It’s a golden age of hyper-competitive markets defined by technological advancement, and it’s disrupting the way we do business. The new wave of economics emerging across the globe is driven by convergence of automation and artificial intelligence. The digital workforce is pivotal for organizations to survive and thrive in this competitive economy. The digital workforce is an opportunity for organizations to create and innovate at unprecedented speed while still being able to place the human at the heart of the creative value chain. It has the potential to address skill gaps, limited capital and time constraints that organizations face today.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and automation, in general, is helping companies reduce costs and improve on quality and productivity by automating some of their most time consuming, rule-based and replicate business processes.
Embracing the digital workforce requires organizations to re-look at their current businesses operations and redefine the way the business can be conducted in future. The transformation business strategy needs to be coupled with the right investments in technology and the human workforce. This paper delves into what constitutes a digital workforce and provides insights into how organizations can embrace the age of the digital worker with the right strategy, appropriate investments in technology and proper change management.
A digital worker mimics a human being's way of using a computer for work tasks. Digital workers are powered by software robots. While robotic process automation has primarily been used for repetitive, rule-based tasks, digital workers need 6 essential skills:
The digital workforce alongside the growing bouquet of AI and complementary technologies have given rise to Intelligent Process Automation.
INDUSTRY USE CASES
The use cases for digital workforce could range from back office to data management to front office. Some of the hot spots within finance could cover Planning, Regulatory, Processing, Reporting and Reconciliation.
Similarly, supply chain use cases would fall in Analytics, Reporting, Relationship and Risk Management.
Automation is very popular in human resources area and lot of organizations are trying it for Analytics, Reporting, On-boarding and Reconciliation.
Claims and Customer Service areas are very popular areas where digital worker is doing wonders of reducing the processing time by almost 60% in Claims life-cycle maintenance, Settlements, Reporting and Adjustments.
EMBRACING THE DIGITAL WORKFORCE
A digital workforce is a game changer. It is about business and IT teams working together to bridge the digital entrepreneur gap improving efficiency and meeting cost reduction goals. Organizations need to have a defined charter for embracing the digital workforce. The vision and anticipated business benefits must be clearly articulated and evangelized across the organization. It can be increased efficiency and productivity, greater operational agility, improved customer experience and loyalty, creation of a new business model, superior control, governance & IT Security and more.
Once the vision is established there must be well defined structure in place for the following:
1. Mindset change: Digital workers differ from humans and as such, must be handled appropriately. A process that was defined for humans, will not necessarily work for digital workers. Often the first step involved with the introduction of the digital worker is in redefining the business process. This would require a mindset change in the organization.
Once the process has been redefined and the digital worker is ready to be deployed, the human workforce must culturally adapt to working alongside the digital worker. In return, digital workers free up humans from mundane tasks, providing them the opportunity to use their time for value adding tasks like managing customers or defining new product packages etc. This will require the re-skilling of the human workforce and must be addressed appropriately.
2. Governance: Like human employees, the digital workers should be governed too. Here are some measures that need to be put into place:
- A centralized control room to monitor and control the digital workforce is required, providing an end-to-end visibility of the digital workforce.
- Audit logs for the digital worker life cycle from creation to deletion, tracking the digital worker’s assigned manager and records of digital worker performance must be maintained.
- Deployment of digital workers must be efficient with minimal/no requirement to edit scripts.
- Process risk assessment procedures must be put into place to ensure there is no tampering of the processes that the digital workers execute. Governance that includes process documentation and audit trails for decisions made must be in place to prevent risk.
- An idle human worker can be easily detected while a digital worker may be undetectable. A digital worker can be idle for a significant amount of time if it’s not configured properly (it could be a wait for a human or an event). But the idle state of digital worker will not reduce the software license, infrastructure, or support costs that is required to run a digital worker. With digital workforce enterprises must have monitoring and alerting mechanisms for digital worker utilization with the objective to constantly minimize license costs and resource requirements while following the 24*7 rule.
3. Security: As per the Open System Interconnection (OSI) framework, the 7 layers of security are: Physical, Data Link, Network, Transport, Session, Presentation and Application. While, the first five layers will be as per the organization’s default security policies and guidelines, security for the presentation layer and application layer will have to be built in for intelligent automation using the digital workforce. For the application layer, the following should be implemented at the minimum:
- Infrastructure Security
- Operating System (OS) level security
- Centrally Managed User Access Control for authentication as well as access
- Systematize Activity Logging and Audit Trail
- Encryption of data at rest and in motion
4. Systems Readiness: Currently internal systems of organizations are not prepared to handle digital workforce as they have been designed to cater to humans.E.g. When a human is hired into the workforce, he/she needs to provide ID proofs and additional documents for on-boarding. How does one handle this scenario for a digital worker? A new profile e.g. contractor will have to be created in the system to handle digital workers. Instead of the documents of the digital worker, that of its supervisor must be factored in. For every touch point the digital worker will have with organization’s systems and people, the interactions will have to be defined and implemented accordingly.
5. Coping with Robotic Speed: Digital workers, while bound by the speed of applications it works with, can work faster than humans. On one hand, there may be a need to design for pauses/interventions in your process to accommodate for the same. On the other hand, with digital workers productivity being multi-fold compared to humans, the number of software licenses (e.g. ERP licenses) that are needed for business operations will reduce there by reducing the overall cost of ownership.
The age of the digital workforce is here. Organizations need to be prepared to ride this change, by formulating the right business strategy, investing in apt technology products/ platforms, defining appropriate operating models and preparing the human workforce to embrace this age. The digital workforce is here to take the robot out of the human. Not to merely replace human employees but to empower them to reach higher orbits.
With a digital workforce that’s capable of self-learning and continuous improvement, an organization could automate billions of transactions while returning millions of hours of work back to the business—freeing them to create, build and share their innovations.
- The IT function and RPA (London School of Economics): https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/64519/1/OUWRPS_15_05_published.pdf
- Resources: https://www.blueprism.com/resources
Co-authored with Sreeja Achuthan