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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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Why Digital Workers will be needed in the Future of Work

Machines and humans working side-by-side will be the new normal at the workplace for improved worker productivity and job satisfaction.

Automation Anywhere recently won the AI for Business Services Award at the Technology Excellence Awards for its Digital Workers, an outstanding innovation of human-centric bots that can work alongside their human counterparts.

In an interview with Singapore Business Review, Adrian Jones, Executive Vice President for Asia Pacific & Japan, Automation Anywhere, shared his insights on the role of automation in the workplace, as well as how Automation Anywhere aims to support companies in the new digital economy.

Tell us more about Automation Anywhere’s Digital Workers. How are they different from usual bots, and how are they designed to empower businesses in today’s digital workplace?

Digital Workers are ready-to-deploy digital personas that augment human workers in specific business functions, across a range of verticals. I like to think of them as digital “colleagues” to a human workforce. Same as human workers, they have actual job titles like Digital Accounts Payable Clerk and Digital Talent Sourcer, they come with their own resumes, and are ready to complete entire processes and multiple tasks in a set of sequences, from beginning to end, with little to no supervision.

Unlike usual software bots that are task or process-centric, Digital Workers are human-centric. They are designed to help human workers be more successful in their roles and work side by side with employees to solve business problems.

Digital Workers are automating standardised, rule-based processes, and operations. This not only leads to cost savings but also better performance and higher quality results. It also leads to having happier employees, who can now focus more on “human” tasks – tasks that require more creative thinking and human interactions.

A key proposition of Digital Workers is their ability to work alongside their human counterparts. Can you tell us more about how this plays out in the workplace, and more about the changing relationship between humans and machines?

In the past, the relationship between humans and machines was that machines helped us with achieving specific objectives or functions. Advancements in technological innovation and augmentation technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) have resulted in an evolution of our relationship with machines. It has evolved to one that is a partnership, with Digital Workers and human workers coming together to create something greater than either alone could accomplish. Digital workers mirror human user actions and, in a non-intrusive way, handle complementary and repetitive tasks. For example, accurately filling in forms and extracting data, freeing up time for human workers to manage other parts of the equation that they do best.

We are already beginning to see them at workplaces all over the world, including corporations like Google, LinkedIn, ANZ and Digi, that we work with. Organisations are coming to recognise the value of this new relationship between human and machines, where they collaboratively work alongside each other. Aside from business efficiency, its key benefits lie in its effects on human workers – it enhances employee skills, deepens employee engagement, and amplifies the human experience.

What does the future of work mean to you, and why do you think automation is a necessity as we transition into this new reality?

At Automation Anywhere, we envision a future where technology not only improves the way we work, but it entirely reinvents the workplace as we know it. This will look like technology enabling businesses to offload cumbersome tasks to a digital workforce, giving human workers their time back to be more productive, creative, and ultimately successful. In short, we believe that the future of work we are transitioning toward will make work more human through technology.

The role of automation in making this possible is undeniable, with the sheer volume and speed that it can account for it helps businesses to be more efficient and cost-effective, and workers to be more productive. Recent research by the London School of Economics puts this in perspective – it found that businesses can realise more than 500 percent of ROI from automation. In terms of actual impacts on workers, Forbes found that automation will save employees six to nine weeks of effort each year, saving a business an average of US$4 million annually.

It is thus imperative that businesses start having conversations around how automation can be a part of a strategic organisation-wide initiative. It should be deployed in a way that successfully augments human and machine interactions, facilitating collaboration for the most optimal results. Businesses also need to remember that the success of automation depends on the success of human workers. As such, the impetus for introducing automation should also be a means of investing in their people.

How can businesses and workers be competitive in the new digital economy?

The starting point should always be to ensure that businesses have all the organisational tools they need to be effective and to enable their employees to achieve their potential. This requires auditing workstreams to determine areas in which productivity can be improved — for example, areas where employees are performing repetitive tasks which can be augmented.

Following that, they should consider how these workflows can be optimised in a way that not only is made more efficient through AI or RPA but is also sympathetic to the employees’ working styles and routines.

An organisation also needs to ensure that they have the cultural foundations in place to support employees in seeking growth opportunities and development. For an organisation to fully benefit from implementing digital technologies and deployments, it needs to be open to change and ensuring that every level is on board with maximising the use of these technologies.

The topic of automation, whilst exciting in terms of the vast potential for productivity, often surfaces concerns of job displacements and the wider implications on livelihoods and employee wellbeing. What are your thoughts on this, and what are some of the ways that businesses can navigate these concerns?

We recognise that these concerns continue to exist. Whilst there is growing re-education around the evolution, and not elimination, of jobs, organisations need to be able to build ethical considerations into their practice as they implement innovation. Ultimately, human workers remain a business’ most valuable resource. It remains vital that organisations invest in their people alongside automation for an optimal ROI from technology.

This includes how automation is communicated and implemented in an organisation. It is essential for businesses to address these concerns early and with the necessary seriousness, and consistently demonstrate the ways employees can familiarise themselves with automation tools through company-wide initiatives.

For example, we often conduct “Build a Bot” sessions with our partners. We also organise botathons, where employees come together to ideate and deploy bots to solve day-to-day problems and inefficiencies. Through hands-on activities, organisations can help employees become familiar with software bots and demonstrate how workers can best benefit with these technologies.

What is next for Automation Anywhere in Asia?

We are indeed very excited for what is to come in our region. We see tremendous opportunity for growth and the development of significant strategic partnerships with businesses, institutions, and the public sector. Ultimately, we hope to do our part to build the digital ecosystem of our region by ensuring that the workforce is future-ready with the digital tools and skills needed for success.

In Singapore, we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Institute of Technical Education to equip students and full-time staff with Automation Anywhere’s RPA expertise. Our roadmap for the near future includes many exciting product innovations, and as we continue to grow our business, we will also be working towards more collaborative opportunities to extend our reach in not only the education space but across even more industries and the public sector.

What advice will you give to businesses looking to incorporate automation within their organisational processes?

The first thing organisations should remember is that automation should be implemented incrementally. When starting, organisations need to be selective with automating processes and make sure what is adopted is significant enough to impact effectiveness. Businesses also need to make sure they do not crucially impair critical enterprise operations should they run into challenges. We always recommend that before automation becomes an enterprise-wide initiative, businesses should choose a specific project to start with. Once initial implementations have proven to be successful, more complex processes can then be introduced for optimal and tangible benefits to operations.

What does it mean for you to win in the Technology Excellence Awards?

We are humbled by the win and want to thank the organiser at Singapore Business Review for making this possible. We see it as a great affirmation to the work we are doing across industries and businesses of all sizes as they continually scale and leverage our technologies.

We look forward to scaling to greater heights with the businesses we work with. We will continue to challenge ourselves to push the boundaries of automation further as we seek to make work more human, engaging, and collaborative with the help of Digital Workers.

The Technology Excellence Awards, presented by Singapore Business Review, was held on 30 May 2019 at the Conrad Centennial Singapore.

This year’s nominations were judged by a panel consisting of Cheang Wai Keat, Head of Advisory, Ernst & Young LLP; Darwin Thio, Director, Cybersecurity & Technology Services, Nexia TS; Daryl Pereira, Head of Cybersecurity, KPMG; Evelyn Lim, Executive Director, Tax Advisory, BDO LLP; and Jonathan Kok, Co-Head of Technology, Media & Communications Industry Group, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP.

If you would like to join the 2020 awards and be acclaimed for your company’s exceptional technology innovations, please email Julie Anne Nuñez at julie@charltonmediamail.com

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