Learning & Development, Technology

Digital Co-Workers 2.0 – A New Wave of Automation is Reshaping the Future of Work 

Digital workers are your “work buddies,” helping you deal with high volume, repetitive tasks that you shouldn’t have to do anyway, such as data entry. These software-based colleagues may have started out doing simple tasks, but they continue evolving to augment human work. Across industries, organizations are increasingly adopting a digital workforce because traditional task-to automation is no longer sufficient for staying competitive.  

Powered by intelligent automation, digital workers utilize robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), no-code development, natural language processing and other cognitive technologies. They can mimic actions such as keystrokes, clicks, data uploads, transfers and more. They can be programmed to make decisions, facilitate work in end-to-end processes and be trained to automate specific tasks. This article takes a closer look at what digital workers can do now, the coming wave of virtual agents and what this means for you. 

Meet “Baby Bot” 

In New Mexico, there is a digital worker fondly referred to as “Baby Bot” by its human co-workers at the State’s Human Services Department (HSD) and its job involves checking hospital systems for recent births. Once a baby has been registered by the hospital, Baby Bot adds the newborn to the mother’s Medicaid record.  

Before automation, this information could take anywhere from three to 30 days to be recorded. Baby Bot completes the task in 15 minutes – a 99% reduction in time to process – and ensures baby, mother and insurers have current information. 

Another digital worker at the HSD, nicknamed Ava, supports caseworkers by managing their notes across multiple systems, saving agents from having to duplicate efforts. Ava gives caseworkers more time to do what they do best – interact directly with residents on cases that need extra care and attention. New Mexico’s HSD can also create predictive handling scenarios by leveraging intelligent automation and AI, which allows residents to get push notifications when paperwork is due or when they need to send pertinent information. With 30 digital workers now in use across the HSD, intelligent automation is expected to save the state more than 100,000 hours of delays per year. 

There are many benefits to having a digital workforce that can work 24/7 without holidays, sick days and time off. SS&C Technologies became its own best customer when it deployed more than a thousand digital workers across its entire ecosystem, leading to a $100 million cost savings and a successful migration from a legacy RPA tool. It plans to expand its digital workforce to 3,000 in the next few years. 

Mindset Matters  

According to Forrester, 10% of internal processes will be automated by digital workers this year. One of the biggest challenges is the public’s perception that a software-based colleague is going to take jobs away. In reality, digital workers open the space for higher-value, more focused work for employees, thereby alleviating them from monotonous tasks. This means you can spend more time doing what humans do best – empathize, collaborate, innovate, strategize and network. 

It is important to have a top-down approach where executives and stakeholders engage to outline the anticipated benefits of a digital workforce, encompassing return on investment (ROI) and strategies for enhancing corporate efficiency. Optimizing your digital workforce involves frictionless integration with human employees because ultimately, your objective should be to merge the efforts of digital workers and human personnel into a cohesive and efficient team. This means leveraging human expertise when necessary and automating tasks wherever feasible. Your digital co-worker can help you enhance productivity, improve customer experiences and drive business growth. 

Setting Up Good Governance 

It is important to establish best practices for optimizing processes with digital workers because automating a poorly designed process will make it difficult to scale your automation enterprise-wide. Further sophistication in large language models (LLM) and generative AI will simplify automations that tackle complex and hard-to-automate processes, as businesses streamline workflows and improve the customer experience.  

As more AI becomes embedded into business processes with humans as supervisors, intelligent automation is the ideal guardrail because it creates a digital trail of decisions and actions. For instance, by incorporating generative AI within the ‘process wrapper’ of intelligent automation, you enhance data accuracy, security and accountability across the entire data lifecycle.  

Following the proper framework, organizations will be able to set up maturity and governance structures around their digital workforce to build trust and provide transparency.  

Understand the process in its current form, including any inefficiencies or bottlenecks, and repair those before automating. Start by figuring out which are the highest-value processes to automate first. Process mining reads unstructured data to create a picture of current processes, giving you valuable insight into inefficiencies and opportunities. Once you have established and optimized your processes for automation, you can put your digital workforce to work. Document your processes to ensure your digital workers are trained correctly.  

It is important to monitor and maintain your digital workers and always be looking for further growth opportunities in the program. 

The Next Wave  

Whether working independently or with your people, digital workers are an integral and essential element in your organization’s digital transformation efforts. Today’s digital workers are programmed to learn from past work interactions. Engaging with their human co-workers, digital workers can operate across multiple processes and systems. But they still need to be “shown” what to do, even though they are designed to mimic human capabilities – continuously learning and optimizing their functionalities as they run.  

For example, no one needs to teach us humans how to fill out a registration form because we know to follow the prompts and just do it. It is intuitive. We know how to execute this skill and transfer it to other activities because it is something we have learned as humans. A digital worker powered by AI still needs to be told what to do at some point. But imagine a world where digital workers have a more human-like transferable skill to “pick up” on things.  

As your software-based colleagues evolve, they will become more like virtual agents – think digital workers plus AI. The process would go from “show and tell” to “see and learn.”

Developers would only need to take one time to pass on the necessary information for their digital workers to act, thereby acquiring the generic knowledge to complete the task and be able to transfer that knowledge to enlarge its skill set.  

Autonomous automation will drive the human workforce to higher-value tasks, where AI augments decision-making and helps solve problems, making work more efficient and driving better business productivity. By adopting digital workers into existing processes and utilizing their capabilities to drive more efficiencies, organizations can do more with what they have – evolving from people collaborating with their digital coworkers to a second wave of automation with fully digital worker-run processes. 

Think of how your digital workers can spur new, digital-first processes. We are at the initial steps of this wave of automation, but the future of work means having a software-based colleague designed to streamline tasks and processes, freeing up your time for more meaningful contributions.  

Kavitha Chennupati is Senior Director of Product Management at SS&C Blue Prism.

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