In an era where the only constant in technology is change, innovation through AI and intelligent process automation in businesses is commonplace. This transformation often leads to businesses investing in digital solutions in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive and saturated market.
The number of digital workers entering the workforce will increase by 50% by 2021, according to new IDC research. With the explosion of the robotic process automation (RPA) market, there are now millions of digital workers employed at businesses around the world. So don’t be surprised to see a new robotic colleague at your next company meeting as organisations give at least one robot to every employee to augment their day-to-day activities.
But despite the promise that trillions of dollars are expected to be saved by deploying digital workers, most RPA projects fail to fully deliver. The root cause of many of these failures is that digital workers don’t know how to handle unstructured content or undocumented processes – just like badly onboarded employees don’t. In order to realise the return on investment in RPA and content intelligence, we need to ensure our robot colleagues are employed and on-boarded appropriately.
A digital worker checklist
Step one of the hiring process is figuring out whether you really should invest in that digital worker. Given all the hype, this may seem counter-intuitive, but not every process is qualified for RPA and hastily implementing automation for the sake of it benefits no-one. Worse still, picking the wrong process will only lead to frustration as you try to make your digital worker perform a task it is technically unable to do.
In order to determine whether the process needs a robotic touch, it’s important to ensure your digital colleagues follow rules-based decisions rather than judgement-based. If your process is prone to human error and is repetitive - and especially if there is input data, and it is digitised through optical character recognition (OCR) and document capture - then the opportunity is ripe.
Onboarding your new colleague
So, you’ve decided a robotic helping hand is what your business needs. But before you get too excited, let’s set a few ground rules. Avoid duplicate work and overlaps in the job function for your digital worker. Unlike humans, digital workers will tirelessly do what you ask of them, even when there are unintended results. Therefore, it is critical that digital workers’ ‘managers’ use process intelligence to ensure they are properly designed to avoid conflicts and can deliver their benefits without the costly side effects of a poorly employed worker.
Secondly, ensure the process is fully documented for a digital worker, as this information is the basis of properly training the robot. Having this insight into processes means you can evaluate your current processes in their ‘baseline’ state, so that process automation teams can clearly set ROI expectations and ensure agile service delivery so that automation efforts do not produce any unintended consequences.
Getting the bots up to speed
As with our human workforce, if we want our digital workers to handle increasing complexity and process sophistication, they will need more training. However, there is no skills gap with digital workers. This training is realised through the addition of cognitive skills such as AI and machine learning-enabled content intelligence, to raise the digital IQ of digital workers.
Previously, first generation RPA bots focused on automating high-volume, relatively simple processes involving structured data with no human intervention. As enterprise demands have evolved and AI capabilities increased, digital workers are increasingly being used in processes with unstructured data, in more complex environments where humans are part of the process and where some cognitive reasoning may be needed.
As with the human counterparts, regular check-ins, performance evaluations and review meetings are integral for the long-lasting career of your digital worker. A common reason why RPA projects fail is because bots aren’t monitored effectively and get stuck performing broken or poorly executed processes. Automating a bad process just makes bad things happen faster.
Using process intelligence to monitor digital workers ensures your automation investment is operating as expected post-deployment, especially in mixed mode scenarios where bots incorporate human assistance. Beyond digital worker monitoring, process intelligence can easily identify situations that require real time notifications to alert the right people at the right time.
By having proof of digital workers’ performance and cost impact, you’ll be able to reward your robot and expand them at enterprise scale. The future of work will be made up of a growing digital workforce that will take on more reasoning and decision-making, allowing them to go much further than simple automation. IDC estimates that today, machines conduct 29% of evaluating information, reasoning and decision making, and that this will only increase from this point on.
Digital transformation of the workplace is in full swing, with more organisations recognising the benefits of digital workers in augmenting human employees. Human-machine collaboration is not just the future of work, but the norm for high performing enterprises. So, what are you waiting for?
By Neil Murphy, Global VP, ABBYY