Digital Co-workers are part of the team
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
I was recently invited to speak on the podcast The Friendly Futurist, about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the rise of digital Co-Workers. The increasing popularity of Robotic Process Automation and the deployment of digital Co-Workers begs a lot of questions, some of which I answered in the podcast:
Firstly, let’s understand the current scale of the market and where this is going. The global Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market is forecast to grow to more than USD $13 billion by 2030, an increase of more than USD $12 billion compared to 2020. RPA is there to mimic mundane and repetitive tasks in front of a computer and complements an end-to-end complex process automation orchestrated by a business process automation (BPA) solution.
Why digital co-workers?
There is a dual answer to this question. It can be answered from the point of view of an organisation and from the point of view of an employee.
For an organisation digital Co-Workers can:
Improve the bottom line by removing the robotic tasks out of your knowledge workforce and assign them to your digital Workforce (digital Co_Workers)
Reduce the risks of errors, reducing re-work whilst improving significantly compliance and governance. This is something that is always top of mind in FSI industry sector due to their strict compliance and regulators oversight.
Increase employee engagement and retention – Now that the mundane and repetitive tasks are not part of day-today operation, it becomes easier to retain or attract knowledge workers who feel appreciated for their valued contribution.
Mitigate the skills shortage issue post pandemic, by focussing existing workforce on high value tasks only.
And what about the employees, the humans that form part of that organisation?
Let’s use a scenario as an example and assume you work in the Finance Accounts Payable team. How much of your time would you want to spend cross-checking invoices and entering data into a system versus how much time you’d prefer working on an interesting, innovative and high-value project? I suspect the second.
We all deal with repetitive and mundane tasks in our day-to-day work. They can be frustrating, take a lot of our time and put us under pressure to complete other tasks within assigned deadlines. Offloading those to digital co-workers can dramatically improve the quality of life of human workers, especially in an environment where the line between work and personal life is increasingly blurring.
In short, having digital co-workers in the team can:
Increase motivation and satisfaction doing more meaningful, interesting work
Relieve the time-pressure due to competing priorities
Decrease the frustration due to rework caused by human errors
Digital co-workers are part of the team, not replacing the team
Since the beginning of time, humans have developed tools and technology to assist in the pursuit of our goals and improve the quality of life. Significant changes in technology have resulted in significant changes in social structures, and how humans contribute to society and make a living. The Industrial Revolution, for example, brought large-scale changes to our socio-economic structures and the type of jobs people did. Today, the technological revolution is making it possible to automate much of the work. This applies to both blue-collar jobs and white-collar work, through intelligent automation. In essence, technology is just a set of tools that we use in different ways to gain desired outcomes.
With this mind, just as the computer device has become an indispensable tool for any workforce the same might be happening with software robots where they will essentially become ‘part of the team’ and contribute to the workload in a collaborative manner, hence the term ‘digital Co-Workers’. It is important to remember that Software Robots can take over repetitive tasks only, leaving human to perform high-value work. Let’s take the robot out of the human, so that we can all be more human during our business activities. As a result, non-automatable tasks should become increasingly important, and employment will be shifting toward occupations primarily involving such tasks.
Digital co-workers and our economy
Australia, like many other countries, has been impacted from the unfortunate combination of border closures, limited workforce participation and the Great Resignation as a result of the pandemic. This has intensified the global competition for skills and talent which our country needs for economic growth.
Let’s look at this through the lenses of the Three P’s Economic Framework. Economic Growth comes from:
Population (how many people are in the economy)
Participation (how many of those people are working)
Productivity (how much value they are generating from that work)
With Population and Participation lacking, where do we turn to for Productivity?
Whilst the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has stressed the urgency of increased — and more flexible — temporary and permanent migration, one area that has perhaps not been fully considered to quickly boost productivity is robotic process automation.
Likely this is due to some misguided perceptions about the technology and its application. Terms such as ‘robot’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’ do conjure apocalyptic images of cunning machines ready for a takeover. But the truth is that robotic process automation is a tool to help increase productivity per capita for the betterment of all.
This is particularly true for what are called ‘attended bots’, which rely on a human’s action. The software robot is installed on the employee desktop and becomes something akin to a virtual assistant to help boost performance.
Amid a talent shortage, it seems like a no-brainer to automate repetitive tasks and redeploy those efforts to higher-value and likely more engaging pursuits. Here is for example how digital co-workers can assist with validating a covid vaccine certificate, which have been mandated by the NSW Government for certain industries or employees.