What is a digital worker? Many people confuse this term with the old, pre-AI nomenclature: a human with digital skills. These skills might be in marketing, process management, logistics or any online business activity. Today, the definition shifts with AI changing much of the virtual business landscape. A digital worker in the AI era is a category of software tools or robots. These bots have specialized functions, working with or independent of human interaction.
We can think of digital employees as a combo of Intelligent Automation (IA) fundamentals like conversational intelligence and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), working alongside human employees. These algorithms understand conversational intent and can answer questions and execute actions while the control remains with humans. They can help by enhancing the workplace experience, productivity levels and company performance.
Digital workers automate and manage one or more business tasks or processes. With the right training, they can prioritize tasks and learn through experience. Organizations can deploy digital workers on-site or from the cloud using specialized platforms and technologies. Digital workers can also execute components of complex processes from end to end. Leveraging AI capabilities like machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision allows digital employees to perform tasks within set workflows.
So, how will this technology likely impact the workplace in the next five years? This is something I've thought a lot about as a serial AI entrepreneur. Let's look at a practical example: A digital worker in the accounts payable department can autonomously operate three conventional employee roles. It acts as a customer service rep, billing agent and dispute resolver or cash applicator in completing order-to-cash processes.
It's not surprising that companies are deploying digital workers in their models regardless of their sector. Digital transformation strategies implemented over the last decade have seen companies be quick to adopt this innovative tech as it emerges. Deploying these assets in the workplace permits the reallocation of employees to more strategic organizational endeavors.
Let's look at some examples of digital workers and how they have the potential to change the workplace environment and business processes.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Traditionally, RPA processes are responsible for building automation. They're entirely capable of managing knowledge-based work tasks based on pre-defined rules.
RPA is ideal for reducing employee time spent on handling labor-intensive, knowledge-based work. It’s an automated solution for managing repetitive, rule-based tasks in volume.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Real-world IT systems are rarely neatly organized and classified. Most organizations store unstructured data in videos, free text documents, e-mails, PowerPoints, etc.
NLP combined with digital workers can analyze, understand and process text in documents or e-mails, sending responses in allocated workflows to reduce human interaction in the process.
Chatbots are some of the most exciting digital employee assets. Companies can integrate these tools into employee processes, allowing staff to monitor the process rather than handle it individually. The result is a higher volume of query processing and a full range of customer service automation covering everything the organization needs to deliver on user requests. Collaborations between digital and human employees create unique, intelligent, innovative service bots that communicate naturally.
After finalizing user dialogue, service bots initiate automation based on the outcome of the discussion. Combining chatbots and RPA with cloud delivery models allows fast organizational digital transformation execution that’s cost-effective and scalable.
There’s no investment in on-site infrastructure or adaptations to existing IT systems. Expand Q&A chatbot solutions to fully functional service bots executing customer requests in the right IT systems (e.g., CRM, ERP).
Digital employees can leverage advanced processes to identify variances and bottlenecks in process execution. This functionality is critical for the accuracy of process automation, redesign decisions and process optimization. Process analytics toolkits automate discovery phases using machine learning to identify processes most suitable to automate.
Instead of human employees wasting time collecting and analyzing data manually, digital employees can handle these tasks and discover the issue in seconds.
Voice & Image Recognition
Digital employees can process, analyze and understand data in videos or images with computer vision capabilities. For example, optical character recognition (OCR) can read and extract data from invoices, making it easier for accounts departments to manage client requests, order flow, invoicing, estimates and more.
Computer vision strategies include feature extraction, edge detection, image, distance, semantic segmentation and object detection. Digital employees can identify outlines of objects at the pixel level, extracting essential features for processing. With capabilities for database searching, researching and editing, this tech has many applications in the workplace.
Applications Are Endless
Digital workers create higher efficiency and better employee and customer experiences at all stages of the business process. We’ll continue to see the rollout of these tools across all departments, from sales and support to human resources and supply chain management.
The efficiency these tools bring to business drives down costs, making these digital transformation strategies popular with both the C-suite and shareholders. However, the convenience offered by these advanced systems also enhances the employee experience, reducing mundane and repetitive tasks.
The future of business looks bright. Digital employees are early examples of how AI and automation can light the way in leveraging advanced technology for growth.
Originally published in Forbes