Milan Sheth

Milan Sheth is Technology Sector Leader at EY India.

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Digital Workforce ‒ The Best of BOT and Human Worlds

The concept of Digital workforce portrays BOTs as strategic asset, bringing them under the purview of existing compliance and risk management frameworks for human workforce, rather than viewing them as set of software tools under IT control.

The displacement of workforce due to technology and globalization is hardly a new phenomenon. Technology has been reshaping workforce ever since the first Industrial Revolution, which brought assembly line production into the fray. Similarly, globalization has been impacting workforce for decades through trade liberalization and emerging markets. Now, workforce is again at the cusp of disruption as Intelligent Automation is poised to transform its definition.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is foundation block of intelligent automation. RPA is a rules-based automation which can perform methodical and systematic processes. Essentially, processes that are structured, data intensive and rule-driven across numerous areas – finance and accounting (F&A), tax, supply chain , core operations, human resources (HR) – have potential to be completed by BOTs (Software Robots).Because these software replicate human activities, it can be thought of as a set of software “Bots,” forming a virtual workforce that is available 24x7.

RPA is generally misconstrued to cannibalize human jobs. However, only a limited set of jobs are likely to be performed by BOTs. Tasks that are repetitive in nature can be executed by BOTs in time and cost efficient way, allowing humans to concentrate on core business objectives. The powerful combination of BOTs and a human workforce should be seen as a true Digital workforce as they complement each other’s capabilities.

The concept of Digital workforce portrays BOTs as strategic asset, bringing them under the purview of existing compliance and risk management frameworks for human workforce, rather than viewing them as set of software tools under IT control. As Digital workforce forms a major component of business execution, there are many considerations to be kept in mind while deploying it. It is important to reflect on existing operating model to identify where such a value–added service resides in the organizational construct — not to mention the cultural implications, leadership alignment, change management, and communication requirements. A holistic workforce program can achieve successful implementation of Digital workforce by establishing an operating model and organization construct that is scalable. This, coupled with a targeted approach to migrating the organization through defined business engagement and adoption programs, will ascertain that the benefits are realized and replicated across the enterprise.

Digital workforce in action

Digital workforce can make a difference by realizing benefits of both the worlds. On one side, robots can deliver repetitive, deterministic and high-volume tasks efficiently. They can bridge the gap between desktop/human solutions and the (expensive) core IT platforms. They can reach 50% to 70% cost reduction for high-frequency tasks with little judgement. On the other side, people are the ones able to build relationships, provide subjective judgement, deliver tasks with low frequency, handle exceptions and manage changes and improvement.

Let’s take an example of GST reporting given it is in news currently. Comapny’s tax department relies on fixed asset data owned by finance. Each month after close, employees in finance collect the necessary data from multiple enterprise systems and deliver it to tax – a process that takes up to three business days. Once tax department gets the data, it must be structured before it can be analysed, which takes additional time and employee effort. That leaves very limited time to actually interpret the data before the reporting deadline. How would this same process be carried out with a Digital workforce in place? At 1:00 AM on the first of every month, a BOT queries each applicable enterprise system, collects all necessary data related to fixed assets, structures it, and compares it to the report from the previous month. When the tax employees come in to the office, the tedious, repetitive work is complete and they have 3-4 days to analyse data ‒ as well as make recommendations based on their review. A similar process could be followed across varied tax functions, especially tax compliance and all of the supporting processes leading up to completion of tax returns. Digital workforce enables knowledge workers to spend more time on strategic analysis and advising and less on collecting and structuring data.

Capability to transform businesses

The benefits of Digital workforce are real and immediate. Market studies indicate that 30% of staff time is spent on low-level, repetitive tasks in Information Technology services. As much as 20% of the typical company’s costs are related to supply chain problems caused by transactional issues. In HR, Digital workforce has the potential to deliver an 80% reduction in payroll processing costs. In F&A, it can deliver 60% reduction in the cost to process an invoice. Digital workforce can be utilized across all those functions and more, and in many cases, departments can share the same BOT to perform 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 HR for the on-boarding communication process or for uploading job openings to a recruiting system or by finance to streamline accounts payable.

Digital workforce is not about Bots replacing humans. The true value of Digital workforce lies in giving existing employees more freedom to perform strategic and qualitative decision making. By eliminating as much as 20% of staff capacity, Digital workforce 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 to harness the full potential of Digital workforce.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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