BY: Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in Government Editor.

From a records and information management perspective, North-West University wants to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) for better decision-making.

This is according to Eric Swanepoel, senior records officer at the university, speaking during a panel discussion at the Hyland Summit South Africa 2023.

Swanepoel was responding to a question about the institution’s customer experience (CX) plans for the future, given rapidly-changing customer service expectations.

He explained that customer experience within the higher education landscape is two-fold because it is made up of the students and support departments that deliver customer service to other departments; for example, IT and HR operations.

“For customer service experience, we would like to see the use, specifically, of artificial intelligence to support our business to make better decisions, to work faster and not let anything be left behind.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘good’ trial run. In the university environment, the teacher and learning environment must continue, the students must graduate (we cannot hold them back), so business had to continue even though we were not allowed on the premises.

“We had to adapt really quickly; where we had physical records, we had to have one person go back to the office and start scanning to make it available to the other people.”

North-West University wouldn’t be the first higher learning institution to turn to emerging tech for client services.

In 2019, the University of Pretoria (UP) introduced Libby, a robotic librarian deployed at its Merensky Library on the Hatfield Campus.

The Watson-powered librarian was introduced to supplement UP’s wider self-service portfolio that includes the self-service kiosk, chatbot, UP Libguides, self-checkout machines and the mobile app.

The robotic librarian has an array of over 60 sensors, cameras and software integrations to enable it to receive and process various commands and requests, said the university at the time.

For Leeanne Jonsson, IT manager for business analysis and innovation at Motus Group, the last two years have been spent focusing on customer experience, with no plans to change this emphasis in the near future.

“Our organisation sees CX as our key strategic focus. Car rental is something that is the same regardless of the organisation that delivers it, so the way that we deliver is what we want to try and optimise.

“As much as we’re looking at technology and how it can improve that and make the customer experience more relevant to each specific customer, our strategic focus is to look at what we currently have and use it in a smarter way.”

Brett StClair, co-founder and event guest speaker, commented that the bar has been set so high over the last three years. Users and customers are accustomed to an Uber or Facebook experience, he stated, as these platforms provide “incredible” experiences because of the simplicity they bring.

“If we could take one lesson from what these platforms are building, it is that they hinge the experience on one predominant question. For example, Uber asks: ‘Where would you like to go?’ Imagine if the medical aid industry asked: ‘How are you feeling today?’”

DX hurdles

The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak saw digital transformation become a must for most industries, as more companies embarked on the journey to digitise their operations.

However, a number of challenges have been encountered in the process of transforming organisations digitally, Jean Van Vuuren, associate VP of EMEA commercial sales at Hyland, noted during the panel discussion.

For North-West University, Swanepoel revealed the biggest challenge has been acceptance of change. “We deal with a lot of academics, some of them not as young, and some scared of the change. They don’t always understand the technology and concept behind it, and how it works.

“The fear sometimes is whether they will lose their information and questioning the location of the cloud. They have a range of questions, but accepting that change is probably one of the biggest challenges.

“You have to know what you want. You cannot start with a digital transformation process if you don’t know what you want; you have to start with the end in mind.”

Swanepoel also highlighted infrastructure as posing a challenge.

Motus Group’s Jonsson added that doing too much too quickly makes people adverse to change.

“If you’re going to implement any kind of digital transformation change, instead of making it a big and abstract idea, make it finite for a business unit and involve people right from the beginning. This is so they don’t feel like it is being forced down their throats, but something they need to adopt and use to improve work.”

The infrastructure component is massive, stressed Jonsson. “Very often you think that you’ve got the solution, but if your infrastructure can’t handle it, support it or make it seamless for the end-user, it’s not worth it.”

The Hyland Summit took place last week, where the US-headquartered software firm hosted its South African partners, which included North-West University, Motus Group and Revenue Services Lesotho.


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