With RPA growing at the speed of light, scaling your virtual workforce is arguably at the top of most business leaders’ agendas. Today, organizations are seamlessly integrating technology solutions, leveraging cloud, and shifting the human workforce to more value-adding work to transition to a digitally-enabled enterprise.
What does a smart digital workforce mean? Are scalability and Automation two sides of the same coin? How can enterprises deploy the digital workforce at scale?
The Edge Quarterly team caught up with Shrikant Deo, Associate Director, Product Management, EdgeVerve, to discuss one of the most debated topics, Automation scalability and the role of bot scalability in digital transformation.
The vibe in his office is calm — tech books dominate the bookshelf, colorful bean bags to flop into for a quick brainstorming session, and the sunny windows give you a view of the lush Pune campus.
Shrikant is deeply invested in several Automation projects — has authored many whitepapers and reports, has been a part of global discussions and events on Automation, providing his insights on one of the most disruptive technologies.Here’s the complete transcript of our conversation.
Editor: What’s the best advice for scaling the digital workforce?
Shrikant Deo: The key difference between the current enterprise and the future, digitally-enabled enterprise lies in the integration of technologies and capabilities. Today, many Automation tools are still stacked together and, therefore, not fully optimized. The complexity of integration can overshadow the benefits of value. But the customer wants a simplified experience, so the big challenge – and opportunity – lies in providers offering an integrated solution that supports scaling and makes it easy. However, the scalability of solutions depend on the infrastructure and on the groundwork that is laid. Strong governance and strategic oversight are needed to ensure control, and IT involvement is critical – but on its own is not enough.
The market is still at the early stage, but it’s definitely on the way to a collaborative workforce operating in perfect synchronization.
We have developed a concept of ‘Automation Singularity’ that combines a human-digital workforce with intelligent Automation solutions that are constantly becoming smarter. This means that enterprises start with the right basis, a framework, and gain the benefits of smarter Automation as this capability develops.
Editor: What’s the best practice for implementing and developing the digital workforce?
Shrikant Deo: The implementation roadmap must clearly account for each of the three phases: discovery, implementation, and orchestration. Service providers can play a strong partnership role here. Enterprises want a low-complexity experience and needs guidance across all three areas – selecting the right processes, building the Automation, and planning how to apply it – what we call orchestration, and of course scaling Automation out.
There are so many aspects that support optimized application: There’s the employee engagement piece, the reskilling piece, the workforce restructuring piece, and the organizational structure itself that needs to adapt.
There is significant work involved in layering new Automation capabilities on top of the underlying operational landscape. Too often, we see insufficient change management support limiting results.
Editor: What’s a common reason for Automation failing to scale?
Shrikant Deo: As I said, change management is a critical part of the digital journey. Often, the failure to hit targets is down to plain negligence in planning and execution. Adopting a digital mindset around a digital workforce requires enormous transformation. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It only evolves through true partnership across the enterprise as well as with the solution providers and service integrators.
You also need to understand and agree on how you define scale – what are you trying to achieve?
Beyond that, it’s about engagement, IT support, and cultural change as much as it is around process definition and optimization.
Important prerequisites are to define expectations around Automation and scaling in support of business objectives. The purpose of digitization is to enable a more intelligent enterprise, so you need to keep your eye on the end-objectives.
Editor: What does a smarter digital workforce mean for the enterprise?
Shrikant Deo: This developing intelligence of the digital workforce is a key enabler for tomorrow’s enterprise. Future digital workers will learn from the knowledge base that is currently being built in the enterprise. The digital workers of the future will learn from their human partners to the extent that eventually they will no longer need to be told what to do – they will learn what to do. That means that growth – or expansion – of scope will be self-generating. Automation will fuel Automation.
To understand this better, we need to take a step back. While today most solutions still work more or less in isolation – RPA & AI – in future, these capabilities will merge to create a new state of technology defined by intelligent Automation – Automation Singularity. These technologies will also become more ‘natural’ and ‘stable’ in the enterprise. That is not yet the case. Today, most enterprises are not yet at the stage where they can smoothly integrate and scale such technologies. That requires maturity.
Things are changing quickly, however. As organizations mature in their understanding of Automation’s capacity, they will also prepare their employees to use these technologies – without friction. This capability will depend on a common platform, however, that connects Automation with AI and machine learning.
Employees too will have developed Automation and AI as core skills and be able to problem-solve business solutions based on them.
Finally, the management and governance of the digital workforce will be a key factor. As the digital workforce swell in the ranks of an enterprise, we can expect more conflict to arise between human and digital workers. Resolving these conflicts requires collaboration. This methodology must be enshrined in rules around governance and how to distribute and orchestrate work.
Today, RPA and AI are seen more as incremental initiatives layered over the enterprise IT landscape. In tomorrow’s digitally-enabled enterprise, these capabilities will form the core of the landscape.
Editor: How will the digital workforce become ‘smarter’?
Shrikant Deo: For the past decade, operational Automation – we did not call it RPA back then – took the form of attended Automation, by supporting work initially in contact centers and customer-facing activities. Then, the back office recognized the opportunity of deploying RPA in unattended – i.e., process centric-form. Today, as solutions and understanding evolve, we are seeing demand for attended Automation rising in both the front and the back office. It’s giving way to a human-empowered form of Automation where humans trigger Automation and AI, but also enable the digital workforce to become smarter.
Here is what this means.
Within the scope of many attended automated transactions, humans step in to make the right decisions where the robots, for whatever reason, cannot. However, because this is happening within the scope of automated transactions, the robot – the software – is learning. In our product, this is called the Digital Workbench. Automation is learning from every decision made by humans. So, as humans step in to fill in the gaps, and at the same time, they are training robots to be smarter.
Robots are watching and learning from humans, which develops their own ‘intelligence.’ This trend will gain momentum to where the digital workforce will move from what we are currently still calling digital assistants, to highly capable and intelligent, digitally-empowered independent workers.