots inside your own website, app or service.  This way users would have access to the same support tools using natural conversation, without leaving the screen that requires assistance.

Bots can work well on their own, but they work even better with the help of humans when they hit the limit of their coded knowledge.   Bots are primarily programme driven but are inevitably only be as good as they are designed and coded by humans.  The Bot experience is intended to be seamless to the user, even if the Bot’s script has reached its end and it needs to interface to get guidance from a service desk.  The user talking to the Bot just enjoys a single trafficked conversation without seeing any splits.

The disadvantages at the start of the Bot technology process was in the creation period as building a coding system from scratch to handle conversational queries and integrate across known and used services was a monumental task. The good news however is that a lot of this work has now been done and is being made available as a foundation to consumers to build their own Bots. Microsoft is currently taking the lead in this area with its own Bot Framework, currently in preview.

Bots are no longer reserved by the technical giants of the world.  With the tools to create Bots having been developed and distributed, this makes Bots accessible to a wide array of devices and services. We will soon see a lot more Bots out in the wild from a wide variety of businesses and tech hobbyists. This influx in Bots could impact the technical landscape in a similar way that mobile Apps achieved when their tools became readily available – like with the original arrival of Apps in 2008 for Apple with the iPhone 3G.  So those who can make a strong brand early on will see stronger success as the platform evolves over time – and Bots could become a regular feature as part of the service desk toolkit for IT Managed Service Providers in future.

 

HCI, waking up the storage market – the new must have for enterprise and SMEs

What’s got us talking?

Amicus ITS has secured a major new contract for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and will be providing professional services to deploy and implement the solution for the customer.

What is Hyper-Converged-Infrastructure (HCI)?

In our fast changing technology world, hyper-convergence is the latest new buzzword and a topic that is exciting many here in Amicus ITS.

Hyper-convergence grew out of the concept of converged infrastructure. Under the converged infrastructure approach, a vendor provides a pre-configured bundle of hardware and software in a single package from different hardware vendors.  Hyper-converged systems are modular systems designed to scale out by adding additional modules.  The magic is that HCI requires only a single vendor’s server platform and a ‘single pane of glass’ management console.

Enabling integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common toolset is a big step forward and to assure flexibility, HCI systems can be expanded through the addition of nodes to the base unit. Hyper-converged infrastructure streamlines the deployment, management and scaling of datacentre resources by combining x86-based server chassis and storage resources with intelligent software in a turnkey software-defined solution. Separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be replaced with a single hyper-converged solution to create an agile datacentre that easily scales with our customers’ business.

Why is Amicus ITS so excited by HCI?

We are constantly looking to keep ahead of the technology curve and stay one-step ahead of the MSP competition.  By taking solutions to our customers that add true value to their business, this gives us real opportunity to demonstrate forward thinking and benefits all round.  Amicus ITS has the confidence of combining the right technologies with our most important assets, our people and our proven processes – to build comprehensive and compelling solutions, fit for tomorrow.  Wrapped with Amicus ITS’ quietly assured Managed Services capabilities, it creates a powerful combination of positive results for both sides.

Whether a customer wants an HCI solution delivered that they manage, or an HCI solution that Amicus ITS as an MSP looks after – what this shows is that to be a fit MSP in today’s market, you cannot go on just selling traditional three-tier architectures with their associated multiple different technologies, higher costs and greater complexity.  This swallows up greater day-to-day management resource, as well as the people and skills to support and maintain a wide variety of servers, storage, networking and software management technologies.  At scale, this can be challenging as it increases the chance of incompatibilities and administration overheads.

HCI appeals because it radically simplifies infrastructure for the customer and enables smooth management processes to wrap around it.   So, it’s time to slim down and de-mystify the technology and show what is really good out there for our customers – and here, utilising what was designed for Google and Facebook always available engineering, as a technical model for both enterprises or SMEs.   Being forward thinking and flexible in our consultative approach – where the solution benefits both the customer and MSP, it’s a win-win for both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Defence and protect’ marketing gets displayed in new smartphone technologies

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With the news of the Yahoo cyber attack on 23rd September 2016, it is worth taking a look back at new technology developments and launches in 2016, which put privacy and security at the forefront of their marketing spiel.

Solarin smartphone at a sky high price

In May 2016 Sirin Labs launched a new military-grade encrypted smartphone, the ‘Solarin’ (retailing at an eye watering £11,400 per device). It offers encrypted calls with a 256-bit AES algorithm. However the screen is 2K not 4K and runs on Android Lollipop, not Marshmallow and its Qualcomm processor is 2015’s model.

Whilst clearly targeting wealthy professionals for whom privacy and security is a driver to purchase, this ‘hostage’ price will be way beyond the pocket of most. However, businesses and consumers shouldn’t be alarmed, as putting up to date cyber security antivirus and anti-malware software on smartphone devices goes a long way to protecting the user, at less than a tenth of the price on top end devices.

You won’t find me – Snowden’s iPhone introspection machine

Meanwhile, a smartphone sleeve methodology (currently only for the iPhone 6), that tells its owner when their phone is being hacked, is being designed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden in conjunction with hardware hacker Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang, was revealed at a closed MIT Media Lab launch in July. The iPhone was selected as it is generally regarded as being hard to hack.

Whilst Snowden’s motivations to thwart digital surveillance may be politically motivated in seeking to protect activists from location detection by law enforcement agencies, the dual edge of their pitch highlights the trend for cyber criminals to seek to seek to install malware on smartphone devices, whilst the user is on the move (all unbeknownst to the user). The case aims to track whether or not the phones’ radios are transmitting, as trusting the phone is in airplane mode or sticking it in a ‘Faraday bag’ to block radio signals has proven insufficient. With the prevalence of clever malware which can make a smartphone appear to be off, it is daunting to users to know how well protected they and their data are from harm. Again, it’s a mixture of best practice vigilance, cyber security software and good information security management.