Introducing a new digital team member for the 21st century workplace

The unprecedented impact of Covid-19 around the world has led to almost every organisation having to adjust its business model to effectively operate in a climate of increasingly accelerated change — a new digital team member is needed.

The immediate problem is that across any type of enterprise, in any sector, people and technology are increasingly unable to fill the gap between the fluid demand surges of operations, at the pace required.

An enterprise superpower

Thankfully, some of this demand is being met by robotic process automation (RPA) technology.

This platform runs a digital workforce of intelligent software robots that collaborate with human workers to do much more across the enterprise — faster, easier and more accurately than before — without breaks or distractions.

Most importantly, digital workers provide accelerated ‘operational agility’ for business operations to meet those demands that traditional technology and people can’t deliver.

So what’s so special about a digital team member (or digital worker)? They’re not scripts or macros — but a pre-built, highly productive, self-organising, multi-tasking, autonomous processing capability – with intuitive interfaces that allow business users to access, train and put them to work.

Digital workers perform activities in the same way as humans by mimicking and learning business processes like humans — and in some cases they can deliver more complex activities up to 150 times faster and with total accuracy.

To automate a process, digital workers interweave AI techniques to carry out work by reading different screens, layouts or fonts, application versions, system settings, permissions and language. They work in teams and combine forces to complete workloads, automatically “swarming” to complete time-pressured tasks, re-ordering, load-balancing and prioritising based on environmental conditions, such as system outage or latency.

A digital team member is capable of automating processes over any past, present and future application as they uniquely use and access the same IT systems and mechanisms as humans, without APIs. These unique ‘universal interoperability’ capabilities mean that digital workers can enable operations teams to test and deploy any current or future technology innovation, such as artificial intelligence, natural language processing, intelligent optical character recognition, communication analytics, process optimisation and machine learning innovations.

In fact, to further replicate human decision-making and sustain their evolution, six skill categories have been added to digital workers; knowledge/insight, learning, visual perception, collaboration, planning & sequencing and problem solving. These capabilities are being enabled by the ‘drag and drop’ augmentation of fast evolving AI, cognitive and other technologies from our ‘Digital Exchange’ (DX) marketplace.

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1. Knowledge and insight

A digital team member can harvest information from different data sources, understand it and deliver previously unattainable insights. This enables them to deploy natural language processing so organisations gain new insights into customer behaviour, mine data for better understanding of processes and use this insight to quickly deploy new programmes.

2. Visual perception

Digital Workers are increasingly able to read, understand and contextualise visual information digitally, using optical character recognition to work with text just like humans and use natural language processing to understand and interpret human language. Also enabled is the ability to instantly analyse and understand the meaning of digital images via computer vision.

3. Learning

Digital workers can derive contextual meaning from datasets, as well as recognise process and workflow changes, while adapting accordingly without human intervention, to “learn” without being programmed.

4. Planning and sequencing

Digital workers can optimally plan workflow and workload execution to deliver the best outcomes to instantly and intelligently manage workloads, auto-scale as needed by business conditions and use automatic process mining to analyse business processes, based on event logs.

5. Problem solving

Digital workers can solve logic, business and system problems without intervention to use automatic problem detection to ensure the highest levels of service and possess problem solving ability, to increase productivity throughout all processes.

6. Collaboration

Digital workers can communicate and complete tasks with people, systems and other digital workers, to reduce time to service customers and improve overall quality. Chatbots can be deployed to work with digital workers to autonomously servicing customers, and when needed, escalate actions to human workers.

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Robot inequality

There are however, vast differences between a digital worker’s design and capabilities compared to other software robots. Digital workers are different from other software robots as they possess business-led, no-code, centralised design principles.

• ‘Business-led’ means that digital workers are designed for those people who understand their organisation’s operational needs and require the capability to swiftly respond to change.

• ‘No code’ means digital workers are pre-built, pre-programmed – to be easily used by non-technical business people, without further coding – so they avoid lengthy design, programming, build, projects.

• ‘Centralised’ means that digital workers’ automations and all related innovations can be shared, reused, improved and expanded by the whole business – hugely accelerating and amplifying gains.

Digital Workers run on premises, cloud or in hybrid environments and never run the process on the same desktop as humans. Instead, they automate in an enterprise-friendly way, either autonomously or with “human in the loop” processes — where when necessary, they interact with human users through work queues.

Another issue is that due to a scarcity of software development skills, software robots that require coding will soon suffer the same delays as traditional IT projects. The IT department’s role in RPA should simply be to uphold the necessary governance, security and compliance requirements.

Also, beware of easy-to-use, instant record-and-deploy software robots that rely on recorded process steps to complete tactical tasks. A record-and-play capability is fine for simple, single tasks. But that’s where the value ends as record-and-deploy software robots can’t adjust to any unplanned changes, require programming and constant maintenance.

Another problem with desktop recording is that a single human user is given autonomy over each recording that’s based on their interpretation of a process, versus a central consensus for the best path. Therefore, when automation technology is distributed across individuals’ desktops and they use it in individual contexts, that may help the individual, but it won’t help the whole organisation.

Final thoughts

In a fast-changing brave new world, the intelligent digital worker looks very relevant to help with fresh challenges facing global organisations, while ensuring that we retain the best of what’s distinctly human too.

Peter Walker

European CTO, Blue Prism