Automation, digitalisation and robotics have significantly contributed to the continuation of several industries during the pandemic. This idea was expressed recently in a remarkable essay for the Financial Times written by one of the most well-known intellectuals of today, historian Yuval Noah Harari.
Many businesses from across the world confirm Harari's essay, including the Slovak ones. One of them is health insurance company Dôvera. We talked to Dôvera’s Chief Financial Officer, Martin Troják, about the ways the pandemic has affected the company’s work and what role was played by automation and robotics.
How did the pandemic affect your work? Can you imagine facing the crisis without automation, digitalisation and robotics?
Health insurance is not exactly a topic that people deal with on a daily basis. It can be said that we are taking care of three different worlds. One is comprised of more than 1.6 million of our insurance clients, the second includes almost 12,000 healthcare providers (hospitals, doctors…) and the third are insurance premium payers, especially employers. Each of these three worlds has its own specificities, needs, demands and requirements.
This clearly means that without strong systemic support, we would not have been able to operate even before the pandemic, let alone after its outbreak. Our organisation strongly relies on systems, be it digitalisation, robotics or automation. They are a fundamental part of our DNA. So, we were ready for what happened during the pandemic to a certain extent.
The systemic basis which proved to be essential during the pandemic was strong. Nevertheless, you probably were not ready for everything and many issues had to be resolved on the spot.
Naturally, it was a shock. I still remember that the first confirmed covid case was a man from Vysoká pri Morave. Suddenly everybody stayed at home and we had to figure out how to keep going and deal with many issues. For example, how to pay healthcare providers. Under normal circumstances, payments were transferred through a special secured access to a computer at the company’s seat. I’m talking about more than €100 million each month, i.e., money for providers, hospitals, doctors, etc. For front-line professionals, it was unthinkable that they do not receive their payments. We had to act fast and find a solution as soon as possible to allow colleagues working from home to make payments.
What were you already prepared for way before the pandemic?
Our call centre was ready. Our clients demand active interaction and communication. The pandemic has intensified the pressure on the interaction and communication. In the past, our call centre colleagues had their own desktop computers. Two years ago, in winter, we started to deal with the situation, because even before covid, we had to face the flu season every year. It was a period of time when children got sick and parents working at our call centre had to stay at home with them, which naturally had a negative impact on our client service. Back then, we transferred the call centre to laptops, so our employees could connect from anywhere.
A well-functioning call centre is one thing, but without people and their positive and flexible mindset, it would probably have been much harder. How did they react?
Our employees realized that something is going on and that their work will never be the same, not just during the pandemic, but also once it is over. Instead of sitting at home and receiving 60% of our salary or discussing dismissals, we tried to help everyone and provide high-quality services to all three worlds that I mentioned before. Naturally, it required flexibility from our people. Looking back, I see that we handled it very well. Of course, I won’t hide that it was very hectic, especially the first two or three weeks. I guess it is understandable, we had to make sure that a large company with 700 employees works smoothly.
What are your efforts to diminish people’s worries related to robotics or process analytics in "standard times"? What do you do to prevent them from boycotting it due to fear or distrust?
First of all, at least for people involved in the higher and middle management, new technologies must be a part of their DNA. They need to think about ways how to develop the company. Processes change, the environment changes, systems change and even technologies constantly develop. Naturally, this is a view from the top, your job is to figure out how to move the processes forward. And then there’s the view from the bottom. That means how this mindset affects a regular clerk or specialist. Sure, when you say automation or robotics, nine out of ten people immediately think dismissals. However, we see it differently. I believe in communication, both within the company and outside, towards premium payers, insured clients and providers. People whose jobs will be taken over by robots are transferred to more creative positions, which are constantly being created.
How do you communicate on robotics?
I try to be very open. I say look, we would like to do this or that, it will bring such and such benefits to our insured clients, premium payers and at the end of the day to us as well. And then I ask them a direct question: How can we do this? Find XY activities which you believe don’t create value but you do them every day, they’re not creative, it’s pure admin. What could be transferred to robots? At such brainstorming sessions, people often express their views. We often see that an activity which used to be performed by five people for the whole week is now performed by one person half a day. We can make an agreement with a supplier of new technology, e.g. RPA, who makes sure that the activity is further shortened to one hour, because it is pre-prepared by a robot. I do not want people to work ten, 12 or even more hours. I want them to work eight hours and I am convinced that thanks to optimization and robotics, they will have time for many more tasks than before.
You assign them more creative tasks or even positions on a higher level on the career ladder?
Both. Those currently working for example as clerks who want to move forward do not have to leave our company, they can change positions. Year-on-year, we hire just a few new employees, but we create dozens of new jobs every year. We try to cover any development with our in-house resources, i.e., our existing employees. We replace less creative activities with more creative ones. Employees know that when we come up with something new, it does not mean that we will dismiss 40% of our staff.
A recent study has shown that healthcare companies all over the world annually spend six to 24 million dollars to rectify poor-quality data caused by people. That means that the human error factor can be calculated very clearly. Do you see robotics as an opportunity to prevent such increased costs?
Definitely. When someone tells you that they have 100% quality data, they are lying. It is natural that with increased data quantity, their quantity may decrease. We need prevention and detection mechanisms to identify such situations. To give a clear example, our 1.6 million insured clients generate more than 100 million lines of reported healthcare every year. All this must be processed in a systemic way and with automation and robotics, we try to capture any potential errors.
What is your personal experience with task mining technologies?
I’ve tested task mining at two of our departments. Approximately a year ago, I took over a complex agenda of insurance assessment, collection and recovery with more or less hundred employees and I wanted to understand how it works. I had an opportunity to meet everyone and try to understand how the entire process works in practise, but you do not have time for that. You can also take a different route, which is to implement task mining and explain to employees why it is implemented. For example, for me it was sufficient to deploy it for one month. Naturally, employees can’t work at 150% or 20% for the entire month. After one or two days, they get into their normal routine and I’m interested in that normal routine. In this way, we find out that one person works in one way, another person works in another way, and so on, and suddenly we see which colleagues are the best and fastest performers. So, we modify the process based on them. Hypothetically, at the end of the day we could find out that everybody works in the same way, but that has never happened yet. So, instead of me sitting at their side, we use task mining to look for optimum processes and space for automation. When you find out that 80% of the activities could be automised, task mining’s analysis will report that there are for example 5000 of such activities and then Mazars comes and tells you how many transactions could be automised and they will help you with that.
Are you interested in what were the processes beyond the selection of supplier for automation and robotics services in Dôvera?
We have also covered this topic with Mr. Troják, CFO of Dôvera health insurance company. Discover more in this short interview.