Points of View

Don’t you wish you’d done more? The digital workforce that wasn’t finally has a real chance to shine

Well, we can’t deny it was noisy, loaded with more hype than a Vegas heavyweight boxing match, and backed by more investment dollars than the GDP of a small country. Yes, folks, that was quite the automation ride we all recently experienced.

 

Sadly, nearly nine out of ten enterprise adopters simply didn’t get past piecemeal projects, pilots, and lots of very drawn-out evaluations. In fact, most simply didn’t have a burning platform to do very much at all with it.

 

However, if there’s ever been a time we needed a digital workforce to augment humans, it’s now.

 

As we all adjust to the new abnormal, this is the time for the digital workforce to shine

 

The COVID-19 global pandemic is challenging our fundamental ability to keep businesses across all industries up and running while ensuring employee safety, preserving employees’ livelihoods, and meeting customer needs. Massive portions of the global workforce are being told to work from home, creating the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history. These rapidly emerging, globally distributed, remote, virtual workforces are creating a huge need for effective automation and a digital workforce. Yes, folks, the burning platform has arrived, and it’s literally ablaze.

 

As Exhibit 1 reminds us, we’ve seen far less scale of Triple-A Trifecta (automation, AI, and smart analytics) technologies than we’d like (and need). Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in digital transformation and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. It is what it is at this point, as we have no time to lament what we should have done. Now it’s all hands on deck to leverage what we do have to help businesses function during the pandemic. The need of the moment is operational impact; thus, the implored imperative is to get creative and figure out how to quickly re-use and, more broadly, deploy your proven digital workforce assets.

 

Exhibit 1: The impact of the digital workforce during the pandemic will be limited based on current scale

 

What is the current state of adoption of the following intelligent automation (IA) technologies in your organization?

 

 

Source: HFS Research in Conjunction with KPMG, State of Intelligent Automation, 2019
Sample = 590 Business Leaders including 100 C-level executives

 

 

Learning to share during the pandemic—toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and automation assets

 

We’ve all seen unsavory images and headlines showcasing human nature at its self-centered worst—hoarding toilet paper, buying up 10 years’ worth of hand sanitizer (just in case!), and creating a dearth of surgical masks when healthcare professionals urgently need them. We need to remember how to share and be equitable despite the uncertainty. As we evaluate how enterprises built their automation programs over the past few years, we see loads of siloed activity—functional groups fending for themselves. On the one hand, there has been a notable surge of business operations leadership playing an active role in technology-led change. However, many of these siloed initiatives are those that have stalled or plateaued, stuck at low levels of task automation with little to no process change. The pandemic has presented an urgent need to break down enterprise silos and share proven digital workforce assets.

 

Operations leaders currently don’t have time to develop new digital workforce solutions. Anything that’s in the planning, pilot, or implementation stage is on indefinite hold while operational triage takes place. Enterprises need to take swift inventory of what they have amassed in terms of Triple-A Trifecta assets, determine cross-functional potential, and deploy them. This task-focused rollout is not fulfilling the grand vision of orderly enterprise digital transformation; it is being practical and opportunistic when we need it the most.

 

Tactical, practical task automation inspiration from the trenches

 

For those enterprises who have invested in Triple-A Trifecta technologies and have proven assets to work with and disseminate, here are what some of your compatriots are doing as part of their now and near-term strategies:

 

  • Cross-functional assets are king. Operations leadership from one global financial institution described deploying cross-functional AI platforms to new functions or similar functions in new departments for tasks such as document digitization, email management, and automated exception resolution. We are playing a leverage game at the moment—take the proven digital workforce assets you have and find ways to deploy them to a wider user base, generating leverage through repurposing.
  • Bots built with reusable code and accelerators. Reusable components are helping enterprises in a diverse array of sectors, including airlines, healthcare, financial services, and retail, deal with massive spikes in volumes of calls, emails, and forms. The replicated skills cover functionality such as reading, categorizing, routing, prioritizing, responding, and consolidating, and enterprises (or helpful service partners) can spin them up relatively quickly to address massive peaks and atypical working conditions. Here is a link to a public domain example from the NHS. There are also loads of downloadable assets available on various marketplaces to complement existing implementations, such as UiPath’s health-screening bot.
  • Donated resources. We’ve seen some examples of service providers and automation technology firms offering gratis access to their resources and technology to help those in need. We could use more of this! Accenture supported the NHS example above; Appian is offering complimentary access to its COVID-19 Response Management application for customers and any enterprise over 1,000 people, and Blue Prism just announced it would donate resources and digital workers to automate processes related to COVID-19.
  • Digital assets can remain on site. We’ve heard a few instances where remote workers are unable to access legacy systems off-site and are leveraging onsite bots to remotely manage access systems, enabling work to continue.
  • Cloud-based business process platforms with intelligent workflows. Many service providers have sizable operations centers in offshore, nearshore, and onshore locations. Aside from a lack of laptops, many service providers have been successful in allowing client-facing resources to work from home due to secure access to cloud-based business process platforms enabled by Triple-A Trifecta-enabled technologies. Resources are supporting functions such as finance and accounting, procurement and sourcing, and customer experience.
  • Leverage analytics and process mining to understand what’s working. Meanwhile, while you are more broadly disseminating your digital workforce, you can leverage analytics to help you quickly understand what’s working and what’s not so you can make informed choices about where to spend your time and effort. Tools such as workforce analytics, process mining, and predictive analytics are proving particularly helpful here for many enterprises.

 

The Bottom Line: This is not the digital workforce revolution we hoped for, but let’s harness what we can now and ensure we make re-invention happen post-pandemic. For real this time.

 

The global pandemic is making us realize just how reliant we still are on humans and antiquated processes and technology. Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in digital transformation and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. Thus, here we are, knee-deep in the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history, and we’re being laid low by our unwillingness to change how we execute work. We definitely are not building the digital workforce revolution we thought we were. But we need to leverage what we do have, so get to work and repurpose task automation and algorithms and other gems you may have cultivated. Remember to share and get creative across your enterprise and externally where needed. And, above all, when we start to have a line of sight to the other side of the pandemic, we must be resolute in changing. For real this time.