Beware the rise of intelligent machines––digital workers that can work longer hours than us, perform our job with fewer mistakes and are cheaper to employ. This is the warning broadcast by those who view the growing digital workforce as a threat to the job security of many human workers. However, the reality is much brighter than this dystopian narrative. The future workforce will demand the unique skills of both humans and bots.
By using software bots to automate repetitive tasks, humans are freed up to focus on work that demands creativity and critical thinking––allowing organizations to shift human potential toward driving new business growth opportunities. The question for businesses looking to automate then becomes: how should work be allocated between humans and bots to achieve the best results?
Internally Assess Your Organization’s Automation Readiness
The majority of companies today that are moving towards process automation believe that mundane, repetitive tasks can be easily taken over by bots, and that anything more complex requires human interaction. Then there is a smaller group of trailblazing companies with the ambition to automate to a higher degree and the drive to push the boundaries of human potential and redirect skilled employees towards activities that require analytical and innovative thinking.
The benefits of integrating a higher level of automation in the workplace are substantial, but realizing those benefits first requires an organization to conduct a thorough audit of its culture and maturity. An organization’s trust level in bots, whether the company embodies a culture of experimentation, as well as its willingness to take risks and explore new frontiers are all key considerations.
Determining which tasks should be automated first requires considering what type of work needs to be performed. The more creative the job is, the less dependent it is on rules and the more it demands subjective decision-making, contextual understanding and judgement. These are skills that take years to develop––making humans the necessary candidates to fill these roles. But how do we determine which jobs truly depend on this level of subjective thinking, and which can be relinquished to intelligent automation?
So, How Far Can Automation Take You?
Once you start to dissect the different components that make up an organization’s business processes and how a decision is made–the steps that are taken to get from point A to point B–you realize that much of the work we consider to be highly subjective is in fact predominantly rule-based. And when software bots are deployed in conjunction with modern AI and machine learning technologies, you open the door to a whole host of other tasks and jobs that can, and should, be automated.
A good example of this is mortgage processing, in which a mortgage applicant is required to provide a stack of paperwork, including bank statements, paystubs, tax returns, and other personal information. Previously, human workers would pore over these documents looking for anomalies like bankruptcies, liquidations, and other factors to approve or deny a loan. Today, through AI and robotic process automation, software bots can observe the actions humans take in any given situation over a large number of transactions and then learn to mimic and build a model to replicate the behavior. Once the bot has learned how to apply decision making capabilities to a process, it becomes capable of making its own recommendations to a high degree of accuracy, even if the situation is not an exact replica of a previously learned response. This is but one example that can be applied to a myriad of diverse use cases.
Striking The Right Balance
There is however risk in being too easily lured by the promise of inexpensive, efficient, error-free digital workers. Despite the many compelling reasons to automate, any organization that uses digital workers and relies on automation to execute core business functions mustn’t lose sight of the vital and unique skills only humans can provide. While a bot will faithfully carry out instructions it is given, it is remarkably useless at determining how to address the next high-level problem that might be facing an organization. Humans are best at collaborating in a cross-functional manner, bringing the right stakeholders to the table, and determining what initiatives will bring a business closer to its customers and ultimately drive growth.
While there are various factors that contribute to how work can best be allocated between humans and bots, one thing is clear: the future workforce will consist of both human and digital workers. In my view, we shouldn’t see the inevitable emergence of the digital worker as a replacement for human creativity and intelligence. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Rather, bots are a useful and powerful tool to enhance organizational efficiency and help maximize our collective human potential by relieving us of mundane tasks that take away from what we do best.
Abhijit Kakhandiki is VP of Products for Automation Anywhere, maker of an enterprise-grade robotic process automation (RPA) platform and a new partner in KPMG’s growing alliance ecosystem of Intelligent Automation technology companies; offering clients tailored solutions to deliver the most viable automation scenarios.