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TCS leverages Artificial Intelligence to support Meals on Wheels NSW


When Meals on Wheels New South Wales was faced with a shortage of volunteers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TCS was able to step in with a state-of-the-art solution that leveraged their industry-leading chatbot technology.

New South Wales is Australia’s wealthiest state – and yet according to the NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) almost 900,000 residents live in poverty, including one in six children.

Children, single women, Indigenous Australians, people living with a disability, and those in regional areas are the most likely to be victims of this income inequality – leaving many struggling with basic essentials like food security. That’s what makes Not – for- Profits like Meals on Wheels New South Wales so important to ensure those in need don’t go hungry.

Meals on Wheels NSW was founded by Sydney City Council in 1957, and over the course of six decades has grown to include 155 members, 35,000 volunteers, and provides over 1.5 million meals to residents in need across New South Wales every year.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world, essential services like Meals on Wheels found themselves facing a dilemma. The service was more important than ever, as more and more residents of the state faced unemployment and food insecurity, and yet the whole concept of Meals on Wheels presented a serious risk of spreading the Coronavirus infection to those who were most vulnerable – such as the elderly or those who live in rural locations – who also happen to be the people who rely on Meals on Wheels NSW the most.

The company took its responsibility to its beneficiaries very seriously, issuing the following directives to try and eliminate the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“All volunteers and staff are following our standard food safety procedures, good hand hygiene, and as an extra precaution are using hand sanitizing gel between each home they visit. We have also asked our volunteers social distancing recommendations, where possible, when delivering meals.”

“If you are a client and able to come to the door, we will deliver your meal either onto a tray or place on a chair or table just inside your door. We will make arrangements if you cannot easily get to the door to receive your meal.

”While this helped address the pandemic, Meals on Wheels NSW was then faced with another challenge – the increase in demand for their services, and the challenges many of their volunteers faced in meeting this demand. The average age of Meals on Wheels volunteers is 70+ and because Australian health guidelines recommend senior citizens self-isolate, this create an immediate shortage of volunteers to deliver the much-needed meals and support.

Meals on Wheels NSW turned to its supporters and sponsors for help during this period, requesting more volunteers. However, managing the training and recruitment of these volunteers taxed an already short-staffed infrastructure, and led to having to make the choice between recruiting new volunteers, or doing the delivery work the Not-for-Profit so desperately needed them for.

Fortunately, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) stepped in with an innovative pro-bono solution.

Tata Consultancy Services has been a supporter of Meals on Wheels NSW since November 2019 – and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was technology that TCS leveraged to address the problem.

As one of the top 10 IT services providers in the world, TCS is on the cutting edge of a number of technologies – including artificial intelligence and machine learning. Both of these concepts powered their Conversa chatbot – a digital solution offered to companies to help direct enquires and answer common questions without having to rely on a human call-center representative.

TCS provided a version of their Conversa chatbot technology to Meals on Wheels NSW for free up until September 1, 2020 – using machine learning to help ‘teach’ the artificial intelligence to answer common queries so that the ’s -for-Profit's human volunteers could focus their time on more valuable operational tasks.

The chatbot is capable of dealing with a number of queries – primarily from volunteers, followed by more general enquiries about the Meals on Wheels service, eligibility, meal availability, how to find the nearest service, and make donations.

The volunteers are able to receive the responses to the FAQs in real time, thereby providing relief to the core teams at Meals on Wheels, NSW. The additional features will enable them to reach a larger audience and reduce the calls that are received at their centers – thereby reducing the onboarding process of the new volunteers.

“Thank you to TCS for developing a chatbot exclusively for Meals on Wheels NSW,” the Not-for-Profit said on their website. “The chatbot has assisted with responding to enquiries about volunteering and meal ordering.” Conversa provides immediate answers to many of the volunteers’ frequently-asked-questions and has helped massively improve the length of time it takes on onboard new volunteers, and how quickly they can receive information and answers as they begin helping out.

TCS’ pro-bono technology has enabled Meals on Wheels NSW to rapidly address the dramatic changes they needed to implement and helped them step up to the challenge of keeping the state’s most-needy fed and safe during this unprecedented global crisis.

To find out how Meals on Wheels NSW is addressing the pandemic, read more:

To learn more about TCS’ Conversa chatbot technology, read more: