Fears of automation replacing jobs and humans being made “redundant” are only accelerating. Yes, it’s true that “software robots,” or what we like to call digital workers, are performing more of the work traditionally done by human workers. There is a misconception inherent in these dystopian claims, though. While digital workers are being dispatched far and wide to take on rote tasks that humans do manually, they are not eliminating jobs in a way that will force many into early retirement. This capability is actually making work more exciting and interesting for humans while creating new opportunities for individual and organization-wide advancement.
As a company that helps businesses automate processes using technology called Robotic Process Automation (RPA), we are acutely aware of the real impact that this robot revolution is having on workers. We have seen and heard from our customers at Fortune 500 companies about the ways in which automation is driving change across their workforces, and there’s a lot of silver lining to these clouds. Here are a few ways digital workers are positively upending businesses today and improving the workplace for all.
A higher level of operational agility
Across a workforce, individual employees typically have different sets of skills and abilities, strengths and weaknesses—the same is true in a blended human and digital workforce. Whereas there are some responsibilities better suited to someone in the HR vs. finance department, there are similarly tasks better aligned with a digital worker’s skill set. With a mix of both human and digital labor, though, each can be matched to their respective skills for a workforce fully optimized for every task.
Consider your own employees. Is there anyone who loves doing manual data entry, and could spend an entire day working on that one task without making a single error or needing a break to check their eyesight or their sanity? It’s not likely, but this may still be a job that needs to be done. Meanwhile a digital worker could easily take on this assignment and complete the work perfectly, in half the time of its human colleague.
We have seen this ring true at Viacom, where employees in the finance organization have been excited to hand over repetitive processes—like invoice entry and processing, customer and vendor setup, and balance sheet reconciliation—to digital workers. These digital colleagues also archive all processes, a tedious but necessary requirement for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, reducing risk while taking the pressure off employees. In doing so, employees can now focus on higher-value activities impacting customer service, using their skills, training and education to do more interesting and creative work.
More rewarding and meaningful work
Not only can digital workers contribute to a more effective workforce overall, they can also make for happier employees. More often than not, automation relieves employees of the tedious parts of their jobs that take considerable time and effort to accomplish. In return, they have more opportunities to pursue projects they truly enjoy and are passionate about.
One example of this is at S&P, where financial journalists produce reports on the businesses they are assigned to cover. Their work to develop insightful analyses was hindered by the need to first write lengthy stock reports, until they leveraged Blue Prism’s connected-RPA to automate stock report production. This has given the journalists more time to produce thoughtful analysis, which is not only a more rewarding part of their roles but is also a more valuable offer to S&P’s clients.
In some cases, digital workers are even introduced as part of a broader effort to improve employee happiness and engagement. According to our research, 87% of knowledge workers are comfortable with re-skilling in order to work alongside a digital workforce. This was the case with New York Life Insurance, which turned to RPA to automate manual tasks and free up workers’ time to focus on relationship building. The company reengineered and automated several processes driven by the finance and accounting teams, and employees fully embraced their new digital colleagues as part of their teams. Each digital worker was even given a name—Jasmine, Clark, and Valerie, to name a few—and a manager to ensure a smooth integration into the company structure. That small step has helped employees think of them as members of their team, and the productivity increase and ability to build stronger customer relationships has made work more rewarding.
An amplified human workforce
Automation is without a doubt changing the way we work and will play a critical role in the workplace of the future, but this future will not be characterized by the doom and gloom that most sci-fi films portray. Our vision of the future is a Digital Workforce for Every Enterprise—not to replace, but to amplify human employees and drive even greater productivity, efficiency, and innovation.
When employees have more time to think critically and creatively, they can bring truly innovative ideas to light, and enjoy doing so. As we continue to see record-low unemployment numbers, the businesses that employ digital workers and the human colleagues who work alongside them will have much to gain.
Alastair Bathgate is the cofounder and CEO of Blue Prism.