Are you ready to be a bot boss?

Are you ready to be a bot boss?

Three critical questions (and answers) about digital labor.

Global Head of Shared Services & Outsourcing Advisory

KPMG in the U.S.

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Megaphone in hand

Virtually every client I talk with today wants to know more about digital labor. Initially they see it as a way to reduce costs but over time they hope to find broader benefits. For example, organizations can get better-quality work when human error is reduced by software-coded “bots,” while these robots working 24/7 free individuals (theoretically) to do more strategic work than in the past.

Critical questions

But potential advantages can camouflage other challenges. In many ways digital labor is similar to business and information technology outsourcing and raises similar questions, such as:

  • What will entry-level jobs look like when bots take over many routine tasks? In five years all first-level positions in functions such as finance and human resources may be fully or at least mostly automated. Where do new recruits learn the basics of a function? At the same time, new “human” jobs will need to be created to manage an environment of automated bots and integrated machines performing core work processes. This is akin to the growth of the governance role to manage third-party service providers. “Bot boss” or automated intelligent owner may become familiar terms. Organizations must rethink how their entry-level workers will learn about their functional requirements and overall business if they no longer have access to traditional career paths.
  • How can educators better prepare the next generation of employees? Every industry today has a significant technology component that needs to be better reflected in educational curricula. Digital labor eliminates the drudge jobs that (most) people don’t want, but it requires them to step up and learn skills such as programming and the use of automation tools. Employers and educators alike need to rethink the training required for entry-level jobs that will require higher skills and then team to deliver the training. Organizations also need to acknowledge that the next-generation workforce is much more tech savvy and that will play into new entry-level roles.
  • How should organizations build better career paths and succession plans? This question applies to all employees, not just those immediately affected by automation. To earn promotions and have long-term career potential, employees must go outside their historical focus areas and learn much more about other areas of the business. Companies must provide the necessary training to support these efforts.

Setting up safeguards

It’s one thing for machines to take the lead in decision making but quite another when they are allowed to remove humans from making final decisions. As cognitive solutions become more sophisticated, business leaders must ensure that the following guidelines are followed:

  • Instill proper governance. Regulations will emerge that attempt to address which processes can be fully automated versus where human touchpoints should remain. In annual reports CFOs will still need to validate information that was machine generated as well as what was provided by humans.
  • Require new skillsets. In addition to evaluating the qualifications of the bot bosses who manage automated processes, regulators also will inevitably require special tested credentials for software developers and other third parties who create, audit and manage bots.
  • Stay transparent with stakeholders. Digital labor will create new jobs but not at the same rate as jobs are lost fully or partially to automation. This is a reality that organizations and, more broadly, governments must determine how to address. Jobs that used to be outsourced to India may be automated in Indiana instead. Organizations need to be clear about the impact and understand its ramifications.

Who wins?

Robotic process automation and cognitive technologies are evolving much faster than most predicted, but this is the reality of today’s market. The winners will be vendors, service providers and end-user organizations that can most efficiently and best integrate emerging automation technologies and can also clearly understand the potential that lies at the core of digital labor: the humanity to create new and better lives.

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