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PHOTO: Nathan Dumlao

Digital transformation is transforming. From simple routing to sophisticated AI, digital transformation is laying the foundation for a workplace that is going to look and act very differently from the one we’re in now.

A study from Oxford University concluded that almost half of all US jobs will be “susceptible to computerization” in the next few decades. Regardless of popular opinion, however, robots will not put us all out of work. In fact, Deloitte reports one global manufacturer plans to replace nearly 30% of its current workforce capacity with robots, but instead of eliminating those jobs, it will reassign human workers to more complex tasks.

As digital transformation continues to set the stage for the future, it’s important to remember you need to be concerned with more than technology: you need to prepare your workforce for the future.

The Future of Automation

“The new coming wave of automation is blind to the color of your collar,” writes Jerry Kaplan in "Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence." While we may think that automation will affect the assembly line, in reality, as routine tasks are automated, the work of 20 lawyers may be done by five, or the work of 10 accountants may only take two.

Robotic process automation (RPA) bots bring automation to every computer, providing you with the opportunity to redirect human labor. Imagine a robot sitting in front of a computer looking at the same applications and performing the same keystrokes as a person would. While robotic process automation does not involve physical robots, software robots mimic human activities by interacting with applications in the same way that a person does.

Once the bot is trained, it can go to town on automating routine business tasks. Accenture predicts that RPA can reduce costs by 80% and reduce time by 80% to 90%. McKinsey & Co. also chimes in to say RPA can have a return on investment of 30% to 200% in the first year. For its part, PwC estimates that 45% of work activities can be automated, which would save $2 trillion in global workforce costs.

RPA can be an important tool in solving automation challenges and pushing organizations to grow into digital workplaces, however, it is just one part of an organization’s digital transformation toolkit. To leverage the full potential of automation, RPA should be combined with traditional content services and business process management technologies.

Whether optimizing end-to-end automation initiatives or enabling employees to be more efficient in handling one-off projects, RPA helps fill in the gaps as a powerful, complementary technology to reduce costs and increase productivity.

Related Article: Busting 8 Robotic Process Automation Myths

The Future for Leaders

Amazon was in the news recently when it announced that it planned to spend $700 million to retrain one-third of its US workforce — 100,000 employees — as part of its “Upskilling 2025” initiative. “The American workforce is changing,” Amazon stated in the announcement, “and there’s a greater need for technical skills in the workplace than ever before.”

Amazon isn’t alone. AT&T, JPMorgan Chase and Accenture have all invested in programs to upskill workers to prepare them for disruption in the workplace caused by automation. Why? According to McKinsey research, 66% of executives see “addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitization within their workforces as at least a top 10 priority.”

Training is one way to manage automation’s effect on your workforce as a part of your strategic planning. As you consider the ideal mix of bots and humans for your business, consider how automation will change the way work gets done.

  • Don’t get locked into how work has traditionally gotten done. Consider new strategies and plan for new types of work: full-time, part-time, gig and outsourced talent.
  • Reassess the jobs and career paths required to drive productivity, competitiveness and positioning. Where do you need people, and where can automation fill gaps?
  • Roll out automation use cases individually to allow an adjustment period for your workforce to adapt.

By working with your talent team to prepare a transition plan for new and existing staff, you can plan for impact on recruitment and people management strategies. Digital skillsets — the ability to work and think quickly, collaboratively and boldly — will become the default for new hires. You will also have to build these skillsets in existing team members, so, like Amazon, consider investing in continuing education or training programs.

Related Article: How to Survive When the Robots Come for Your Job

The Future for Employees

Continual re-examination of the processes on which your business runs is central to the idea of digital transformation. If you’ve achieved efficiency by eliminating paper and are paying closer attention to how you tap into human capital, you may be wondering about next steps. 

For professionals, moving between applications to perform specific actions is a common activity. With this so-called “swivel chair” work, employees must constantly switch between multiple systems to complete a particular task. Perhaps the applications the employees are working with did not have an application programming interface (API) available for integration or a complete integration was not justified to reduce the employees’ manual work.

As you continue in your digital transformation journey, it’s vital to revisit how technology can streamline manual processes. This helps employees redirect effort to more impactful, thoughtful and valuable work.

RPA technology helps fill in these types of gaps in a BPM process, allowing organizations to achieve an even higher level of efficiency. Existing systems remain in place and bots would perform the monotonous actions a person would typically need to perform. Once the bot has completed its task, BPM can take over, pushing follow-up actions and results to the employee to complete or review. Offloading time-consuming, repetitive tasks to bots as part of an overall BPM solution will help enable employees to better focus their talents on more productive work.

Productivity impacts your bottom line, but it also impacts employee engagement. One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees.

Related Article: The Robots Are Coming: It's Time We Have the Messy Conversation

The Future Is Now

Analyst firm the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) found that only 5% of organizations have completed their digital transformation. However, those who have are seeing strong results with more IT projects completed on or ahead of schedule, on or under budget, and having lower overall IT spending.

If you’ve decided fueling digital transformation with RPA is for you, here’s how to start:

  • Look for automation opportunities in processes that are rule-based and do not require independent thought.
  • Build your business case by estimating the benefits and performing pilots.
  • Figure out who’s going to be in charge, how the software robot will be designed and develop your roadmap.

Automation is coming, which means human labor will — by necessity — be redirected. Clearly the pace of transformation is not going to slow anytime soon, which means your workforce needs to be prepared now. This is a great opportunity for organizations to integrate automation into their processes. With RPA technology, you are able to unlock greater efficiency and help employees to focus their talents on the work that matters.  

And in the end, happy, productive employees who enjoy their work are good news for your organization: the 2018 edition of the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list shows that companies with happy employees demonstrate stronger financial performance, reduced turnover, receive better customer and patient satisfaction, and have outperformed the market by 5% annually over nearly 20 years.