Digital labor can be utilized across all those functions and more, and in many cases, departments can share the same bot to prepare different tasks at different times. The bot that pulls fixed asset data for the tax department could be used the rest of the month by human resources for the onboarding communication process or for uploading job openings to a recruiting system or by finance to streamline accounts payable.
Digital labor works around the clock, 365 days a year, and never needs a day off. With the proper access rights, it can work with all of your existing tools, utilities, databases, applications and systems, as well as the internet.
Companies can use centralized scheduling, either time- or trigger-based, to complete priority processing during off-peak hours and to smooth out the workload during peak times. If a backlog occurs, one bot — or all of them — can be quickly rescheduled to address the issue.
Digital labor improves security by reducing the number of individuals who have access to sensitive data. And it can improve quality — many companies report double-digit error reduction in data entry and other repetitive tasks.
Digital labor also learns as it works, and can emulate business user behavior. It learns from exception handling and scales up or down as needed to prevent system or application overloads or crashes. And it allows for innate knowledge to be socialized, rather than individualized. No longer will your company struggle when the employee who “knows how this report is done” retires or takes another job; the bot knows, and work continues on without the need for detailed information transfer.
Digital labor can also help companies adapt to changing regulations more easily. For example, tax and accounting rule changes often require companies to update numerous legacy systems to ensure the proper data is captured, a time-consuming and challenging process. But with a digital platform in place, only the bot needs to be updated. Even though staff might not be focused on the new rules, the bot is working to ensure the proper data is collected and formatted when accounting and tax professionals need it.
Supporting the cultural shift
Perhaps most importantly, digital labor allows companies to begin making moves toward a broader, more aspirational transformation — but on a small scale is easy to implement and manage and delivers quick wins. Digital is the buzzword of the day, but many companies recognize that it is a complex strategy that requires time and investment.
Once you get started with digital labor, the digital transformation initiated and leaders and employee alike become more eager to invest time and effort in a broader digital transformational agenda. Downloading your first app is the hard part, but once you see the immediate benefits, the fear factor and apprehension is gone and you become a digital native.
This measured approach allows you to gain proof of concept, which is an important element in supporting the cultural shift to a digital future. In our experience, employees are skeptical — and in some cases, worried — about robotics and what it will mean for their jobs.
But seeing the value digital labor delivers, and how it frees them up to focus on more value-added tasks, can be a game-changer. Once employees understand how a bot works, they are quick to brainstorm new uses to solve problems and improve efficacy. And once finite processes are piloted and proven to be successful — digital labor can be easily expand to benefit other parts of the organization.
In most cases, digital labor is not about eliminating full-time employees (FTEs), although it can make that possible. Its true value is in giving existing employees more freedom to think strategically, build relationships, provide analysis and oversight, and make recommendations. By eliminating as much as 20% of staff capacity, digital labor can help create opportunities for new initiatives and provide the impetus for employees to think differently about their jobs. The new operating model will be about finding the right balance between physical and digital labor.
In time, companies that want to fully capture the gains made possible by digital labor will need to provide training and support to adjust their employees’ skill sets for the new reality. What does it mean when a worker no long spends most of his or her day collecting data or doing repetitive tasks? With the proper training, the extra time can be utilized in a number of beneficial, or even revenue-generating, activities, including customer service and outreach, analytics and forecasting, business intelligence, and research into the competitive landscape, quality improvements and much more.
It may also mean FTEs are redeployed to areas that require more personal interaction or communication, leaving the data crunching to their “virtual colleagues.” Or it could allow companies to reduce their hiring; as individuals leave functions with a heavy digital labor presence, they won’t need to be replaced.