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A new health IT partnership aims to improve clinical data quality and thereby increase the volume of data available for care quality measurement.

The partnership will combine Chicago-based Apervita and Farmington, Connecticut-based Diameter Health’s expertise to provide payers, providers and other healthcare stakeholders with access to clean clinical data for value-based care delivery, said Rick Howard, Apervita’s chief product officer, in an email.

“The healthcare industry has no shortage of data, but the way it’s leveraged continues to be a challenge for both quality measurement and for supporting value-based contracts,” he said.

Apervita provides stakeholders with the infrastructure necessary to develop value-based care models.

Per the new partnership, the company’s quality measurement and value optimization solutions will leverage Diameter Health’s Fusion engine to clean healthcare data in multiple formats, including clinical, claims, behavioral health and laboratory data, Howard explained.

The clean data can be used to glean performance insights that are needed to develop value-based contracts between providers and payers.

Diameter Health’s technology ingests raw — that is, poorly formed, unstructured or incorrectly coded — health information from EHRs, labs and aggregators, and automatically normalizes, re-organizes, deduplicates and summarizes the data, said a Diameter Health spokesperson in an email. The technology identifies data quality errors early in the ingestion process, which makes data sharing more efficient.

“We are thrilled to be a critical and foundational component to Apervita’s platform by delivering clean, normalized, and enriched multi-source clinical data to their customers, empowering providers, payers and other healthcare stakeholders to improve quality and deliver value,” said Eric Rosow, CEO of Diameter Health, in a news release.

Healthcare data is proliferating as the industry becomes more digitized. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring services, in particular, grew exponentially amid the Covid-19 pandemic. And the data generated by these services also grew.

In addition, wearable health technology, like glucose monitors and the Apple Watch, are becoming more widely used to track patient diagnostics and encourage patient engagement, Howard said. This provides even more data for the healthcare industry to contend with.

“As the volume of healthcare data continues to grow, so will the need to have technology that normalizes the data so that it can be used to support quality measurement, value-based contracts and analytics,” he said.

Photo: Dmitrii_Guzhanin, Getty Images

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In a COVID-impacted world where video communication is the new norm, Vpply is connecting job seekers with companies through a unique video-based job application experience that minimises the need for lengthy CVs and cover letters.

Vpply is a video job platform that allows job seekers to record and upload short videos, providing applicants with the chance to showcase character and people skills.

“The application process starts with a simple job search with filters which will take you to a list of job opportunities on Vpply,” CEO and co-founder Tom Lipczynski told Dynamic Business.

“From there, jobseekers can browse and select jobs they wish to apply for and simply record or upload a pre-recorded video introducing themselves and their interest in the job application.

“After reviewing their application, they can add in their career history and ‘Vpply’ (apply with video).”

The company says employers will also benefit from Vpply’s technology by having a shortened recruitment process and more consistent scheduling of interviews.

It starts with a vision

Vpply co-founders Alex Perry, Tom Lipczynski and James Farrell | Image credit: Tom Lipczynski (supplied)

Co-founders Tom Lipczynski, James Farrell and Alex Perry launched Vpply in July 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with a mission to decrease the mass unemployment being caused.

Tom, who has prior experience working with search giants Indeed and Adzuna, met Alex at a stockbroking firm in 2014. In 2019, James joined the duo and the three of them bonded over their shared business background and passion for video.

Related: 3 mind hacks to help you build your dream business

The founders say the technology behind Vpply was spurred by a lack of human connection in job search and a growing demand for video-based technologies and applications such as Zoom and Google Meet.

Studies show that video now accounts for more than 80% of all online traffic and is 1,200% more likely to be shared online than text or images.

“The shift to video as an everyday tool is already here accelerated by the global pandemic,” Mr Lipczynski said.

“I see video as an important tool for the future and wanted it as the core of Vpply. I was also looking for a new challenge with an idea that is fresh and exciting.”

The sectors on board

In January 2021, Vpply listed more than 6,000 jobs in industries including hospitality, retail, administration, recruitment, sales and marketing and is currently expanding.

The platform gained over 2,000 unique users in January alone, most of them between 24-34 years old – an age group that Mr Lipczynski says “suffered the most” as a result of the recession.

Related: Women and young adults among those hit hardest by COVID-19, Queensland survey finds

Even though the overall unemployment rate in Australia dropped down to 6.4 per cent in January this year, it increased to 13.9 per cent for young people at the same time.

“In October, employment among Australian youth 15-24 was 4.4 per cent below its level in March and represents the largest drop of any age group,” Mr Lipczynski said.

“As the unemployment of Australian youth has been the most impacted during COVID-19, Vpply’s platform has been most adapted and used by these age groups, showing a demand for jobs and more innovative ways to apply.”

What about CVs and cover letters?

Mr Lipczynski says job search companies that use mostly traditional application methods “may employ wrong culture fit” due to the restrictive nature of CVs. Vpply’s aim, however, is not to eliminate CVs and cover letters but to have video application as the first step towards recruitment.

“Various jobseekers have worked very hard on their career history and have amazing CVs, so we do not want to take away from showcasing those achievements.

“It is however the same jobseekers that are finding it very hard to get a foot in the door, even to gain experience in unpaid internships, so Vpply is an option to try a different method to get hired.”

The company says it will work with various associations to provide fair solutions and experiences for job seekers and employers, but it is ultimately up to the hiring party to choose an individual based on their CV/video, video interview and/or face to face interview.

An ‘opportunity for innovation

For the Vpply team, 2021 is all about research and development. The company says its aim is to improve the jobseeker experience while finding new ways to scale and generate revenue streams – especially in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“We are sitting on a unique product in the market with the opportunity for innovation and using various forms of AI,” Mr Lipczynski said.

Related: Let’s Talk: Automation – To be or not to be for your business?

Vpply currently integrates with Seek-owned JobAdder and is working with partners that will allow automatic postings in Australia and New Zealand.

“AI in video can pick up on so many pieces of information that cannot be gathered from CVs and this will be the new trend in the next few years – from simple cues such as lighting and length of application time,” Mr Lipczynski explained.

“Machine learning can be applied to tone, body language and various other points that Vpply will work with jobseekers to give them a larger chance of success in landing their dream job.”

Tom’s tips for a top video application

Mr Lipczynski says job seekers should be confident and willing to showcase their unique personalities while being mindful of factors such as lighting, audio and talking pace in their video applications.

“Although videos allow for greater creativity and range in applications, it is important for jobseekers to remember that they are part of a formal application process. Therefore, looking presentable and keeping videos at a considerable length – recommended 30 seconds to one minute – are all tips to filming a great application.

“The beauty of Vpply is that we allow retakes. However, the first take is often the best – so best not to overthink!”


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Breast cancer cells

Athenex’s lead drug candidate, an oral formulation of the chemotherapy paclitaxel, is intended to bring patients comparable, if not better, efficacy and fewer side effects than the intravenous version. But the company now faces questions about the drug’s safety in the wake of an FDA rejection.

Buffalo, New York-based Athenex announced the rejection of the cancer drug Monday. According to the company, the regulator recommended the biotech conduct a new clinical trial in metastatic breast cancer patients. The agency also suggested the company take steps to mitigate the drug’s toxicity.

Shares of Athenex fell sharply after the FDA rejection was announced, and closed Monday at $5.46 apiece, down nearly 55% from Friday’s closing stock price.

Paclitaxel, also known as Taxol, is a widely used chemotherapy for treating breast, ovarian, and lung cancers. Intravenous dosing of the drug can cause adverse reactions. To mitigate those effects, cancer patients are given steroids and antihistamines prior to dosing of the chemotherapy. Other side effects of intravenous paclitaxel include nerve damage, hair loss, and neutropenia, which is an abnormally low level of a type of white blood cell called neutrophils. Those side effects may reduce how much of a dose of the chemotherapy a patient can receive.

Athenex’s version of paclitaxel is given in combination with another drug, encequidar. According to the company, this compound blocks a protein in the intestinal wall that limits the absorption of chemotherapies. In results of a Phase 3 study testing Athenex’s oral paclitaxel in patients with metastatic breast cancer, the company reported its drug met the main goal of showing statistically significant improvement in the overall response rate compared against treatment with the IV version of the chemotherapy.

The company also reported that its drug can reach levels in the blood comparable to IV paclitaxel, and for a longer period of time. The company said in securities filings that this capability may translate to a better clinical response to the therapy. In the 402-patient Phase 3 study, Athenex observed a higher tumor response rate along with lower incidence and severity of nerve problems compared to IV paclitaxel.

Athenex said that the agency’s complete response letter cited the risk of an increase in problems related to neutropenia in the oral paclitaxel arm compared with the group treated with the IV formulation. The FDA also expressed concern about how the results of the study primary endpoint were evaluated under blinded independent central review, a group of independent physicians. According to Athenex, the FDA said there may have been “unmeasured bias and influence” on the review.

Speaking on a conference call, CEO Johnson Lau said the company was “surprised and extremely disappointed” by the FDA’s rejection. The neutropenia concerns cited are a known risk of paclitaxel, he said. Lau added that the review remained blinded, was conducted by independent radiologists, and the regulator had not issued any formal warnings flagging problems at the imaging lab.

The FDA’s recommendation that Athenex conduct another clinical trial specified that the study should include patients more representative of the U.S. population. Rudolf Kwan, the company’s chief medical officer, said on the call that none of the clinical trial sites were in the U.S. But he added that the company had discussed the clinical trial design with the regulator, and the single study, as proposed by the company, was understood to be sufficient to support approval if the results were positive.

Lau said that the company plans to request a meeting with the FDA to discuss the letter and clarify the scope of the new clinical trial needed to address the agency’s concerns.

“Whether it requires the whole study be done in U.S., we’ll have to clarify in the meeting,” Lau said.

Though Athenex has a pipeline of clinical-stage cancer therapies, company currently generates most of its revenue from the sales of generic injectable products. In 2020, it reported more than $105 million in product sales, a 73% increase over 2019 sales. In its financial report of fourth quarter 2020 and full-year results, Athenex attributed the revenue increase to growing sales of specialty pharmaceutical products used to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients. As of Dec. 31, 2020, Athenex had $86.1 million in cash and $138.6 million in short-term investments.

Photo by American Cancer Society/Getty Images

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On the heels of a coordinated care agreement with Anthem, St. Louis-based Mercy is partnering with another health insurer.

On Thursday, the health system announced it was entering into an agreement with Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana to expand patient access to virtual health resources.

Per the new agreement, Humana’s Medicare Advantage members who are patients at Mercy facilities and physician practices will gain in-network access to Mercy Virtual. Staffed with more than 300 clinicians, Mercy Virtual offers 24/7 telehealth services, including virtual primary care at home.

In addition, the agreement links provider reimbursement to quality of care, shifting the payment model for Mercy physicians from fee-for-service to value-based compensation.

“Mercy is committed to working with our communities to improve healthcare while also reducing the total cost of care,” said Shannon Sock, Mercy’s executive vice president, chief strategist and CFO, in a news release. “Strong payer relationships, like this one with Humana, will help in our long-term journey to provide more seamless care for our patients. Together we can make a real difference for patients, which is especially critical during this pandemic.”

The new agreement brings together an insurer with a sizeable membership and a vast healthcare organization.

Mercy includes more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty hospitals, urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies, as well as 4,000 primary and specialty care clinicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. And, as of January, Humana’s Medicare Advantage membership totaled more than 4.8 million.

“This agreement unites two organizations striving to offer care that is more accessible, personalized and coordinated — a commitment that is more important than ever right now,” said Jeremy Gaskill, Humana regional Medicare president, in a news release.

The news of the partnership between Humana and Mercy comes just a few weeks after the health system entered into a cooperative care agreement with Anthem. That partnership includes a closer alignment between clinical care and reimbursement as well as increased data flow between Mercy and Anthem.

As the healthcare industry moves toward value-based care, provider-payer partnerships that aim to improve care quality have become more popular.

For example, at the end of last year, Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare and UnitedHealthcare established an accountable care organization with the goal of improving care coordination and health outcomes for the payer’s Medicare Advantage members. In another instance, Butler Hospital, a mental health facility, partnered with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to reduce hospital readmissions.

“If either a payer or provider is looking to fill a gap and expand optionality of services for partners or members, these types of innovative partnerships are beneficial because they provide both parties an opportunity to quickly refine and build versus recreating the wheel,” said Nick Donkar, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ health services deals leader. “This strategy enables a win-win solution in short order.”

Provider-payer partnerships will likely continue into the future to help both entities fill gaps as they think about improving care in a virtual environment, he said.

Photo: Gerasimov174, Getty Images

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After this crisis ends, expect a relative decline in business travel now that businesses are armed with cost-cutting tech-enabled tools

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The hospitality industry continues to struggle as pandemic-mandated restrictions on travel and assembly hurt the bottom line and livelihoods of both businesses and workers alike.

International travel to Canada is down by more than 90 per cent and while some travellers are still trickling in, the Canadian government requires them to quarantine at designated hotels for about three days at a potential cost of up to $2,000.

The enforced quarantining might help a small number of hotels near the airports in select cities, but it will not provide any relief for most of the 8,000 hotels of varying sizes and quality across Canada.

Room occupancy rates dropped precipitously to 33.7 per cent in 2020, from 66.5 per cent in 2019, and the decline forced the hotel industry to lower room rates. The average daily rate in Canada, which had been steadily rising since 2010, declined to $124 in 2020, from $162 in 2019. The revenue per available room correspondingly declined to $43 in 2020, from $109 a year earlier.

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A look at recent travel trends helps explain why the hotel industry’s key performance indicators have collapsed by so much, because nowhere has the impact of COVID-19 been more evident than in the international tourism and travel sector.

The number of travellers from the United States and overseas in December 2020 was down by 93 per cent compared to December 2019, according to Statistics Canada data released earlier in February. Even the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad was down by 91.3 per cent during the same period.

A year-over-year comparison reveals that the number of international trips to and from Canada dropped to 25.9 million, an annual decline of 73 per cent. Excluding Canadian residents, only 5.1 million travellers arrived in 2020, a decline of more than 84 per cent from 2019. The number of Canadian residents returning from abroad was down by 74 per cent to 14.6 million.

Returning residents and new immigrants impact housing markets more than hotels, while business travellers and tourists generate the demand in the hospitality sector. A sizable segment of the demand for overnight hotel stays, restaurant meals, and art gallery, aquarium, museum and zoo visits is generated by international and domestic tourists whose numbers have considerably declined.

Even trips by U.S. residents to Canada in December 2020 were down by 93.3 per cent from the year before. Not all U.S.-based trips are overnight trips, of course, but those visitors still enjoy meals at restaurants and buy goods at stores.

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The declines are a far cry from the glowing forecasts that greeted the hotel industry as recently as 2019. “Our hotels are full, and we are in good shape to continue to grow top and bottom lines in 2019,” said an annual review of Canadian hotel industry by CBRE Group Inc., a commercial real estate services and investment firm.

CBRE further noted that “the only factors that cause significant shifts in the hotel market are either geopolitical events — such as 9/11 and the global financial crisis — or the delivery of new hotel supply.”

With the benefit of hindsight, we can add pandemics to the list of factors that can drastically affect the hotel industry’s bottom line.

The long-term forecasts for the hotel industry do not solely depend on lifting international and domestic travel restrictions. For one thing, web-conferencing technologies have displaced some demand for intercity and international travel. Virtual meetings, conferences and even birthdays and weddings emerged in response to the restrictions that prevented face-to-face meetings.

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Traditionally large gatherings for birthdays and weddings are likely to return once the pandemic is over. However, one could expect a relative decline in business travel, given that businesses are now armed with cost-cutting tech-enabled tools.

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The resulting effect could be more pronounced in downtown employment hubs in large urban centres, where near-empty office towers could struggle to attract employees who have proven to be equally productive working from home. With employees teleworking, what’s the point of flying to a different city to visit business associates?

The hotel industry is likely to do better in 2021 and beyond than it did in 2020. Still, the industry should be prepared for a future of sustained lower demand. This might require some hotels to change their offerings, such as providing longer-term stays, and being part of the solution for challenges such as housing affordability that many cities continue to face.

Murtaza Haider is a professor at Ryerson University. Stephen Moranis is a real estate industry veteran. They can be reached at the Haider-Moranis Bulletin website hmbulletin.com.

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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Gaining insights into social factors affecting patients’ lives can be used to augment healthcare delivery in a big way.

That’s according to Dr. Courtney Lyles, an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, who helped create an expansive social determinants of health-focused data visualization platform. She discussed the platform and its development at the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange’s The Quest for Health Equity virtual conference on Feb. 23.

The platform, UCSF Health Atlas, was released last April. Focused on California-based data, it is designed to enable researchers to explore neighborhood-level characteristics and see how they relate to health outcomes. It also includes data on Covid-19.

“It’s pretty clear, and Covid has made it even more clear, that health is really impacted by place,” said Lyles, who is also co-principal investigator of the UCSF Population Health Data Initiative. “Where we live, including our physical and social environment, directly influences health outcomes.”

The interactive platform includes more than 150 social determinates of health variables at different levels of granularity down to the census tract level, which includes between 1,200 and 8,000 people. The platform draws from several sources including the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, CalEnviroScreen developed by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Public Health.

But one of the main challenges of developing a platform like this is deciding what publicly available data to include from the massive trove that is available, said Lyles.

To create Health Atlas, UCSF relied heavily on the Health People 2020 framework created by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. This framework helped the UCSF team think through five domains of social factors, said Lyles. These domains were:

  • Demographic characteristics
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Community characteristics
  • Neighborhood characteristics
  • Health and healthcare indicators

The UCSF team then went in and selected useful variables within each of the five domains. For example, within the community domain, the team selected individual variables like language and foreign-born status as well as wider variables like population density and household composition — that is, people living in households with children versus single-adult households versus seniors living alone.

“Thinking about those variables has really been interesting,” said Lyles. “[It allowed us to] think through what matters for population health and health equity risk.”

Combining all this data on an interactive map enables researchers and clinicians to drill down into granular data on any one variable, and also compare different variables, she said.

UCSF has gone a step further and made it possible to link that social determinants of health data with its EHR data. For example, UCSF combined the two to gain insights into racial disparities in hypertension outcomes. Eliminating this disparity was a pre-Covid goal for the health system, Lyles said.

First, the team extracted every single address that existed within UCSF’s EHR, and then they geo-coded those addresses onto latitude and longitude. They assigned census tract identifiers to those geo-coded addresses so that they could be linked out to the publicly available datasets. Finally, they gathered clinical and demographic data for patients with hypertension receiving care within the system.

By combining all this the system was able to track hypertension patients by race, neighborhood and socioeconomic status in San Francisco on the map and compare these variables with health outcomes, Lyles said. They found that Black patients are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, and they’re struggling with hypertension control.

“This is not showing us something that perhaps we didn’t know already about structural disparities in care or structural disparities in our society,” Lyles said.

But it does show the urgent need for including place-based strategies in health systems’ disparity reduction and quality improvement programs.

“When you put it out there in a visual display, it actually gives you even more impetus to think about neighborhoods you want to target, or [places where] you might think differently about your interventions moving forward,” she said.

Photo: GarryKillian, Getty Images

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With rapidly rising technology becoming more a part of everyday life, businesses now have a plethora of options when it comes to what tech to use as more systems are automated. But questions remain. Automation, what is it good for? Is automation a good idea for all businesses? What limitations are there?

Let’s talk…

Inga Latham, Chief Product Officer, SiteMinder

Despite common misconceptions that automation will take jobs away, in the service-led hotel and travel sectors, automation will enable better customer experiences and standards of customer service than ever before. Having the right automation technologies in place can make for shorter wait times at check-in counters, deeper understanding of customers’ needs before they have engaged in a phone call enquiry, and faster changes to bookings and payment information so staff can get on with delivering the level of service that customers want and need. For a business’ bottom line, automation is also a critical enabler of new revenue streams.

When investing in this technology for the first time or in new ways, it will be challenging to know where to start. It’s important to not get distracted by whatever happens to be ‘new and shiny’ and instead have clear goals for automating your business that align with the overall digital transformation strategy. Prioritise end-to-end technology platforms for ease of vendor management and overall business efficiency.  

Mike Featherstone, Managing Director, ANZ & APAC, Pluralsight

Automation in Australian workplaces continues to grow with new applications for machine learning and artificial intelligence being deployed every month. Security is just one of the areas that stand to benefit from this trend. With over 111 billion lines of code written every year, automation of many security measures is required to deliver timely rollouts while ensuring that unknown threats are not introduced into the systems. Processes including vulnerability scanning have been the first to see this new wave of innovation.

However, no singular tool can check every piece of code for every conceivable problem. While automatic tools can be developed to catch a lot of potential issues, tech proficient talent still need to architect the toolset and interpret the results. Ultimately, cybersecurity still requires human oversight to counter a human-led threat. Tools and automation definitely have a role to play, but ongoing technology upskilling for developers must remain a priority. This will allow the prioritisation of complex problems, knowing the basics are taken care of by security-conscious software developers creating higher quality, secure code.

Pieter Danhieux, CEO and Co-Founder, Secure Code Warrior

Danhieux

Cybersecurity is a growing challenge in our economy as every business increases its reliance on technology. The sheer volume of code across hundreds of tech properties necessitates the automation of some areas of cybersecurity to ensure we do not fall behind.

However, the human element cannot be replaced. Human action is required to counter a human-driven threat. No single approach will mitigate every possible gap in security so to tackle this challenge we need to incorporate security thinking into every step of the software development process.

Upskilling developers to mitigate against well-known security bugs early in the development process can reduce the need for patches down the line. In conjunction, automated tools can help stretched security teams address simple issues while they focus on identifying new gaps and threat vectors. The creation of high quality, secure code requires developers and AppSec teams to work together to counter known and new challenges.

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace, so it’s less a question of what can be automated, but rather, what should be automated.

In most instances, customers still prefer speaking with a human, especially if they are troubleshooting something particularly sensitive or complicated. Having been in sales roles for more than 20 years, I have yet to find a sales rep who enjoys admin tasks. Cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions can automate tasks like quote and order management, while also automating marketing communications, which in turn lets your sales team focus on delivering great customer service.  

Likewise, it is much more advantageous for finance leaders to use their brain power to tackle complex strategic challenges, rather than having them wade in the weeds of invoices and receipts. Your financial software should be able to create reports instantly or automatically create sales invoices when a purchase order is received. 

Ultimately, automation should be used strategically. Routine tasks that can be automated should be. In the end, this is not only more effective for your business, but it also frees up your employees’ time to focus on more rewarding and higher-value tasks.

Sahba Idelkhani, Director of Systems Engineering, McAfee

In the world of cybersecurity, automation is increasingly becoming a technology used to detect and protect against complex cyberattacks—and consequently help alleviate the cyber talent shortage. More recently, the volume of attacks has also surged. In fact, COVID-19-themed cyber-attack detections increased by 605% in Q2 2020

Tasks driven by automation are now addressed within minutes—not months—and allows teams to be proactive and resilient instead of reactive to the highly active threat landscape. Plus, automation provides an operational advantage, whereby, its implementation frees up senior analysts and IT staff from time-consuming tasks (such as data collection from various sources) to accelerate their response time to address an attack and make better-informed decisions.

However, automation is not useful in all contexts, as cybersecurity-related incidents rarely follow the same attack path – therefore, making it harder to automate remediation and responses completely. Response decisions will still need to loop in human talent for this very reason, and this is what we call human-machine teaming. Simply put, there’ll always be a need in cybersecurity for a human’s imagination and creativity to solve complex issues.

Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho

Vijay Sundaram, Soho, on supporting employees

Innovation and efficiency in business is an amalgam of culture, practices, and technology. Technology drives automation in many ways. Time-consuming work—like scheduling, issue tracking, analysis, and reporting—can be completely automated using workflows that plan, schedule, and automate work. This frees up human intervention for strategic thinking and soft-skill issues that cannot be automated.

AI can help find bottlenecks before they happen, plan best routes, or best times to accomplish something by combing through patterns in data that humans never can. Notifications and reminders can ensure prompt customer service in ways humans cannot keep up.

What automation cannot do is to set a culture that establishes practices and policy. For example, quick and decentralised decision making or customer-centricity are defining corporate cultures that drive innovation and loyalty and have stood the test of time. Automation cannot do that for you. Neither can it intervene to resolve, or even head off, conflict.

Andrew Souter, Area Vice President PreSales APAC, Ivanti

Automation tools can resolve up to 80% of IT issues before users even report them – music to the ears of teams struggling to keep up with the demands placed on their technology assets by the remote working boom. Monitoring for changes in device behaviours and detecting, analysing, prioritising and remediating vulnerabilities and issues can all be automated, strengthening one’s security posture, alleviating pressure from staff, and reducing the potential for human error.

Automating spend management can hugely benefit organisations of all sizes who have bee tasked with ‘doing more with less’ as the events of 2020 continue to impact today’s budgets. Automating the analysis of asset usage, license types, purchases and subscriptions can help teams pinpoint every dollar spent at a moment’s notice. Not only can they then more effectively track usage, purchase history, end-of-life dates and ongoing overall spend, they can automate insights around upcoming renewals as contract expirations strengthens compliance.

Fintan Lalor, Director of Sales & GM APAC, Wrike

To answer that question, you have to look at the areas where humans and robots outperform each other. When thinking about automation for businesses and organisations, we are really looking at responsibilities that don’t require high human value. By that, I mean repetitive tasks and processes, coordination and organisational skills, and processing large amounts of data to extract insights and value from it. 

Our human skills are better used for higher tasks that require emotional intelligence. It allows us to be better leaders and colleagues, using our capacity for empathy and understanding, but also to be more creative, fuelling our continuous thirst for innovation to improve our environment and societies.

The aim of automation is really to remove those low-value tasks from our remit to allow us to focus on higher tasks that need human skills you can’t automate. To keep up with the digital age, there are intelligent platforms that organisations can consider to deal with the nitty-gritty, which is still very time-consuming for our workforce, and allow them to focus on growing and being a better business. 

Jarrod Kinchington, Managing Director, Infor ANZ

Automation helps drive efficiencies and cut out mundane work, but the human element always remains critical. Routine and repetitive work such as data collection and entry, for example, should be automated where possible, since it significantly cuts down time and reduces human error.

Supply chains is one area where automation provides critical benefits. Smart warehousing, automation and robotics transforms supply chains to be more agile, resilient and efficient. Cloud solutions have improved efficiency and risk management in the F&B, logistics and distribution sectors, while also giving clearer visibility into inventory, orders, equipment and people to help drive enhanced service levels and increase product velocity. In the hotel sector, automation can optimise check-in efficiency and eliminate paperwork, improving operating efficiency by up to 80%.

But caution still needs to be taken around automating relationship-based tasks. There are situations where human-to-human contact remains critical. While machines are getting increasingly effective in understanding human queries and generating responses, there will never be a day where the human touch is not needed.

Marco Zande, Marketing & Digital Communications Executive, WLTH

The power of automation is something that many businesses don’t fully comprehend until they start to build out and unlock its benefits. Automation helps businesses remove a number of pain points, especially clunky processes related to client engagement and communication.

Automation comes into its own when a business is looking to scale. By simplifying customer engagement flows, businesses can communicate with clients and onboard large numbers with ease, without having to bring on additional team members to handle the volume. 

However, it’s important to also remember that automation isn’t a good fit for all businesses, and there is a fine line between getting it right and missing the mark. In our business, the human element plays a pivotal role in everything we do, and our tagline ‘Branchless but not faceless’ really drives that home.

Greg Eyre, Vice President, Blue Prism

There has been a lot of conversation about automation in recent times. In the public arena, commentators are warning that robots are set to take over jobs and render the human labour force redundant, but this is simply not the case at all.

The digital workforce — robots driven by automated processes — are complementing human capabilities. It enables us to work smarter and be more productive, freeing our focus for high-level analytical, creative, and emotionally-driven tasks.

Robots might be able to complete administrative, predictable and tedious tasks through a framework that we, humans, set, but they rely on us to operate, learn and improve.

As a practical example in a healthcare setting, Robotic Process Automation and Intelligent Automation can help its human counterparts to improve patient care by proactively engaging patients with treatment plan updates or reducing wait times on arrival and discharge through automated or digital registration. However, it remains up to clinicians and healthcare professionals to deliver a high standard of care to their patients while also building and maintaining the human relationships that are critical within the healthcare sector.

Simon Le Grande, Director Of Marketing and Product Management, ‎Lightspeed

Through technological innovation as well as exceptional product & service design, some functions and tasks that used to require a human touch are increasingly becoming automated. What we’re seeing in many industries is a removal of the ‘human’ from repetitive and simple tasks, but a reaffirmation that more complex functions, requiring softer skills like empathy, communication, strategic thinking and creativity will never be ‘automated away’.

The hospitality industry provides an interesting lens here, especially given the acceleration of digital transformation in this space off the back of the pandemic. While digital menus, online ordering and contactless payments have automated many touchpoints in the dining experience, meaningful interactions and conversations with waitstaff, sommeliers and chefs that really augment the dining experience simply could not be automated. Humans are now able to focus their energies on value-add activities, while allowing technology to play its part in reducing the scope of their roles and bringing efficiencies that lead to business success.

Stuart Read, Head of Growth, JobAdder

Automation – intended to reduce human intervention in processes – can either be a blessing for businesses, or a true hindrance.

For us, at JobAdder, we embrace automation. Not only does it simplify our processes such as job postings to job boards, but it also helps to streamline our onboarding processes, payroll, and reference checks.  

However, we do acknowledge some aspects of our business that automation doesn’t entirely support, where a human element must be present in order to efficiently complete the task at hand. This can include anything from interviews with candidates, negotiations on money and benefits, the placement of a candidate, and hand-written job ads that can provide a personal touch and insight into the culture and essence of a brand.

Paul Hadida, General Manager Australia, SevenRooms

The accelerated adoption of technology in the last year has not only set new business standards, but has also led to changing customer expectations. Today, automation is a crucial advantage businesses can leverage to not only streamline operations, but meet and exceed customer expectations. In the hospitality industry, for example, there’s a misconception that automating processes could impact the personal, meaningful touches that patrons crave. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.

For customers, automation is both convenient and safe, helping venues glean valuable customer insights and data at the touch of a button. These insights, which are paramount to success, can ascertain a guest’s favourite food and drink, allergies and even their birthday. With that data operators can automate tailored marketing and promotions. Capturing data across the guest journey by automating previously manual processes – from on-site interactions to post-visit marketing – enhances a venue’s ability to provide the memorable and convenient experiences that can boost revenue and retention.

Roger Carvosso, Strategy and Product Director, FirstWave Cloud Technology

Automated technologies and processes come in a range of formats, and the most effective are those that pre-empt what the business needs, followed by taking measured actions to progress the business forward or prevent negative outcomes. One of the most important investments businesses will need to make in 2021 will be in cybersecurity technologies. 

With scams continuing to rise, professionals continuing to make simple errors that can lead to cybercrime, such as re-using weak passwords. And with businesses continuing to be easy targets for phishing attacks, whereby one leak of credentials can lead to the leak of an entire organisation’s data, it is no longer acceptable for a business of any size to ‘wait and see’ how cybercrime will impact them. There has to be a proactive approach, leveraging cost-effective but enterprise-grade solutions, to averting scam emails away from employees’ inboxes, flagging cybercrime to relevant executive and IT teams as it happens, and complying with industry rules and regulations. 

Emma Pudney, Chief Technology Officer, APJ, Rackspace Technology

Automation is part of our everyday lives even if we don’t realise it. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, more than 20% of all products will be manufactured, packed, shipped, and delivered without being touched, which means the person who purchases the product will be the first human to touch it. Organisations are automating more and more tasks, from operational workflows to application deployment. These tasks become end-to-end processes that are efficient, reliable, scalable and easier to adapt.

But deciding on whether or not to automate something is multifaceted. It’s not just about the decision-making process, but also part ROI, part morality and other knock-on effects. It’s worth considering, for example, the consequences to the global economy – what happens if we automate all of the tasks performed by an unskilled workforce? It’s not so much a question of what can’t we automate but what shouldn’t we automate.

Stephen Barnes, Principal, Byronvale Advisors

Most things in business can be automated or systemised. Accounting systems can have through processing from receiving an invoice through to lodging tax returns. HR systems can have timesheets based on employee’s physical location. Tasks such as answering the phone can be systemised as easily as taking a video recording. Automation and systemisation have many advantages. The three main ones in my opinion: it lets you guarantee the quality of work, it clarifies your thoughts and relieves stress, and it creates an asset that increases the value of your
business.

There is one intangible that cannot be automated – relationships. In my business of turnarounds, restructures, and crisis management establishing personal relationships and repairing broken relationships is absolutely key to success. This is done by having actual face-to-face (or virtual face-to-face) meetings, and actual conversations – preferably not via email. It establishes an environment of openness and trust – and that is exactly whom people want to be in business with.

Mark Brown, General Manager – Marketing, Konica Minolta Australia

SMEs spend massive amounts of time on manual tasks. Automating these tasks would let employees add more value and experience greater job satisfaction. One example is documents that need to be scanned, processed, and delivered to one or more destinations such as another department, a customer relationship management (CRM) system or an electronic archiving solution. Document capture and workflow solutions make these procedures faster and more productive, and, importantly post-COVID, reduce costs.

Robotic process automation (RPA) can also assist with repetitive tasks. RPA completes mundane tasks such as processing invoices or claims, completing financial processes, or managing HR-related paperwork. This is done faster and with complete accuracy, leading to better outcomes for staff and customers.

There is no doubt that innovative technologies that let SMEs automate will be critical to their ongoing recovery and success into the future.


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As 2021 dawned and vaccine distribution has picked up, many people had one overarching question on their minds: how and when will they get vaccinated.

At the same time, providers have had to grapple with another question:  how to best approach for this historic, monumental task.

For Stamford Health in Connecticut, the way forward was clear: Leverage existing partnerships with the city of Stamford, community organizations and the state to distribute the much-anticipated vaccines.

The health system has been sharing data and information with the city of Stamford throughout the pandemic, including positivity rates, hospitalizations and other key metrics, said Kathleen Silard, CEO of Stamford Health, in a phone interview. Stamford Health and the city worked collaboratively to set up testing sites, and in the last few months, they also worked together to set up vaccination sites — including one at an old hospital on Stamford Health’s campus.

“The collaboration [with the city] really is to pool our resources, because we know, together we are better,” Silard said.

The health system began vaccinating healthcare workers, first responders and other eligible essential workers on Dec. 17, when the state was in Phase 1a of its vaccine rollout. Back on Jan. 18, it began vaccinating people older than 75 and recently added those older than 65 to the list, as part of Phase 1b of the rollout.

So far, the health system has administered around 27,000 vaccines, and is averaging between 750 and 930 doses a day, Silard said. But Stamford Health has ambitious plans to increase this number three-fold.

The health system is planning to open a new, much larger, site around March 1, which will enable the provider to administer up to 3,000 doses a day, she said.

But getting shots in people’s arms is not without its challenges.

Vaccine availability has been one of the biggest hurdles the health system has faced, but working closely with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and his team has helped the system get the doses and resources it needs, Silard said.

Aside from uncertainty with vaccine availability that has since receded into the background, Stamford Health is tackling a more intractable problem: vaccine hesitancy and health inequity. Both present a formidable barrier to its 3,000-a-day vaccination goal.

To help combat vaccine hesitancy, Stamford Health is conducting outreach programs, including setting up panels with people who have already received the vaccine to talk about their experience, Silard said. The system is also participating in Stamford Mayor David Martin’s weekly Zoom calls to further educate the public on the vaccine.

The Covid-19 pandemic shone a harsh light on existing health disparities in the country, with people in minority racial groups and low-income populations most likely to get the disease and die from it.

Stamford Health has put together a task force, which includes health system members, city officials and members of community health organization Vita, to ensure that vaccines are being administered in an equitable manner, said Silard.

In addition, the health system is partnering closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Building One Community, an organization that works with the undocumented community, to focus vaccine administration efforts on underserved populations.

Building One Community has developed a great deal of trust with a population that is typically hesitant to use healthcare services, said Dr. Anka Badurina, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview.

Through the pandemic, the organization has been working to ensure immigrant and underserved communities are included in response efforts — from testing to, now, vaccination.

One of its main areas of focus has been helping the elderly in these communities get registered for vaccine appointments, Badurina said. Those currently eligible often don’t have access to the internet or an email address, which is typically required for registration. Building One Community, which has interpreters on hand, helps them with the process.

Further, the organization helps organize transport to vaccination sites.

“Stamford Health partners with organizations like Building One Community [because] you have to go to those that have a trusted voice in the community,” Badurina said. “They are the ones that know where the community is and know exactly what the community is lacking.”

With the help of its community partners Stamford Health has established a “No Barriers” day, where members from minority groups and under-resourced communities can come to a vaccination site without an appointment, get registered and get vaccinated, Silard said. No individuals are asked about their immigration status or other questions that might keep people from coming to get vaccinated.

Stamford Health wants to eliminate any traditional barriers to vaccination to ensure that the largest swath of eligible individuals can get vaccinated, Silard said.

“We see [vaccine administration] as our moral, ethical responsibility to help fight this deadly disease,” she said.

Photo: LarisaBozhikova, Getty Images

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The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every sector of our society and requires coordinating a broad coalition of assets to contain it. The response includes multiple federal and state government agencies, thousands of hospitals, and a broad swath of commercial manufacturing capabilities and supply chains. We saw this coordination and collaboration early on with personal protective equipment and ventilators, and we see it again as we ramp up vaccine distribution.

To coordinate an effective response, it is critical to integrate disparate data types from multiple domains and sources, something that has been a long-standing challenge in health care. Obstacles include government agency budget structures that don’t incentivize data sharing and legacy databases that create barriers to data integration. The commercial sector also brings the challenges of competition and proprietary systems. Even seemingly simple questions, such as how many ICU beds are available in a community, are maddeningly difficult to answer in near real time. While well-branded and user-friendly websites provide impressive updates on case counts, emergency operation centers have found it challenging to integrate that data with bed availability, hospitalization projections, work force data, supply chain data, mitigation interventions, social determinants of health, and other key data elements that allow for effective planning and response.

In addition to the public health challenges, new care delivery models have underscored the need to better integrate data to deliver care for chronic diseases. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption and use of telehealth. But again, tools, sensors, apps, and devices are often deployed on disparate data platforms that make it cumbersome for patients and providers to integrate data in a meaningful fashion.

The pandemic illustrates the need for better data integration to improve management of this crises as it continues to impede the everyday care of patients.

Lessons learned from defense and intelligence communities
The health industry lags behind other commercial sectors in its adoption of data management and open-source innovations. The health community can learn a great deal about data management from defense and intelligence agencies, which must integrate vast amounts of data from disparate systems to create a common operating picture to support life and death decisions for warfighters.

The 9/11 attacks demonstrated that data gaps can be deadly. The 9/11 Commission Report revealed that information that could have prevented this tragedy was scattered across several different intelligence agencies’ databases. Following the Commission’s critique, the intelligence agencies adopted low schema data “lakes” that could accommodate multiple “streams and rivers” of disparate data and allow for easier integration. Think of these data systems as giant spreadsheets, with each cell containing an entry item. With automated meta-tagging, each cell of information can be correlated with any other item of data to reveal patterns that would otherwise have gone undetected. These data platforms also enabled the accumulation of massive data stores that optimize advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. Intelligence agencies also benefited from security protections at the individual cell level that enhanced data security, an important feature to consider as health information increasingly comes under cyberattack.

The intelligence community also embraced open source tools and open architectures for these data systems. Open source allows the rapid development of new tools at lower cost. Open architectures avoid costly and stagnating vendor lock, and it enables the adoption of new best-in-class tools and capabilities as they are often developed by small niche firms and start-ups

While novel 15 years ago, many of these innovations have been avidly adopted in the commercial sector. However, the same cannot be said for the health domain. That said, there are notable exceptions that are bright spots on the health care landscape.

Advana: Uniting disparate systems and users on a common platform
Advana, a Department of Defense (DoD) data platform, pulls together more than 200 business systems across the DoD and makes data discoverable, understandable, accessible, and usable for advanced analytics for more than 17,000 users across the Army, Navy, and Air Force who need to make decisions about mission readiness, contracts, supply chain logistics and more. The platform has helped the DoD coordinate its Covid-19 response by enabling the easy integration of a wide range of data, including case, bed, supply chain, readiness, and financial data, to inform critical health care decisions. The open architecture platform supports multiple projection models and analytic tools, which allows the DoD to validate findings in a way that would not have been feasible with a single approach.

Advana faced many of the data integration obstacles familiar to health care IT leaders: non-standard interfaces, duplicate data and systems, legacy technologies, and a history of different units pulling their own data for decision making. To integrate disparate data from spreadsheets, application programming interface (APIs), database dumps, and data warehouses from across the enterprise, Advana streams data feeds, automatically categorizing, tagging, and transforming them into a common data model to improve enterprise level analytics.

Preparing for the next health crisis
The value of big data in health care is clear but unless we can integrate and correlate disparate types of data, we can’t realize the benefits. The data challenges of the Covid-19 response illustrate this issue. The seams between government agencies, health systems, and departments within the same organization create chronic barriers to data sharing. Few organizations manage more data than the defense and intelligence agencies, and as with health care, their decisions often have life and death consequences. For critical decisions, they have developed effective strategies to create a common operating picture through robust data integration. As we continue to respond to this pandemic and prepare for the next crisis, the health care community should learn from these mission critical organizations.

Editor’s Note – The author is a Department of Defense consultant.

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Expect a record-breaking year for Canadian real estate

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Royal Lepage CEO Phil Soper speaks with Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn about how we can expect a record-breaking year for Canadian real estate.

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