Julia Aymonier, Chief Digital Officer, École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL)

At prestigious hospitality management university, Switzerland’s École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), Chief Digital Officer, Julia Aymonier is pioneering the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education. Here, she explains how, by innovating the university, she is also helping train up the AI leaders of the future:

Whilst the benefits of AI in some industries, like financial services and telecoms, are very broadly discussed, we’ve heard far less about its applications in the education and hospitality sectors. At EHL, we saw an opportunity to change that.

AI can solve many of the issues faced by the higher education system and what’s more provide a unique opportunity to differentiate the student experience and prepare students for the future of work. By implementing AI into the day-to-day running of our university, we’re not only transforming university life but we’re also training and upskilling our students at the same time.

When I first joined EHL in 2015, everything in terms of IT needed to be built. The students would complain that the printers didn’t work, and Wi-Fi access was complicated. I started looking into how I could make their lives easier through technology, without adding more workload onto our team. One thing that our students overwhelmingly wanted was a Siri-like interface that they could interact with to improve their experience of university services.

The students’ very own personal assistant

After researching a few options – and disregarding the idea of introducing a static and limited chatbot – it became clear that implementing an AI-powered digital employee would deliver the best experience to our students. We investigated a number of solutions, but we eventually landed on and started rolling out IPsoft’s digital colleague, Amelia.

Amelia is now a key member of our IT team. Available 24/7, she deals with a variety of queries, including helping visitors connect to the school’s Wi-Fi, and assisting staff and students with password resets.

It’s also been incredible to see how much time Amelia saves prospective students by supporting them through the admissions process. Our students come from all over the world and the application process can be quite complicated, with different nationalities needing different types of documentation for their visa application.

Amelia can help point students in the right direction for information regarding the documents needed to stay in Switzerland. In doing so, she has also taken a huge burden off our back-office and admissions staff. Now, Amelia can handle the large majority of FAQs, while our team members focus on the more challenging issues and improving overall services. Amelia can also help students make a booking for a campus visit, by selecting the date, time window and who they want to meet, either an admissions officer or a student ambassador.

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Taking advantage of the great potential of AI

The students themselves play an important role in the development of Amelia and are passionate about finding new cases to enhance student life. We’ve even been creating a dedicated Centre of Excellence team to work on training her, so the students can learn more about AI and how it can be deployed to solve different challenges. They’re already talking about deploying her in a Pepper robot, creating an interactive interface across the campus, as well as building in heatmap information so she can tell students when the lunch queue is at its smallest.

One of our students helping us lead the AI revolution at EHL is Angelica Fuchs. Twenty-year-old Angelica from Sweden had not given much thought to working with technology before starting at EHL, saying that “it felt very abstract and futuristic”. But by interacting with Amelia on a daily basis, Angelica has learnt so much about the technology and is starting to see how she can use her understanding of AI for her future career in the hospitality industry.

Preparing the next generation for an AI-enabled future

Like me, our students are optimistic about what the future holds as AI gains increasing prominence in the hospitality industry. We make sure our students understand that AI will augment the services they are able to deliver, rather than replacing job roles. Angelica articulated this perfectly when stating that whilst AI will be useful to streamline administrative processes, “the need for human contact will never disappear in the hospitality and education sectors.”

When exposed to technologies that will transform their future workplace, it’s amazing to see how our students harness this knowledge to fuel their entrepreneurialism. I’m proud that our commitment to innovation has inspired students like Angelica. She’s already started carving out her own business plan to launch a company that combines her two great passions: hospitality and technology.

When given access to these technologies, I have seen that the ideas our students have for how it can be applied in new ways are endless. It’s makes me incredibly excited to see how emerging technologies will transform hospitality experiences – and beyond!

Julia Aymonier, Chief Digital Officer, École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL)

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