Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

Workday, IBM offer new AI solution to COVID-19 challenges as enterprises return to the office

Planning and AI-assisted scheduling may make returning to the office less stressful for business owners and staff.

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Workday and IBM have announced an expanded partnership and a new joint solution to help enterprise players in their return to the office. 

In order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, a number of governments and other authorities worldwide quickly imposed lockdowns which forced businesses and offices to close. 

This, in turn, forced a transition for many of us to working from home, and while some may remain remote for the foreseeable future, others will be asked to return to the office. 

How to do so safely is a matter of importance and it is the responsibility of business and community leaders to make sure everything possible is done to reduce the risk of causing a COVID-19 outbreak. 

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Blanket legislation can only go so far when it comes to preparing businesses to return to the office on the ground. Social distancing markers, the availability of sanitizer, and PPE guidance can help, as well as working out the maximum number of people allowed in the workplace at one time. 

However, this may not be enough to face the challenge. 

As a result, IBM and Workday's new solution aims to help "business and community leaders plan, schedule, and monitor a safe return to the workplace for employees."

The new solution combines a range of Workday and IBM management systems already offered to the enterprise. IBM and Workday say this will merge "planning capabilities with critical employee, community health, and workplace data."

At the heart of the joint effort is Workday Adaptive Planning, a flexible solution already in use by over 5,000 enterprises for planning, forecasts, and modeling. In light of COVID-19, the software now includes Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) and the input of data concerning worker readiness to return to the office. 

While this solution is enough for managing employee numbers in a safe way and can be used to organize split shift systems, for example, IBM Watson Works has now also been integrated. 

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IBM says that businesses need the "right data and insights" to bring employees back to the workplace safely in a COVID-19 world, and so IBM Watson Works has been created to give clients these insights -- with the help of  Watson artificial intelligence (AI) models. 

IBM Watson Works is a set of products leveraging Watson's AI for facility management, workplace re-entry, care management, workplace safety, and contact tracing. 

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Data analyzed by the system can provide "evidence-based" predictions and information for users to manage COVID-19 challenges, as well as decide what new protocols are suitable for their businesses. 

These can include:

  • Modeling site capacity and managing entry/exit schedules to keep staff numbers low enough for social distancing to be possible;
  • Assessing community and workplace transmission risk;
  • Planning for PPE supplies and inventory
  • Analyzing workplace safety plans and risk scores
  • Assessing workforce concerns, sentiment, and models for returning to work -- whether just office-based, fully remote, or a combination of both.

"Keeping employees safe during the return to workplace process is of critical importance to business leaders across industries," said Kareem Yusuf, general manager of AI Applications, IBM Cloud and Cognitive Software. "By partnering with Workday on a joint solution, we're extending the capabilities delivered by Watson Works to help customers gain greater agility to respond to ever-changing working conditions and evolving business needs."

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