RPA is being enabled by ever-evolving, super-connected digital workers that will be far more intelligent, skillful, efficient and controllable than we ever imagined.
The robotic process automation category has entered its next evolutionary phase — connected-RPA — which is driving an exciting era of collaborative technology innovation. This era is being led by digitally savvy business users who apply easy-to-control, ever more intelligent “digital workers” to exploit leading-edge AI, cognitive and other capabilities so they can innovate and swiftly develop new, compelling offerings.
For more than a decade, we’ve been designing digital workers to support automation of mission-critical processes, which helps organizations operate much better. Many RPA deployments never get beyond simple subtasks which have been executed using an agent’s login and run on their own desktop. However, while helping with that task, they’re not high-value, mission-critical processes, which means that this “same old, same old” approach isn’t transformative at all.
Introducing the concept of a digital worker
Today, digital workers are sophisticated and capable of processing information, executing transactions and mimicking the ways human beings conduct work, except faster, with fewer errors and operating 24/7. They can collaborate, work in teams and combine forces to complete workloads, constantly regrouping to complete time-pressured tasks. And just like a human employee, digital workers can inform, augment, support and assist people in the automated fulfillment of service-based tasks.
Digital workers can operate within the most demanding enterprise environments, making them scalable, secure, intelligent and easy to use. For example, business users simply create automated processes by drawing and designing process flow charts. The flow charts are intuitive for business users and are used by the digital worker to automate a task. Documentation of a task becomes the actual task; change the documentation and the task is instantly changed. This approach means that the digital worker is agile, secure and compliant as all documentation is securely managed in a central repository.
Business users collaborate by adding their automations into a central pool of capability that is managed and reused by the whole business, massively improving productivity gains. Digital workers’ decisions and actions are also centrally captured, and their training history conducted by humans. This gives comprehensive transparency into all activity, which helps with compliance audits and real accountability should any problems occur.
Adding ‘intelligence’ into the mix
We are now seeing further evolution, with a shift to even more advanced, intelligent automation that delivers the thinking and analytical capability to make operations smarter and autonomous. It’s the unique connectivity capabilities of digital workers, coupled with the increasingly intelligent way that they operate, that’s now being harnessed by digitally savvy business users looking to exploit leading-edge cloud, AI, cognitive and other capabilities.
To ensure that digital workers more closely replicate human decision-making, they are now being equipped with six skill categories: knowledge and insight, learning, visual perception, collaboration, planning and sequencing, and problem solving.
Knowledge and insight
This is the ability for digital workers to harvest information from different data sources, understand it and deliver previously unattainable insights, enabling organizations to:
- Deploy natural language processing;
- Gain new insights into customer behavior;
- Use real-time analytics;
- Report metrics;
- Mine data for better understanding of processes; and
- Use data management to quickly deploy new programs.
This is the ability to read, understand and contextualize visual information digitally, enabling organizations to:
- Use optical character recognition so digital workers can work with text just like humans;
- Use natural language processing to allow digital workers to understand and interpret human language; and
- Instantly analyze and understand the meaning of digital images via computer vision.
This is the ability to derive contextual meaning from data sets, recognize process and workflow changes, and adapt accordingly without human intervention, enabling organizations to:
- Use true machine learning to give digital workers the ability to “learn” without being programmed;
- Prepare for the future as digital workers process information with a neural network paradigm; and
- Permit digital workers to model algorithms quickly.
Planning and sequencing
This is the ability to optimally plan workflow and workload execution to deliver the best outcomes, enabling organizations to:
- Use digital workers that instantly and intelligently manage workloads;
- Let digital workers auto-scale as needed by business conditions; and
- Use automatic process mining to analyze business processes, based on event logs.
This is the ability to solve logic, business and system problems without intervention, enabling organizations to:
- Use automatic problem detection to ensure the highest levels of service;
- Possess problem-solving abilities to increase productivity throughout all processes; and
- Achieve digital worker-enabled visualization to gain insight from data.
This is the ability to communicate and complete tasks with people, systems and other digital workers, enabling organizations to:
- Use digital workers to reduce time to service customers and improve overall quality;
- Empower employees to work with digital workers to elevate their roles and increase contributions; and
- Deploy chatbots to work with digital workers to autonomously service customers and escalate to humans when needed.
Digital exchanges have also been created for accessing and downloading prebuilt AI, cognitive and disruptive technologies for building out, scaling and adding skills to digital workers.
Personal software robots: Are they a viable alternative?
The notion of the personal software robot is a relatively new and much hyped alternative designed to deliver multiple, short record-and-replay tactical automations for navigating systems on desktops. The big promise is that business users working in front and back offices across different departments can record a process and have software robots deployed within hours. This can be done without any involvement of the IT department, so users can experience both business benefits and ROI.
The problem with desktop recording of a personal software robot is that a single human user is given autonomy over a part of the technology estate, which introduces a lack of control and creates multiple security and compliance issues. The proliferation of desktop robots, if ungoverned without business oversight, means that organizations don’t know where they exist, what processes they use and whether they are running or stopping unexpectedly.
If a robot and a human share a login, no one knows who’s responsible for the process which, when duplicated over time, creates a massive security and audit hole, all while limiting scale. Additionally, if a robot and a human share a PC, there’s zero productivity gain as humans can use corporate systems as fast as robots. Also, recorded processes are very inefficient when they run as they sit and wait for target systems when they could be running.
Ultimately, restricting software robots to a multi-desktop environment outside of the IT department or any central control means effectively sanctioning and using shadow IT. This is potentially very damaging for an organization as shadow IT in this context means unstructured, undocumented technologies which are uncontrolled become part of the process flows of a business.
In a crowded and confused RPA market, the interconnected digital worker clearly stands out by swiftly delivering greater productivity, efficiencies, opportunities and value. Looking forward, we’ll increasingly see humans driving collaborative innovation and imagination, working in tandem with digital workers. This partnership will be the key success factor to thriving in the digital age.
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