Digital Workforce and Automation: what do I need to know to get started?

The world of digital transformation, automation and digital workforce has been adopted by all the major players in your sector. Now more than ever companies are looking at how they can work smarter not harder.  

Companies have realised that they need to have a digital workforce strategy in place to sustain and grow their business and augment their existing workforce. Across all industries from building and construction to medical, government, transport, aged care and even the local Worker’s club are employing a digital workforce to help their teams achieve more than they could without their ‘digital partners’ alongside.  

The digital workforce is having a hugely positive effect on organisations, the employee experience, and the customer experience. Think about the days when you had to make a trip to the Transport office to renew a licence or change your address. There was a paper form to fill out, someone had to enter that information into a system, then you received a letter or new licence in the mail a few weeks later. This process was done thousands of times every day. Almost all of these processes are now done online, and supported by automation. It’s likely that a human didn’t lay eyes on any of the information or interact with any data throughout the entire process.

If a company or government hasn’t adopted digital-by-design, then you as the consumer or customer are likely paying too much for the service, employees are likely to be doing mundane low-value tasks, and the company is needing to allocate resources to a process that would be much cheaper, quicker and without error if done by a digital worker.       

Fast forward to today, and we can buy and sell real estate online without leaving our homes, we can have medical procedures being undertaken by doctors controlling their instruments from another room in another city, and we have a customer service agent who no longer needs to work in 15 different systems to make account changes on your behalf (although, this is inexplicably still happening way too much).  

This is all down to the fact that these workers are supported by software. A digital worker supporting a human employee to get their job done. It’s not about robots or automation taking over the world or employees being kicked out the door. It’s people right now being assisted by a ‘digital buddy’ having a better daily work experience and a better daily customer experience. And the reality is that it’s a less expensive way of doing business.  

We are still challenged by not being able to extract ourselves from unnecessary and seemingly simple activities that can be entirely automated. We complain about paper forms that we fill in, information that we have to provide time and time again, simple copy and paste activities, reports that we have to manually generate for our manager, CEO, our Minister…and processes that we’ve done time and time again.  

It’s a digital revolution that the entire workforce wants, but no one is giving it to us. The leaders in our industry are more worried about communicating and the image of employment and head count loss, where they should be engaging us about how to best utilise software, automation, and digital workforce to make our jobs better.

The multinational, the regional produce supplier, the local council, the primary school in the area, the day-care provider, the local GP and the mining conglomerate…they will all have this technology in place to support their business to allow their skilled employees to have a more valuable interaction with you as their customer.  

The message here is that your business, regardless of what it is, will ultimately adopt this technology. And sometimes, you will need advice as to how to do this. Initially you may need assistance, but in time you will become experts as a business in understanding how to deploy and manage the technology. The Digital Workforce will be a way of thinking, and will be integral to your productivity and your technology assets. 

There are a lot of people right now across the globe being assisted by a digital buddy that are having a better daily work experience and providing better customer experience as a result. 

So why are Australian businesses taking so long to adopt this technology? Why are so few businesses exploring this right now? And why aren’t business leaders, well, leading the way?  

How about we flip these questions around a bit. Let’s start with the “Why aren’t business leaders leading the way?”  

The Digital Workforce and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is a piece of software that is, at the core,  used to automate process and improve efficiency. Simple and straight forward. However, there are some of the short-sighted perceptions around it: 

  • a technology asset that is a cost to business instead of a way to save cost because it’s another project/tech that IT need to look after;  
  • a new tech (it definitely isn’t new!) that a business or organisation needs to spend huge dollars to make a Return On Investment (ROI);  
  • a Digital Workforce and RPA are going to eliminate jobs, and will be divisive politically and personally.

But in reality… 

  • a core technology asset that when deployed and managed well, will be a significant productivity asset for the business, and will be managed by the business and not IT; 
  • a new tech that will clearly demonstrate ROI, and will be the best way to support employees in delivering even more value when not weighed down with repetitive, low value tasks. 

In your own organisation, there are tens, if not hundreds of processes (or part-processes) that can be automated and handled by a digital worker. Think about this…how many times does someone in your business do the same thing multiple times a day?  

  • A bank reconciliation? 
  • Managing and setting appointments?  
  • Responding to common customer enquiries via email?  
  • Creating reports?  
  • Copying and pasting information from one system to another, one spreadsheet to another?  

There are organisations out there, and you are most likely of one of them, that pay their employees thousands upon thousands of dollars every year to copy and paste information! Don’t believe it? Go and do a quick survey of your team and colleagues and ask them.  

Consider this example; 

An employee on a $60,000 per annum salary.  Employers well know that salary isn’t the only cost when employing a person in a role… There are ongoing costs that include employer contributed superannuation, annual leave, cost to hire & manage etc that take this figure closer to $90,000 per annum.   

The cost of a digital worker can be as little as $1,500 and that they work 24×7, at 5x the speed and with 100% accuracy.  With this in mind, and that a digital worker or buddy could complement this employee and you will quickly understand the cost-benefit and scaling ability. 

There is a massive opportunity for organisations to nurture and enhance the talent they have in their current employees by removing the menial and monotonous tasks that add little value.  Employees that work on interesting and value adding work thrive and are much happier in their work.  Embracing a digital workforce can help grow your business with a steady investment over time as you see those tangible results and return on investment. 

There is no doubt this has been an uncertain 18 months but with new vision, insights, and strategy we see the endless possibilities and are here to bridge the gap. Not just as experts in the field but as part of our commitment to helping businesses thriving, moving forward and becoming best in class. 

Last month we hosted an interactive online event “How to get your digital workforce started” – the conversations from our panel were full of real-world, real-time examples of how everyday businesses, processes and teams were gathering momentum for the overall benefit of staff, companies, customers, and communities by utilising a digital workforce. While these conversations were full of advice, tips and “how to” the most powerful conversation was what was revealed in our interactive event polls.  

Here are the top questions our clients have before they get started:

How do we determine if this technology is right for our organisation? 

  • This tech fits in all areas within a business where a stable repetitive process can exist. We commonly see organisations implement digital workers first in their back office processes e.g. Human Resources, Finance.
  • Imagine this: Your organisation has a form embedded on their website for customers to update their contact details. Unfortunately the digital form isn’t embedded into any automated process so currently a human is printing off the form and then manually updating those details in the system. This could be automated quite simply.
  • Another example is automating your invoice and remittance processing. Currently you likely have a team sitting around watching a email box than reading attachments and entering the information into a system, this is then rechecked downstream before being entered into your financial system.  Bots can do this whole process for you at a fraction of the cost while also removing the manual keying errors from a very sensitive process.

What does it really cost? 

  • The best way to start with digital workforce and RPA is to aim at something small to prove the technology works within your technical and operating environment. This is a low-cost exercise, and will produce results to inform the business on whether adoption of the technology will be beneficial. A typical Proof of Concept (POC) will range from $15,000 to $25,000 and will run for about 5 to 14 days. The outputs from the POC will result in proving the technology and lead to data analysis for a supporting business to move forward, and re-think if RPA is the right way to go.
  • The next stage is automating a process within the operating environment. Costs will vary depending on requirements and process selected to automate. This is where planning is key. Identify processes that get the business the best Return on Investment (ROI), aiming for a 3-to-12-month payback period. An entry cost should be around $60,000 to cover your first licences and services to implement, but as mentioned above, you can expect ROI within 3-12 months. The real focus here is cost savings, time savings and all of the other benefits that come with a digital workforce.
  • For example, recently we automated a process to work discharges on accounts. The process cost $20,000 to setup with licences costing $20,000 and it was delivered in 2 weeks. The process itself delivered a $90,000/year benefit using around 10% of the licence available, thus ROI in year 1 of $50,000, with scope to deliver extra processes without adding further licence cost.

How do we quantify the benefits in the immediate, short term and future?

Unlike software which is hard to quantify ROI, digital workers fill specific quantifiable gaps, and can be rolled out on a case by case basis, with value assessments being conducted in advance of the work being commenced.  Normally the benefits are annually recurring due to the nature of the work being conducted.

  • For example, you may know that a process is costing you $10 per transaction with your current technology and workforce. By assessing the process and determining its suitability and applying automation, the cost of that transaction could be reduced by 50%. Having a digital worker in place will produce these results the moment that it is released into the operating environment.
  • Another example, but this time from a time saving angle. Each time a process is completed by the digital worker it is counted and you can run a report which will tell you this process ran x times in a month.  e.g. The process was run by a digital worker 1000 times in a month. A human would have taken 5 mins to do each task so therefore 5000 minutes saved were saved from a human employee.

Are there benefits beyond just cost and time savings?

  • Employee experience improves because they aren’t doing repetitive low-value work. They become more engaged by contributing to additional automation opportunities that will make their lives better and produce better results.
  • Processes are reviewed and then revised, automated or eliminated. It helps ask the question “why are we doing this?”
  • Efficiency improves and customer experience improves because things are done quicker, without errors.
  • The business will notice costs are reduced because the human and digital blended workforce are able to do things with greater efficiency and deliver higher value outputs.
  • The business, the employee and the customer are ready for the future!

How do we assess our organisation’s maturity and risk?

  • There are a variety of tools out there for assessing your maturity, to give you an indication of where you sit, however if you would like some independent input and advice we would be happy to come and review with you.
  • There are proven methodologies to assessing organisational maturity and risk which include process maturity, digital maturity and organisational risk appetite. This is not an overly complex process – educate the organisation and when needed, get help from an expert.
  • The biggest risk to implementing Digital Workforce and RPA, is that the approach and strategy are not well thought through, and the right expertise isn’t utilised to develop, operate and support the technology…it doesn’t mean hiring a massive team, it means having the right people with the right skillset to support the digital workforce.

Here at Customer Science, we welcome honest conversations that will allow your business to grow and evolve with digital automation and transformation.  

We encourage you to book a free virtual coffee with our Digital Workforce expert, Matt Green, and take your ideas, concerns, and specific business requirements into an informative and action-based conversation with us. 

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