The Rise Of The Digital Workforce: Separating Fact From Fiction

Written by Shared Services & Outsourcing Network – SSON in Changing the world with automation on March 2, 2017

SSON Thought Leadership Series – Sponsored by Automation Anywhere

The role of Shared Services Centers has evolved over the past 20 years from centralizing business support functions to unlock key cost efficiencies, into a transformation approach driven to implement process excellence and driving new growth. The commercial reality of today’s digital economy highlights that traditional business rules no longer apply in an environment where digital transformation is bringing down barriers to entry across the board.

In this environment disruptive technologies are no longer an enabler or gateway to growth but mission critical to retaining and growing competitive advantage.  These mission critical technologies have to be easy to use, quick to adopt, and must be enterprise grade.  At SSON, we have been able to see the utilization of Enterprise grade RPA (Robotic Process Automation) as a key enabler to deploying a digital workforce alongside existing teams.

What is the Digital Workforce?

Automation has been around for sometime. Advances in machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks and data analytics have changed the paradigm of operational excellence and, combined with RPA, can produce a hyper-productive workforce.

Digital Workforce augments the human workforce with software bots deployed from an enterprise grade platform that comprises of RPA, Cognitive technologies and Analytics. 

Organizations endeavoring to make their processes efficient, accurate and scalable and those who want to deploy their human capital in the most efficient manner, are embracing and adopting the Digital Workforce.  A few solutions in the market distinguish true Enterprise grade RPA and provide a ‘whole’ product which includes software and the services needed to make organizations successful – at scale.

By combining RPA, which can mimic human behavior for rules-based processing, with cognitive capabilities that self-learn from each exception, and adding smart analytics with predictive capabilities into the equation – the Digital Workforce not only represents a hyper productive, augmented workforce but, unlike enterprise RPA, can learn from its mistakes and even predict future trends!

What is it comprised of and how does it differ from traditional RPA?

RPA in itself is not an autonomous solution because an element of human involvement is still required to deal with exceptions. It is no surprise that much of the early adopter market has identified back-office, rules-based processing as low lying fruit for RPA deployment – a similar trend was seen in the earliest outsourcing relationships, as well. As RPA mimics human actions, cognitive computing uses principles of AI (Artificial Intelligence), to allow cognitive systems to adapt and change without being expressly programmed to do so. Together, RPA and cognitive computing capabilities are not only mimicking human actions at various stages of a process flow but the system is also learning from its mistakes and stopping these from happening again! 

Another added benefit of the Digital Workforce is that at every stage of a process flow a phenomenal amount of data is being generated. Almost as a by-product, all of this information is being logged and stored, which has fantastic benefits, particularly for highly regulated verticals like BFSI, Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences. With current predictive analytics capabilities, a Digital Workforce could even tell you how resources should be allocated in future or how to optimize revenue by recognizing consumer buying trends. This all is applicable with structured data but with the inclusion of iOCR (intelligent optical character recognition) it can also be applied to unstructured data, as in the Insurance industry, for example.

RPA Solution Providers have even suggested that, by deploying a digital workforce, enterprise organizations can process five times volume at one fifth of the cost. It is no surprise, in that case, that the RPA licensing Market has grown to $700 million (USD) in 2016 and that, at SSON, we have seen interest in RPA doubling every 6 months. As organizations respond to competitive and investor pressures, the move from Proof of Concept and the establishment of Centers of Excellence will give way to entire processes becoming fully automated through a Digital Workforce in the near future.

It is not a case of if – but when.

What are the business advantages?

The key driver in shifting to a Digital Workforce will undoubtedly be cost reduction, time, and increased quality through eliminating errors. But in addition, a Digital Workforce offers unprecedented ability to immediately scale on-demand, alleviating resource pressures for an organization and allowing it to be more responsive to systemic pressures.

How data is captured and utilized is another significant trend that corporate leaders will need to address in the coming years. In line with this, the improved visibility a digital workforce provides in documented, traceable and auditable data flows, will be an advantage.

The elephant in the room has not yet been addressed though: A Digital Workforce brings many benefits – but what happens to the existing workforce? Jobs may undoubtedly be lost – or redeployed, but this trend has been happening since the onset of outsourcing. Nonetheless, it is a sensitive topic and how an organization manages this change will have a significant bearing on the success of its Digital Workforce deployment.

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