Robotics process automation (RPA) in the workforce, or “bots” as they’re often referred to, is not a new concept and uptake around the world is growing. It really is still early days though and digital workforce advances often inject fear and uncertainty into workers and leaders alike.
In my recent conversations with leaders of people, culture and operations in government and the private sector, three key questions/topics seem to keep arising:
- What does the addition of bots mean for the people doing the jobs today and will they be out of a role?
- How on earth do we even get started incorporating bots into our workplace and operations?
- We really don’t understand (or want to understand) what bots are at all. Isn’t it just Chatbots or Artificial Intelligence?
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What does the addition of bots mean for the people doing the jobs today and will they be out of a role?
The first question about humans being replaced by machines is age old.
Every time there is a shift change in technology, industries and processes evolve and so too does the composition of a business’s human and other resources. For most of us, we won’t experience more than a couple of major technology evolutions in our working lives, and so the introduction of a step change in operations with three such evolutions – RPA, AI and chatbots is likely taking us out of our comfort zones.
As individuals we may worry about job security and as leaders or strategists we’re faced with the need to evolve our view of the workforce as not only a human workforce, but an integrated/augmented digital workforce with humans, bots and AI all working together as teams.
We prefer to take the view that bots are in fact augmenting the human workforce by freeing up people to have time and headspace to innovate. If bots can be deployed to take up manual, rule-based and repetitive activities, the human workforce can be rediverted and augmented. If one would take an objective view on the matter instead of a fear-driven one, it would make absolute sense to augment the workforce with bots. Why? Gone are the days we can scale in a linear way. With cities growing and overpopulation no longer a theory, most governments are faced with the need to be smarter in using technology. Why would Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) be a recently trendy title? Most organisations now realise that in order to maintain productivity they must scale exponentially. Scaling exponentially to meet growth and productivity demands cannot mean hiring more people and giving them software, it must mean using bots to work alongside people to make them exponentially more effective.
How on earth do we even get started incorporating bots into our workplace and operations?
We strongly believe that unless you take the time to create a Digital Workforce Strategy, and have a good handle on how to incorporate bots into your workforce, you run the risk of being too afraid to do anything, or jumping straight in and creating a different kind of headache down the track.
What we see in organisations is generally 1 of 3 different scenarios.
- “Bot Beginners” The unaware or uncertain. These are the organisations who don’t know about RPA or if they do know, they have limited understanding of how to embark on bringing it in and what benefits could be realised.
- “Bot Benders” The unstructured trailblazers. These are the folks already embracing RPA and training bots in parts of their business. They are doing it in an unstructured manner though and so they’re possibly bending the bots to do things they’re not trained to do or creating technical debt that will have expensive ramifications in future.
- “Bot Visionary” The digital workforce strategists. These guys have a strong vision of the future and are usually planning ahead with strategy, wisdom and principles. They’re investing in strategy and planning for their Digital Workforce and they’ll realise clear benefits in many areas of the business including productivity, quality, customer/employee experience and more.
In the first scenario, the Bot Beginners, we see the organisations who through either lack of knowledge or lack of understanding are not embracing RPA. They run the risk of being outclassed by their competitors as the competition find ways to introduce RPA and create efficiency, increase productivity and augment their people’s roles. In many cases, the Bot Beginners cannot differentiate between RPA, bots and chat bots. We also notice that there is limited or no education for employees around the remit, nor the benefits of using RPA which leaves fertile ground to increase resistance and fear to the concept of a digital workforce.
In the second two scenarios, the Trailblazers and Visionaries that do embrace RPA will begin to see the benefits to their organisations. The unstructured ones though, are not likely to adequately plan or understand the strategy for building their digital workforce. They’ll possibly end up with several bots in the team but with inconsistent training that bends the bots to do things they’re not intended to do. For example, building ‘black boxes’ around the bot can make it hard to maintain. Eventually the ones who don’t plan will create new inefficiencies, or compound existing inefficiencies by taking a tactical approach without a proper roadmap for scalability or maintainability.
The Bot Visionaries on the other hand, will spend the time up front doing the planning required to truly embrace the digital workforce; allowing bots to work side-by-side with humans in an integrated digital work space. With the right strategy in place, the Visionaries create digital workforce sustainability, taking a business approach not a technology approach. They manage change well, have strong governance, liberate their people, increase productivity and improve customer experience.
Here are just some of the questions we ask our customers to consider when developing their digital workforce strategy:
- Do you know why you want to integrate bots into the workforce and how the organisation is going to truly benefit?
- Do you know your processes? Do you know where there are areas for improvement in process that are not just about speed?
- Do you know your policies and legislation? Will these need to adapt to suit a future digital workforce?
- Have you got a roadmap for the business? For the digital workforce as it evolves?
- Have you included investment in change management in your plan?
- Do you have your bot hiring policy in place? What about bot training and onboarding?
- Are you running a bit fast and doing patchwork bot management? Perhaps you’re doing inefficient processes 10x faster.
- Have you considered the implications of the worker who never goes home?
- Are you clear on the contextual knowledge that your people have that a bot can’t replace?
- Have you got an experimental culture?
We really don’t understand (or want to understand) what bots are at all. Isn’t it just Chatbots or Artificial Intelligence?
Finally, the third question honestly perplexes us. Perhaps it’s a simple human nature reflex of fearing what we don’t know. Or perhaps it’s a matter of hearing but not listening. People hear “bots” and automatically think chatbots and say, “ah, we’ve got one of those!” and the brain shuts down. Or when they hear RPA, they think AI and put it under the too-hard or never-gonna-happen basket and again, the brain shuts down. As technology and innovation leaders, it is our job to continuously inform the market and ensure that our customers use the latest and best in innovation and technology to their advantage. This is the only way to keep ahead of the competition or to keep on top of the load and expectations of their end customers.
If you see yourself in any of the above scenarios, or you’d simply like to learn more about digital workforce planning, join us for our free Webinar on the 19th of June, 2019. Sign up today!
About the Author
Head of Market Development, Procensol Australia
As Procensol Australia’s Head of Market Development, Mervin brings more than a decade of experience in strategic thinking, software, systems and process-centric design for business transformation to the operations of the organisation. Originally from Singapore and now based in Brisbane Australia, Mervin has held positions ranging from strategic BPM consulting, channel management, CIO, CTO to vendor management. He leads Procensol Australia’s market strategy, working with clients and partners to guide their Intelligent Automation, innovation and digital transformation investments.
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