CIO upfront: Humans and bots in the workplace

CIO upfront: Humans and bots in the workplace

Organisations must have a strong change management process and involve staff early on in any automation project, writes Rob Mills of Blue Prism

Challenges arise when businesses don’t give much thought to the impact of change

Dr Graeme Horne, EY New Zealand

When you interact with a company, would you rather the person you’re dealing with help with your inquiry, or spend time fumbling with systems and tasks?

If you’re like me, I want to get my problem or question handled correctly first go and be provided a solution that gives me satisfaction and closure.

Many organisations, however, are still trying to figure out the best way to not only provide employees with the solutions they need to be successful, but also how to give customers the experiences they expect.

A recent Harvard Business Review Analytics Services study showed that 73 per cent of business leaders agree that delivering a reliable and relevant customer experience is “critical” to managing business performance in today’s market.

Yet, only 15 per cent rated their company’s ability to deliver superior customer experiences as “very effective,” while 32 per cent said their efforts are “not very effective.”

The challenge is that customer expectations are changing. They’re demanding improvements in real-time, personalised engagement, as well as greater options for communication – bringing the concept of business self-service to the forefront. But they also want human interaction for critical business process interactions or failure points – both of which are an integral part of the customer experience.

One of the key technologies driving better customer experience and making frontline employees more valuable is robotic process automation (RPA).

Customers can now have a ‘conversation’ with a robot in real-time to resolve complex issues – and avoid duplicate data requests. Enterprises can expand processes that can be automated across all interaction channels and platforms.

Obviously, robots are being used throughout organisations to complete a multitude of repetitive tasks.

However, placing those robots on the frontlines of customer facing interactions has been faced with some trepidation.

A lack of understanding has led many to think robots are going to replace them, or at a minimum, reduce the workforce.

Read more: Winning the war for AI talent

This couldn’t be further from the truth. RPA isn’t going to get rid of employees … far from it. In fact, it’s going to help make them better, happier and more productive.

Related reading: Aaron Olphert of Kordia: 'If human intervention is needed to make decisions, then automation is probably not the answer'

Best of both worlds

There are two different modes of RPA, giving organisations a choice between autonomous or assisted automation depending on the circumstance.

Typically targeted toward front office activities, assisted automation sees employees working alongside robots in situations where the entire process can’t be automated.

While in autonomous automation (AKA “lights out”) situations, the robots are pre-programmed to do work without the assistance of an employee.

The ability to leverage robot processes to build a common data set and use human interaction to verify or approve streamlines customer contact – and demonstrates to them that the business has their full interests and information on hand.

Related reading: We stressed that the RPA bots are augmenting, not replacing resources, and that removal of manual tasks frees people up for higher value tasks’

Preparing the workforce for change

Automation may replace an entire role or team in some cases, but generally speaking, there are far more instances where only a small percentage of a person’s role changes.

Robots let people do what they do best – interact with other people. Using robots to perform tasks like providing shipping status or account balance information gives employees the freedom to work with customers on complex problems or inquiries, providing a more personalised approach to customer experience. This creates happier employees and a better environment to work in.

A lack of understanding has led many to think robots are going to replace them, or at a minimum, reduce the workforce

Rob Mills, Blue Prism

One New Zealand company, for example, used to experience long wait times for one of its customer processes.

Since deploying RPA, this has now been significantly reduced to less than a day, as a result of taking manual activity away from employees and refocusing them on helping customers. Not only has the value they add to the business increased, their roles have also been enriched by focusing on more stimulating work.

The key to success is having a solid change management process in place and involving employees early on in the journey, so they clearly understand the impact and intention of the automation project.

Professional services firm EY is one of the largest users of automation globally.

The company has more than 1,700 virtual FTEs (bots) in operation, creating 12 million hours of virtual processing capacity per annum.

According to Dr Graeme Horne, EY New Zealand automation leader, you need to start the change process by engaging with teams and the business before you commit to automation. The reasons must be clearly communicated so they’re easily understood to engage the business and get everyone on board.

“Automation itself isn’t difficult – the tools are straightforward and easy to work with,” Dr Horne said.

“Challenges arise when businesses don’t give much thought to the impact of change, particularly when the rollout has finished. With the speed to which automation is happening, it’s crucial that the engagement process is commenced early and is well managed.”

Related reading: NZ firms urged to address the skills challenge for an AI-enabled workforce

Upskilling will be required

In many cases, automation will take a portion of people’s roles or daily activity away, so know from the beginning how you’re going to reallocate their time.

Upskilling will be required if employees are now being asked to do something different that wasn’t part of their previous job. This is an important part of the change process.

A new global automation report from Blue Prism reveals that 83 per cent of knowledge workers are comfortable with reskilling to work alongside the digital workforce. A further 78 per cent say they’re ready to take on a new job role.

This sentiment is contrary to a popularly held belief that employees are afraid of losing their jobs to automation. In fact, only 37 per cent of knowledge workers have fears about job loss as RPA is having a positive impact on workplaces.

One thing is certain, by properly managing the unification of human and digital workforces from the very beginning, you’ll have a greater chance of success.

Then you can continue to work through the business to identify more opportunities for automation.

Rob Mills is VP ANZ for Blue Prism

Credit: Dreamstime

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