Blended Workforce of Humans and Bots Key to Fulfilling Work Experiences
Digital innovations are permeating businesses and even governments across our region, making the development of a digital workforce a core priority. As a result, robotic process automation (RPA) has been on the rise. In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the size of the RPA market in APAC will grow 203% to hit US$2.9 billion by 2021.
RPA empowers organisations to create their own software robots to automate any process which can be automated. With bots taking over repetitive tasks, and performing them quickly and almost immediately, humans are freed up to do what they do best, in the form of work involving creative and decision-making.
Digital change management will be crucial in an increasingly automated environment, where more jobs will witness humans working alongside their ‘digital colleagues’. The benefits of a blended workforce of humans and bots are clear. Apart from reduced operating costs and efficiencies with the elimination of human error, workers benefit from improved productivity and quality of work in a more dynamic environment. They are able to focus on value-adding through creative thinking and higher-level tasks.
Human resource and talent executives will hence play significant roles in charting their companies' strategic direction, and in realizing synergistic collaboration between human and digital employees.
As HR professionals find themselves in the heat of digital transformation, what developments will they need to navigate, and how can they do so successfully? Here are two cultural imperatives that will help organisations succeed in building meaningful workplaces through RPA.
A Learning Culture
For decades, most workers have been used to doing some form or version of manual tasks as part of their day to day work, like checking and validating information, entering data, and comparing fields in Excel spreadsheets. This can now be done by computers, necessitating a process of learning for employees, to move away from such tasks that have taken up a significant portion of their work time and to delegate these to bots.
For workers to successfully bridge the gap and be confident in adopting RPA processes on an on-going basis in the workplace, organisations must first ensure that there is a conducive environment where learning is valued. Workers would then feel encouraged to continually develop and upskill in order to improve their performance.
Recently, the University of Melbourne (UoM) adopted RPA in response to challenges of overwhelming back-end approvals faced by its student admissions team. Before implementation, the UoM team struggled with a labour-intensive process of manual data entry. They urgently needed to find a solution to manage a growing volume of applications while improving customer experience.
Its team embraced the technology onboarding process and collaborated extensively to decide on core back-end processes that required automation. This resulted in the successful deployment of bots, which automated a total of 22 processes, including the entry of all data and attachments for new admission applications. Since then, they have reported over 10,000 hours of labour saved annually and increased efficiency of critical business processes. In embracing a learning culture, UoM was able to dedicate more time to developing the unique expertise of their faculty members, while keeping their students at the edge of industry research.
Additionally, an “RPA Champions” programme was created to continue upskilling individuals across various faculties so they can identify automation opportunities within their respective functions, forming a continuous learning loop for innovation.
Consistent Engagement Efforts
Retention and attraction of skilled professionals remain critical in an era of automation, and the key to this will be employee engagement. This begins by involving them in the automation process as this would ensure that they have greater ownership and interest in unlocking the potential of automation at work, instead of being passive observers.
ANZ Bank provides an excellent example of an organisation that engages its employees in the process of automation. All employees were involved in deploying automation, from experts to business users and even senior operations leadership. ANZ recognised that it was important to get support from the employee level, and hence sought to provide top-down empowerment, by demonstrating the effectiveness of RPA and providing employees with the tools needed for RPA success in their roles.
This included creating a two-team structure, for experts to be available to power users as well as the broader organisation respectively and to provide information on the deployments. Teams within ANZ worked together to implement the first phase of the RPA program, where over 100 robots were deployed. This resulted in significant operational and productivity improvements, including more than 40 per cent in cost savings, and reduction in end-to-end customer servicing time. With the positive results and employee response, 900 more bots are slated to be added over the next year.
The benefits of RPA on workplace efficiency and performance are undeniable. For workers to tap on these benefits for greater satisfaction and productivity, they first need to understand its function and be equipped to utilise the technology effectively. This starts with an organisation-wide push to introduce and showcase the technology’s practicality by engaging employees from the start of the automation journey.
Looking Ahead: Success in the Future of Work
The Future of Work goes beyond increasing technological adoption in the workplace. It will also be characterised by the blended workforce of humans and bots, which will make possible a more fulfilling experience at work. According to our research, not only are employees in automated workplaces more engaged, 70% said that automation improved the wellbeing of their work teams.
HR will play a critical role in equipping employees to thrive in the Future of Work. This will require them to pivot talent toward enhancing productivity in a digital-first workplace and championing a shift toward greater interdependency between humans and machines. All of which to ultimately propel the business toward transformation.