Note: Since this article was published, House With No Steps has changed its name to Aruma.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can automate transactional and cognitive functions at scale. All kinds of corporations, in various industries, are reaping the benefits of using these technologies to automate complex tasks with machine efficiency. However, these technologies can also be tapped by the non-profit sector to deliver a different kind of value. This was the topic of a presentation at this year’s Digital Workforce Summit (DWS) by Andrew Richardson, the CEO of the House with No Steps (HWNS), Australia’s leading disability support organization, which he said is dedicated to helping people with disabilities “lead a great life.”
Investigating Conversational AI
HWNS has partnered with IPsoft to investigate the ways in which AI — particularly conversational solutions such as Amelia — can be utilized to augment the organization’s staff by allowing them to do more. While still in the exploration stage of AI use, Richardson is hopeful that the technology will help with the organization’s operational compliance and efficiency, which will ultimately benefit customers.
“We’re confident that AI will shape the future of disability, both the future of how people with disability are supported, and in the longer term, what disability itself looks like,” Richardson told DWS attendees. “We may be 20 years away from a world where disability as we know it hardly exists at all.”
Founded in 1962, HWNS supports roughly 5,000 people along the eastern coast of Australia. HWNS has had to evolve how it delivers services due to a 2013 change in Australian law that pivoted the organization from a charity-based model to one that allows customers to pick and choose their services.
“We’re now in a transactional, commercial, customer-centric environment where we have customers we serve,” Richardson explained. “It’s actually fantastic, because that is way better than any quality management system that the government or other agencies can impose. It puts power in the hands of your consumer. So, if they don’t like us, they can go somewhere else.”
“We’re confident that AI will shape the future of disability, both the future of how people with disability are supported, and in the longer term, what disability itself looks like. We may be 20 years away from a world where disability as we know it hardly exists at all.”
— Andrew Richardson, CEO, House with No Steps
However, having to compete in a marketplace with similar organizations has forced HWNS to generate millions of line items and bills, which it never had to do as a charity-based service. Additionally, the Australian government manages the cost of the federally funded program, which has led to staff shortages and a dearth of potential staffers who fear future layoffs.
“Our challenge in a nutshell is do more, do it better, do it with less, and do it fast,” said Richardson.
HWNS has experimented with Amelia to support staffers in order to make them more efficient, and their employment more sustainable. Amelia helps workers log quantitative and qualitative customer data as events occur. She also logs end-of-shift reporting data as staff leave work.
“We’re seeking to use Amelia and Amelia’s Natural Language capability in particular to make it easy for staff to say, ‘Amelia, Joe’s just had a seizure. He was out for 15 minutes,’ or ‘We had a great day today, this, this, and this happened,’ and then that data is captured and can be built up as a body of knowledge around that customer over time,” Richardson said.
As HWNS experiments with Amelia to build higher-quality and more efficient reporting, Richardson envisions a future where HWNS has accurate and detailed information about each individual customer, what treatments work or not, and how best to meet each customer’s specific needs.
Richardson said he’s interested in testing AI systems for future use cases, including service as a whisper agent to help employees determine the best solutions for assisting customers.
“There is so much opportunity to support people with disabilities better, and so I’m keen for us to test whether Amelia or other AI technology can learn our policies, procedures and forms, so our staff actually can leverage our policies,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got thousands of pages of stuff. I defy anybody to know our entire suite of policies. If AI technology can come alongside someone and give them advice on what to do in a particular circumstance, then we want to start learning about how much that’s possible.”