From robots to co-bots: The future of digital labour

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In the age of digital transformation, many businesses are still being hampered by IT issues that are costing them both time and money. A disconnect between front- and back-office processes means that employees are often left having to navigate multiple systems to access basic services such as HR, IT and Finance.   

The cost of running and maintaining enterprise services quickly adds up, and companies are looking for ways to leverage intelligent automation to cut those expenses and invest the savings in other areas. IPsoft delves deeper into how combining cognitive and autonomic technologies allows enterprises to remain competitive and transform for the future. 

1. What do you think will be the impact of artificial intelligence on work automation in the near future? 

Execution of predictable and repetitive tasks will see the highest level of automation across a wide area of underlying technologies.   

A recent report by McKinsey revealed that AI adoption is the greatest in sectors that are already strong digital adopters and certainly we’ve see automation reach 80% or more in some IT processes. The most successful enterprises will be those who combine digital and human labour to maximise the inherent strengths of both rather than relying on one or the other.   

AI is the catalyst for the re-invention of existing workflows as well as the creation of entirely new processes. Using AI analytics to change how decisions are made and be able to incorporate a vastly increased number of datapoints will also open the door to new workflows.    

2. How is AI changing traditional business processes at present? 

Generally speaking, there are two camps with different outlooks on the impact of AI.   

One group of decision-makers is trying to do things faster, better - and most of all cheaper; they are not re-inventing anything.   

The second group of decision-makers is intent on digitally transforming their business and disrupting their particular industry altogether. They are rethinking and deconstructing work processes. Once they’ve done this, then they are reconstructing the components of business processes, whilst infusing artificial intelligence/digital labour into the workflow to take full advantage of the technology.   

While the first group is going to get some short-term benefits, the latter group is aiming to positively disrupt their industries.   

3. Is there a difference between a chatbot and a digital employee?  

There’s often a misconception that puts chatbots and digital employees into the same bracket. While chatbots are designed to stimulate conversations with humans, they only work in a very predictable environment with a structured conversational flow. But humans don’t work like that, and that’s where the power of a digital employee comes in.   

A digital employee understands various human idiosyncrasies – IPsoft’s Amelia even recognises human emotion. The language used can be colloquial, conversational and does not need adapting to fit. 

4. Will AI eventually lead to the replacement of the IT workforce? 

AI will change the composition of IT organisations as we know them today.

Manual and repetitive tasks will be automated and handled by AI-powered virtual engineers so human engineers can focus on more complex situation and challenges. By converging front- and back-office processes, digitizing and streamlining them end-to-end, businesses will be able to eliminate the time wasted filling out forms, making phone calls or searching for answers on HR processes, expense procedures or common IT issues. Internal processes will work more efficiently while also freeing up the time of human engineers for more intricate tasks.   

The shift involves moving humans away from task execution and into roles where they manage and drive the automation of tasks. 

A new group of more dev/ops-style engineers and developers will design automations that will permanently fix IT issues instead of handling day-to-day tasks. In fact, AI is set to open a new range of roles within IT departments, which will be centred around monitoring and analysing the manual work being done every day and driving continual enhancement of in-production cognitive agents and virtual engineers.      

While AI can be considered a radical change to the way shared services are built and delivered, its value proposition is clear and the road to implementation is straightforward.   

5. What are the main benefits of automated digital labour?  

Automated digital labour is particularly beneficial to businesses where the cost of labour is significant, either because there are a lot of low-paid employees, or there are high-paid employees forced to waste their time getting IT or application assistance from a shared service. Adopters with predominantly manual and disconnected processes can expect significant cost and time savings. 

Cost and time savings aside, automated digital labour not only helps with the completion of regular day-to-day tasks, but also brings on a monitoring presence that tracks and records the manual work being done on daily basis. This helps drive a continual cycle of improvement for businesses. In essence, by digitising rudimentary work, businesses are able to then analyse and optimise it – resulting in overall improvement of IT in the long-term.    

For example, for industries that sustain high turnover year-round, processes such as on-boarding and off-boarding could benefit greatly from automation. Streamlining the time-consuming aspects of such HR procedures through automation could result in newfound productivity gains and heighten cost savings.   

6. How do you prevent rogue learning?  

With all AI solutions, it’s really important to ensure that there’s no rogue learning taking place. Repeating mistakes would be counterintuitive to businesses looking to streamline their processes; this is where the human element plays a crucial role.   

For our customers using our digital employee, Amelia, we always recommend a governance process to manually check what she has learnt so that she doesn’t suffer rogue learning. More importantly, she continuously learns and improves from employee interactions, gaining knowledge with each service request so you can be assured that once she’s learnt a good business practice, she will never forget it again. 

7. Will companies need to implement extensive organisational changes to absorb digital labour into their operations?    

In reality, there should be no real challenges in implementing automation and cognitive technologies assuming the existing IT infrastructure is not archaic. However, if the re-engineering of IT systems and processes must take place before such technologies can be made fully operational, it will require some time and technical resources before it can be set live.   

Ultimately, the important discussion businesses need to have is between ‘better, faster, cheaper’ versus ‘deconstruct work then reconstruct using AI’.   

8. So, what’s the future for AI innovation? 

Over the past few years, we have seen prolific growth on the AI front. Tech giants have been making substantial investments in AI technology and early-adopters are already reaping the real-life benefits of AI solutions. However, there still remains a significant gap between the early adopters and the rest. There is definitely much room to grow and we are only approaching the frontier of an AI enabled world.   

As entire eco-systems emerge that are intelligently connected to one another, we will see AI become increasingly ambient. Its’ presence will inform our use of all devices and unlock our ability to access knowledge and systems in ways that we can scarcely imagine. Within the next three years it will be commonplace for everyone in society to interact with AI agents on a daily basis.    

Allan Andersen, Director Enterprise Solutions at IPsoft 

Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / Shutterstock