Linda Tonellato, (L), Manager of Finance at UHN, and Rosanna Machado, Supervisor in UHN Accounts Payable, with "Otto," their department's artificial intelligence bot. (Photo: UHN)

Linda Tonellato and her Accounts Payable team within UHN Finance feel they've struck it rich with their new colleague.

Not long ago, they would walk into work every day, spending at least five hours at their desks printing and organizing invoices one-by-one before tending to any other tasks. As a multi-billion-dollar organization, ensuring everyone gets paid properly and on-time is an integral part of a healthy-functioning company, even if it takes much of the work day.

This was their workflow since 1986, until a unique team member came along and helped make the process four times faster.

Meet Otto, the artificial intelligence (AI) robot – a first of its kind at UHN. The bot uses AI to automatically handle Accounts Payable processes, such as printing, organizing, and preparing data for entry.

So far, Otto has saved 4,000 hours of work, 150,000 sheets of paper, and reduced the average processing speed from weeks to days since joining the team in 2020.

"Now we're able to focus on things that require urgent action and can tend to real, intellectual tasks, as opposed to pressing buttons and printing all day," says Linda, Manager of Finance at UHN.

The bot has not only improved efficiency four-fold in UHN's Accounts Payable Department enabling the team to engage in more valuable work, but has also set a remarkable example for the rest of the organization about the possibilities of AI outside clinical settings.

"This is huge for UHN because most automation up until this point has focused on clinical," Linda says. "The fact that we were able to use it in a non-clinical setting was absolutely groundbreaking in its proof of concept."

UHN is the single largest health network in Canada, simultaneously setting an example for external companies as well.

"It's inspiring different departments – and even organizations outside of UHN – to think about how they can use automated technology to be more effective and efficient within their own areas," Linda says.

'A huge contributor to our department'

Linda adds that this technology will not only improve efficiency in the back offices, but in front offices as well, including clinical and patient care.

"If we can get accurate information out to people-facing departments in a timely manner, it will help with their decision-making processes, things like managing funding, finances and time-allocation," she says.

Rosanna Machado, Supervisor in UHN Accounts Payable, says what was once a manual, five-hour process now takes 90 minutes. Thanks to Otto, they no longer have to sit down and go through more than 500 invoices one-by-one every day; rather, they can now input an email address, password and date-range, then let the machine work its magic.

"It's been able to streamline the process for us and has been a huge contributor to our department," Rosanna says.

That contribution prompted the team to give the bot a human name – Otto.

"I like to remind people that Otto was built by humans, so he's technically human, and he's not perfect," Linda says. "People in our department don't say 'is something wrong with the bot today,' they say 'is Otto feeling okay today?'"

As is the case with all technology, the possibility of a glitch occurring exists, however, the accuracy of the bot is more precise than a person, therefore a technological error would be far less significant than a human error, if it were to happen – this reflects how beneficial this type of innovation truly is for UHN.

The success of the bot has left Linda and her team brainstorming new ideas for processes that can be automated in the future.

"I've always wanted automation in the Finance Department, and now that we've finally done it," she says, "I'm overwhelmed with inspiration and I can't wait to see what we can do next."

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