COVID-19 continues to change so much about the way we live, learn and work. A project earlier this year reinforced what hasn’t changed: The power of boundaryless partnership. The energy of team spirit. And the rewards of doing the right thing.

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The project brought together resources from across Accenture, as well as from my alma mater, Microsoft, and Avanade. Together, we delivered an AI-powered virtual agent in a matter of days – and at no cost for the core functionality.

The idea took root at the last social outing I enjoyed prior to the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. At a charity dinner, I happened to be seated with an advisor to the UK National Health Service (NHS). He was expressing alarm at how dramatically call volumes had increased even before a severe outbreak. Having worked on incubating and launching Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent in my previous role at Microsoft, I knew we could help.

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This work was about more than doing right by customers. It was about doing the right thing for fellow humans. 

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That weekend, a few of us from Accenture and Avanade worked together to create a virtual agent for the NHS’ COVID-19 website. In just a couple of weeks, approximately 30 clients from around the globe were asking for this virtual agent solution. Then an even more groundbreaking idea took shape: What if we could deliver this capability at no cost – with Microsoft waiving the license fee for its Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent low-code solution and Accenture configuring the agents free of charge? Both leadership teams quickly agreed, and a humanitarian movement was born.

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India quickly became a flagship implementation. Our Accenture and Microsoft teams worked hand in hand with the Government of India’s Digital India Corporation (MyGov). The goal: to equip 1.3 billion citizens with a Responsible AI tool to deliver accurate, useful information about the pandemic. We used Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent low-code solution to deploy the solution in only days. The agent – known as MyGov Saathi (meaning “companion” in Hindi) – quickly started handling up to 300,000 users per day and 20,000 concurrent conversations per minute.

Those statistics are a testament to what is now possible with AI-powered customer service and support. What was equally amazing about this work: the collaboration and teamwork that brought it to life. A pandemic knows no boundaries, and neither did the people on this team. Everyone came together around a shared humanitarian goal.

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Along the way, several of us also experienced personal obstacles and tragedies, including losing loved ones and, for me, contracting COVID-19. These experiences helped reinforce our sense of purpose on the project. Meanwhile, the project provided an outlet for our grief and pain.

It all served as a reminder of the ultimate “why” behind well-designed, AI-powered virtual agents: helping people.

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The customer service function sometimes talks about doing right by the customer. For those of us privileged to deliver the Power Virtual Agent for COVID-19 to MyGov – this was about more than doing right by the customer. This was about doing the right thing for society and for our fellow humans. We just happened to use innovative technology to do it. 

Read more about Customer, Sales & Service.

Didem Un Ates

Managing Director Data & AI – Microsoft Business Group Europe

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