East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust is today launching a new intelligent virtual assistant with IBM to support its human resources team to handle queries. 

The virtual assistant, called Enquire, has been created specifically for East and North Hertfordshire to ease the administrative workload of HR employees, freeing up their time for tasks that are more complex and have more value. The new assistant will provide a 24/7 support service for the trust’s 6,500 staff.

Enquire runs on IBM Cloud and is powered by IBM Watson Assistant, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to understand customers in context to provide fast and consistent answers across any application, device or channel. It was developed by IBM Expert Labs in collaboration with the trust and over 15 subject matter experts.

Thomas Pounds, chief people officer at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, said: “It is really important that our staff have instant access to the information they need at a time that suits them. Enquire has been designed and built to do exactly that.  

“It will not only provide 24/7 support to our key frontline staff but means that our HR department can focus on work that provides greater value for the organisation.  We look forward to making further developments to Enquire based on the needs of our workforce.”

Enquire has intelligent natural language processing technology that makes it capable of understanding conversational language. The technology moves beyond information transfer towards executing tasks and ensuring the response it provides to East and North Hertfordshire staff is relevant and accurate.

During pre-launch trials, staff had the opportunity to ask questions relating to management training, policies and regulations, rota and pay, and other general employment topics. Enquire has also been designed to continuously improve its ability to satisfy employee requests.

Kate Robinson, managing director at IBM Technology, UK & Ireland, said: “The NHS is one of the UK’s most critical institutions and has faced growing pressure in recent years as a result of the pandemic and staff shortages.”  

She continued: “We look forward to continuing to help NHS organisations across the country to address key challenges and deliver the best care possible by leveraging the power of modern technologies such as AI, automation and hybrid cloud.”

Digital has been a key priority for East and North Hertfordshire in recent months. Back in August, the trust deployed digital care plans at one of its hospitals to ensure clinical staff can access vital information when they need it.