International Finance
January-February 2019 Magazine Opinion

Managing people within a virtual workforce

With Intelligent Automation, digital labour transfers from being primarily a cost reduction exercise to becoming a strategic asset to change and optimize the way banks run their entire operations

Businesses are increasingly looking to Intelligent Automation to reduce costs, improve customer service, ensure regulatory compliance, and tackle the productivity issues which threaten their future growth.
Pushing the boundaries of the digital workforce
Intelligent Automation (IA), which combines RPA with Artificial Intelligence (AI) functionality, is now enabling businesses to automate a far wider range of workplace processes. Within the world of financial services, the focus is now moving beyond tactical automation of basic back-office tasks and processes, (in the contact centre, HR function or accounts department), to more complex and strategic initiatives.
With IA, digital labor transfers from being primarily a cost reduction exercise to becoming a strategic asset to change and optimize the way banks run their entire operations. And with this shift, the benefits become greater – increased productivity, more robust regulatory compliance, enhanced capacity and more fulfilling work for staff.
Think about your people, not your robots
There is always a significant ‘people’ element to automation, beyond staff seeing their work automated, it also impacts the skills, mindset and cultural behaviours required to make automation a success. Intelligent Automation programmes depend on the willingness of operational staff to embrace automation and recognise the benefits it can deliver to them as individuals.
Organisations thinking about the ‘people’ side from the outset invariably find it easiest to integrate a virtual workforce. In fact, our white paper explores how to build a business case for workforce automation that presents a robust plan to communicate it effectively throughout the business. Every organisation has different drivers for implementing IA but, in my experience, cutting jobs is rarely a major objective. Robotics can release employees from the more tedious aspects of day to day activity and enable them to focus on the value-added work.
The challenge is getting staff to see this when so much of the narrative around automation remains highly emotive, fed by media reports that automation will lead to millions of jobs being replaced. Financial services is one of a number of industries that will see a whole range of strategic, high-value jobs being created in place of more tactical, lower-paid back-office roles. PwC released an insightful report on exactly this.

Terry Walby
Terry Walby
CEO, Thoughtonomy

Automation for the people
Organisations need to tackle automation head on, and we’ve seen some wonderful examples of organisations who have engaged and educated staff in creative and fun ways about the benefits of a digital workforce. Running initiatives including naming virtual workers or nominating mundane laborious tasks ripe for automation get the entire workforce – thinking about the benefits of automation for themselves personally and an understanding how IA can improve their own working lives and careers.
Regulatory compliance is a huge driver for automation and a huge burden for many staff, by automating much of their compliance monitoring and reporting, they can free up their people to do the things they are best at and find most rewarding – strategic thinking, creative problem-solving and strengthening customer relationships.
Training and Automation Champions
Typically, organisations look to build an automation team by re-deploying people whose existing work is being automated. Re-training these people to give them the skills to oversee the automation programme is a great way to do this as it avoids the pain and cost of recruiting new people, and it’s good for the individuals concerned, who move to becoming trained in one of the most dynamic areas of business.
‘Automation champions’ who help their peers to get to grips with automation technology and work effectively alongside virtual workers help embed AI into the workplace smoother and quicker. These individuals also have a crucial role to play in identifying a pipeline of processes for automation – after all, it is the people working on the front line who are much better placed to identify tasks ripe for automation.
Automation culture
The ultimate goal for financial services is to instil a positive ‘culture of automation’, where people are proactively looking to automate some of their work to free up their capacity and feel comfortable handing tasks to a virtual worker.
Such a culture can be achieved by communicating positive, ‘good news’ stories around the deployment of Intelligent Automation, demonstrating the benefits to employees working alongside the virtual workers. The best IA programmes are essentially about people; about how they can be best deployed to add value to the business; how organisations can get more high value work with the same headcount; how productivity can be increased.
A golden opportunity for L&D leaders
What’s clear from the discussions we have with our clients is that HR and L&D is an important part of the automation agenda and needs to fulfil its role in delivering the right cultural shift and skills required for success.
By communicating the role of automation and recognising it as a positive shift for both the wider business and individual development, business leaders can claim an important role, championing the skills and people agenda within workplace automation initiatives.

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