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Digital workers help scale business processes that require accurate data and around-the-clock precision. They perform simple copy-and-paste work, such as entering data into a system or extracting information from PDFs, emails and spreadsheets.
According to Grand View Research, the global RPA workforce will expand at a rate of 38% between now and 2030. In my role at OpenBots, I’ve spent the last year talking with developers, partners, and automation leaders to understand the scale and present reality of digital workers.
Using multiple workers or a digital workforce enables organizations to handle complex workflows for customer-facing and internal projects, with scaling being a shared theme across industries.
What is a digital worker?
A digital worker is a robotic process automation (RPA) bot that mimics human behavior and interactions on a computer, which involves many applications, websites, and documents.
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Traditional programmers and citizen developers build them using RPA tools available on intelligent automation platforms to perform manual, high-volume, and rules-based tasks.
Task automation using RPA is typically the first step in automating business processes. The next step is to add a layer of intelligent document processing that combines AI and machine learning (ML) to process documents.
How to build digital workers
You can build a digital worker from scratch after taking certified courses or watching tutorials on an RPA academy — many free ones exist. It’s helpful to know some fundamental development concepts, like input, outputs, and parameters, but you can get up-to-speed quickly if you’re new to RPA development.
Building a digital worker is straightforward if you have a development background or are tech-savvy. There are affordable low-code platforms with hundreds of built-in commands to get you going. You can also extend functionality by adding custom C# code or Python to your commands.
If you’re in a leadership position, you’ll want to consider outsourcing the development to an experienced automation partner with expertise in your industry. This will ensure you’re focused on clear business objectives while the partner has the technical know-how to build digital workers that align with your goals.
Why digital workers are important
Teams in the banking industry, along with many others, rely on digital workers to augment their human workforce. A notable example is KeyBank, which has a robust digital workforce to scale its processes. Without digital workers, they would have hundreds of hours of work left undone each week.
Tedious processes that follow strict rules, like copying data into a system and verifying its accuracy, are standard in back-office tasks. Tasks like these are essential for a business to function, but that doesn’t mean that a highly trained employee has to perform them.
Humans can only work so many hours before getting tired and don’t always complete tasks similarly. Digital workers, on the other hand, perform rule-based processes without deviation. This consistency translates into increased revenue, lower compliance costs, and efficiency.
Working with a development partner
Organizations new to automation will have to either build their digital workforce themselves or have it made for them. Choosing a development partner offers direct advantages. They’ll be able to guide you on the best place to start and can develop a proof of concept in a matter of weeks for your first automation.
Digital workers can perform almost any task a human worker can do on a computer. Because it’s so broad on how you can incorporate, those going the DIY route often get stuck in the analysis paralysis stage, unsure where to begin.
A partner will help narrow the focus on processes that will produce an immediate ROI. The automations have to make sense and also produce results to justify their value. Working with a partner ensures they are building a quality digital worker that serves your needs.
Building automations yourself
If you’re in operations, it may make sense for you to build an automation yourself. You are in the trenches and know processes that could benefit from automation. This path is ideal for people who enjoy learning new terminology and understand the potential as they will become the champion of automation in their organization.
Courses will make you a competent citizen developer and give you the foundation to create simple to medium complexity digital workers. You can learn the RPA basics in a few weeks. From there, you’ll gain experience by expanding bots, building others, deploying them, and maintaining them.
Understand who will update and maintain your digital workforce. Having a straightforward change management process is also underrated. Passwords change, and programs will need to be updated, which will knock a bot offline. Have a plan on who on your team will take ownership of your digital workforce.
Prove it through testing
The digital workforce is still a relatively new concept. Even veteran automation leaders with decades of experience are still getting used to it. Even so, the opportunity of becoming more efficient and competitive is a theme that applies to businesses of all sizes and types.
The truth is that no one can tell you the exact ROI of adding a digital worker to your team. Through execution, you’ll understand its impact on your business and staff. Like the example of KeyBank, digital workers have become crucial to their operations, but they had to prove it first.
There is also no reason to wait. There are low-risk options to start building digital workers, and it’s not the theory that will win the day — but testing rapidly, failing fast, and being open to change.
Jason Dzamba is director of media at OpenBots