Digital workforces: Automation processes in workforces for SMEs

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We have already seen how the digital workforce, from automotive robots and CNC machines to the IoT, has integrated into the supply chain to its current incarnation as RPAs, chatbots, and digital assistants.

A critical factor in using digital workers is that robots can perform routine tasks more efficiently than humans. The most apparent advantage of a digital world of work is that it requires no rest or vacation at the desk; robots don’t get bored, either.

In it, though, lies an opportunity for human workers, who will no longer have to perform routine, lengthy, and time-consuming tasks that offer little or no satisfaction.

In some ways, the biggest challenge is that human workers are perceived as robots and their jobs are threatened, regardless of how technology is viewed and perceived. Previous automation and Internet revolutions have created more jobs than have been lost, and adjustments are already taking place in the types of work we do as humans. Despite the significant changes we have seen, there is no reason to believe that new technologies will not create many jobs in the next 10-20 years.

Robots can work four to ten times faster than humans, and productivity is improving rapidly. Not surprisingly, the pace of business is also rising. However, they require very different skills.

Think of the time you need to create a report on process efficiency and collect, structure and interpret data. Robots can provide us with all the data analysis, allowing humans to translate such reports into action through creative innovation.

The key to running a successful digital workforce is to speed up adapting and learning new skills. The first technologies introduced were RPAs, smart chatbots, mobile robots, self-driving forklifts, drones, and trucks. Gathering experience with these technologies will enable the introduction of advanced technologies, such as quantum computing, when available and affordable. AI combined with AR and VR will also play an important role.

At this point, it is important to stress that a digital workforce will increase your staff and free up their time to do better things rather than replace them. Your goal should be to solve business problems with the right solution. It requires business acumen as a starting point. Building and implementing a digital workforce requires thinking, preparation and communication with your human workforce.

The best strategy I have seen in many companies is to think big and start small. It means you have to start thinking with certainty. Companies that are not trained to do this will fall behind.

Make sure you have a human strategy. Set goals and a vision for the future of how your human workforce interacts with the digital workforce, and start communicating that vision. People’s jobs will also change.

The second element of this strategy is to start small. Avoid a Big Bang approach and divide your challenges into bite-sized chunks. Solve the small bottlenecks and gather specific insights that influence your decision-making. The skills and competencies required are creativity, complex problem-solving, and communication; each category means something to your employees.

Start with one or two business processes to learn and gain a cost-effective experience with RPA. If you are ready to scale, spend time implementing a governance structure for the digital workforce. I see a recurring problem when companies undertake some transformation: it is up to each company’s operational unit to manage everything. As a result, there is often a lack of centralised coordination, leading two departments to spend time and money developing similar solutions with different software or building robots.

Technology is a means to an end. Setting clear goals will help you not to be dazzled by buying flashy technology for its own sake.

If you put it right, writing down the requirements and comparing providers’ solutions is straightforward. It will also be easy to engage your employees and bring them on board with your vision and strategy to transform your business.

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