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Andy Packham

Digital Automation: How robots are evolving to enable more meaningful work
Andy Packham SVP & Chief Architect, HCL Microsoft Business Unit | February 11, 2021
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Introduction

Humans have long been rebelling against the onslaught of new technologies. The most prominent instance of such widespread rebellion was the Luddite movement that emerged in the late 1700s. Workers in the textile industry protested against the use of machines for weaving. This existential threat has gripped workers time and again. But the prophesied future of machines replacing humans has never actually occurred.

#Robots are powering next-gen #workplaces, through intelligent & worker-centric automation frameworks that enable companies to optimize talent, while simultaneously improving their core service offerings. #OneHCL

Prominent names in the realm of technology, from Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk have voiced their critical opinion about the technological divide that unraveled so far. However, it’s important to note that these sentiments are not new.

James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute, wrote, “For 100 percent of continuous 10-year periods in the United States, technologically driven productivity gains have gone hand in hand with rising employment.” This reality is not hard to grasp. The fundamental purpose of technology is not to replace but to enhance human potential. The new wave of technologies that mimic basic human responses, exists solely to offload repetitive, low-value tasks enabling workers focus their efforts doing what they have always done best. Exercising their ingenuity.

Acknowledging the Status Quo

Technology-driven productivity gains is a reality alongside increased employment opportunities. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that global productivity, on the whole, has risen. Even in advanced economies, where digital adoption is expected to be faster, productivity has been declining steadily since the 1990s. Considering the amount of resources that have been invested in digital tools, the absence of clear evidence of rising productivity leaves the global economy wanting.

Until very recently, automation was merely seen as a digital tool to lower costs and improve operational efficiency with the overall aim of maximizing the bottomline. This is evident from the kind of use-cases for which digital automation has been employed. The most common include use of chatbots, cloud telephony platforms, and other applications of RPAs (Robotic Process Automation systems).

Companies that adopted robotic process automation systems before it became the norm, enjoyed a significant advantage over their peers. Today, firms find it increasingly beneficial to employ robotic process automation systems wherever they can, in their relentless pursuit of maintaining and improving their existing competitive advantages. This isn’t surprising as studies have shown that the adoption of such systems brought about a staggering decrease in processing times and costs.

For all the fanfare surrounding robotic process automation systems, they come with a fair set of limitations that would prevent a company from realizing the gains they expected. A survey conducted by Bain revealed that 44% of respondents expressed misgivings over their automation projects not having delivered the expected savings. For enterprise-grade clients operating under a heavy set of regulations, the existing framework of the RPA system is riddled with far too many constraints to allow these companies to realize the proposed benefits fully.

Worker-centric Automation Frameworks

The Corona virus pandemic in 2020 forced companies across industries to revisit the concept of automation altogether. Senior leaders across sectors were confronted with the fragility of their existing workplace systems. This realization was not small, thanks to the performance gap with the companies that had already invested heavily in automation and fared well during the crisis. The momentum of resilience was built up by way of automation.

However, companies must distinguish between the veneer of resilience as opposed to the actual one that is built to withstand even seemingly apocalyptic events. To undergo meaningful digital transformation, organizations will have to pick multiple technologies and stitch them together to enhance worker potential. Nowhere is this more evident than in the evolution of the humble and ubiquitous chatbot to a ‘digital colleague’or ‘cyber confrère’.

‘Confrère’ is a medieval Latin concept that means ‘fellow’ and is used to refer to a digitally enabled system that is more than just a chatbot. A cyber confrère is the logical next step in the automation wave that is transforming the way work is being formulated. It serves as a model for the kind of intelligent, integrated automation that can provide an enhanced customer experience by way of increasing first-time resolutions along with error reduction.

Transgressing the Automation Plateau

Chatbots have become the new normal. In 2018, there was over a 160% increase in client interest for the implementation of chatbots, as compared to previous years. The surge in demand is mostly driven by customer service, knowledge management, and user support. This also spurred a series of chatbot providers who were unable to provide a truly enterprise-grade solution that could reduce the load on overworked help desks and support teams.

Instead, they ended up sparking dissatisfaction amongst customers who became increasingly fed up with conversational platforms. Unsurprisingly, these chatbots were still quite a few ways away from their human counterparts when it came to flexibility and agility in addressing complex problems and issues.

Faced with the emerging risk of a global talent shortage, organizations are looking for ways to marry the convenience of chatbots with the effectiveness of human agents. This has augured well for digital colleagues.

A cyber confrère that is truly AI-based and comes equipped with self-learning capabilities. It can do wonders to contend with the backlash from customers who are dissatisfied with chatbots. Once implemented with the specific needs of the organization, such solutions can assist with key operational activities through error reduction, identification of root cause, and even through automation of incident resolution. In a survey conducted by KPMG regarding digitization in the Life Sciences industry, 85% of companies had already recognized the need for such kind of digital transformation.

When applied to the more general case of service desks, a cyber confrère can be used to screen for low-complexity issues and converse with users naturally, comprehend user intent, and automate up to 50% of such requests. The results would be happy customers and more time for the workforce to focus on ideation.

The cyber confrère is an excellent example of the kind of integrated intelligent automation systems that will come to define workplaces in the coming decade. Their flexibility and adaptability cements their position as a viable alternative to the overused chatbot model. This would enable companies across sectors to combat the imminent global talent shortage, while simultaneously improving their core service offerings through digital transformation.

  1. https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/overview/in-the-news/automation-and-the-future-of-work#
  2. http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/996591593465312454/Global-Productivity-Chapter-1.pdf
  3. https://www.bain.com/insights/intelligent-automation-getting-employees-embrace-bots/
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/08/09/overcoming-the-limitations-of-robotic-process-automation-in-the-workplace/?sh=47b2b2daa20f
  5. https://www.bain.com/insights/automation-tech-report-2020/
  6. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/chatbots-will-appeal-to-modern-workers/
  7. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-01-17-gartner-survey-shows-global-talent-shortage-is-now-the-top-emerging-risk-facing-organizations
  8. https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/01/digitalization-in-life-sciences.pdf
  9. https://www.technative.io/say-hello-to-your-new-digital-colleague/