Don’t you wish you’d done more? The digital workforce that wasn’t finally has its burning platform chance to shine

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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. And what a dogs’ breakfast that all turned out to be…

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.  The lethargy to do anything more than hype up RPA at conferences with bullshit such as “a bot for every desktop” drove us to proclaim (quite correctly) that the RPA value proposition was dead.

However, if there’s ever been a time we needed a digital workforce to augment humans, it’s now as 54% of major enterprises we surveyed this month seek to increase their process automation investments.  Yes, people, there is a realization of the importance of process automation technologies to support these rapidly evolving digital workplaces, which is only superseded by the need to invest in cybersecurity:

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 As we all adjust to the new abnormal, this is finally 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 the following data from a few months ago 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.

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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.  And practical and opportunistic is what is clearly on the minds of many enterprise leaders as they realize they should have paid a lot more attention to changing and automating processes to support real business needs.  But better late than never…

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 wasn’t the digital workforce revolution we’d hoped for, but let’s harness what we can now and ensure we make re-invention happen post-pandemic

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.  Which has now come back to slap us in the fact with one very slippery wet kipper… and over half of you intend to do more with automation than any other tech investment bar cybersecurity. 

We’re definitely not building the digital workforce revolution we thought we were, but now we have no choice but to digitize global digital workplaces and technologies such as process mining and RPA are crucial to support these transformations. 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.

Posted in : intelligent-automation, Process Mining, Robotic Process Automation



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  1. Hi Phil. As always, nicely said to create healthy debate and discussion. RPA can plug more leaks in the dike during this crises but it continues to clearly draw attention to business and IT, and more importantly the exec suite that band-aids and finger plugging leaks isn’t really fixing anything. The very foundation of these companies systems, processes and lack of a “digital” view means some are unable to react fast enough, now proven. A lot of people have pulled together and should be applauded but coming out of this, and already, we are seeing companies recognize that newly built Digital Applications do not come any more with BIG ticket expense or long project times. We helped a Pega healthcare customer build a brand LOW-CODE digital Covid Tracker application in less than a week to live for it’s 200,000 employees and turned around and immediately made this app downloadable for all of our customers and partners for free. We built another app for bank to be able to replace it’s legacy systems and processes to a digital platform in less than 5 days – already taking over 100,000 load applications. This is what’s real. RPA has done a great job to draw attention to just how bad it is to sit on legacy systems for too long. LOW-CODE is the Digital Revolution for a digital Workforce (if that’s still the term) and Self-service.

  2. We are definitely seeing this Phil Fersht and we are helping organisations #accelerate their process automation and transformation programs. Coronavirus is such a compelling event in so many ways. Great to hear your insight last week with Ian Barkin discussing this and more.

  3. The upshot of this crisis – if we can put aside the terrible human tragedy for just a moment – is that companies are being called out one after another with regards their transformation efforts of the last decade. They have largely fiddled around the edges without making the level of commitment needed to achieve lasting and effective technological change. Will we finally see that start to change?

  4. totally agree with you Phil. Covid showed we need more #automation, but did not change the structural reasons that made #RPA good for some things but not others. Enterprises need a variety of automation tools, and RPA is simply one of them.

  5. Phil I think the Pandemic will also result in some anti offshore sentiment as well. And Automation helps/supports that. The cost of a bot is same all over the world and it doesn’t need any more space in New York than it does in Bangalore. I was expecting that to happen anyways, the Pandemic will only accelerate it. We will see this in manufacturing as well to some extent. AT

  6. Morning-

    Yes there will be plenty of times for back slapping and I told you so conversations behind closed doors in our automation companies. Right now, I think we are all trying to do what we can to help as many as we can. It has been amazing to see all of the vendors and partners pitching to take on these challenges. I am so proud to be a part of this industry right now and of our small little company. We are punching way above our weight class. But, even with all of our efforts, it’s dwarfed by those on the frontlines who are working tirelessly to care for those less fortunate than I was when I contracted COVID. I was lucky. Thousands have not been. I am thankful to be able to be in a company that can do what we can.

    Stay tuned for an article coming out in Forbes on-line and the Blue Prism website on our perspective of what’s going to happen with Business Continuity Plans once we get on the other side of this.



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