The Rise Of The Digital Workforce: Separating Fact From Fiction
The role of Shared Service Centers has evolved over the past 20 years from a means to centralize business support functions, thus allowing organizations to unlock key cost efficiencies, to a transformative-based approach, implementing process excellence and driving new growth areas for organizations that are unlocking the true value of digital transformation for the enterprise. Whilst replacing FTEs from lower cost environments has delivered savings, the commercial reality of the digital economy means that traditional business rules no longer apply in an environment where digitization is bringing down barriers to entry across the board.
In this environment disruptive technologies are no longer an enabler to growth but a pre-requisite to retaining competitiveness whilst moving to a more consumer-centric approach, responding to the increased pressures of consumer’s on-demand expectations. Given that agility, scalability and visibility are key, it is no surprise that that at SSON we have seen the utilization of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) as a key enabler to deploying a digital workforce alongside existing teams.
What is the Digital Workforce?
Automaton is nothing new, of course, but advances in machine learning, advanced algorithms, data analytics and cognitive computing have changed the paradigm in terms of what operational excellence actually means. Organizations endeavoring to make their processes slicker, and deploy their human capital in the most efficient way possible, are keen to take advantage of new opportunities thus arising. Automation platforms such as BPM (Business Process Management) are still relevant but if RPA can perform data intensive, rules-based processes in a fraction of the time a person can, 24/7, 365 days a year, it poses the question: Are the most inefficient links in these process flows actually people?
By combining RPA, which can mimic human behavior for rules-based processing, with cognitive capabilities that learn from each exception, and adding smart analytics with predictive capabilities into the equation – the Digital Workforce not only represents a hyper productive, non-human 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?
As previously mentioned RPA is designed to mimic human behavior and rules-based process flows, but this in itself is not an autonomous solution because an element of human interference is still necessary 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 will 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.
SSON will be sharing 10 practitioner-led webinars between February 13th-17th through our free RPA World Series (www.rpaworldseries.com). Please feel free to join, to learn from the experiences of Leeds Building Society, ANZ, BT, Generali, Prudential and Xerox as well as many more.