By Colin Redbond, Head of Technology Strategy for Blue Prism
This post is the fourth in our series on the future of the Digital Worker (read the Post 1: Knowledge and Insight , Post 2: Planning and Sequencing and Post 3: Visual Perception. Now we’re taking a closer look at Collaboration – another essential Blue Prism Intelligent Automation Skill for the Digital Worker.
Collaboration is a skill that enables the Digital Worker to be able to work alongside and in close proximity to your human workforce, with other Digital Workers and other systems. The theory of Collaborative Cognition, or “Distributed Cognition”, has been well explored since the 1980s, when Edwin Hutchins – a leading pioneer in the field – began exploring the concept of frameworks of extended cognition involving the co-ordination between individuals, artifacts and the environment. The advent of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) has now made this field even more relevant than ever before. For the modern workplace, it is essential that your digital workers have the skill to be able to collaborate with their human counterparts, each other, and the systems and devices around them – using both legacy and modern digital channels and systems of record.
True Digital Transformation Avoids “Digital Duct Tape”
Blue Prism is unique in the RPA space in that we have maintained a strong position on avoiding what we like to refer to as “Digital Duct Tape” – where a component is installed on an operator’s desktop and via “macro recording” capabilities, attempting to augment the operator’s workflow by speeding up inefficient and repetitive parts of their process. Why have we taken this position? We have said this consistently from day one, that we believe RPA should not be a tactical approach used to paper over the cracks in the existing process, or to temporarily drive efficiencies because it is cheap and quick to do so. We believe that a Digital Workforce should be an intrinsic part of your organisation and as such, should not be imprisoned and constrained within an operator’s desktop.
Think about how you collaborate with your colleagues. You certainly would not expect a colleague to take control of your Excel worksheet or line of business application, except perhaps in an IT support scenario. Instead, you probably use digital channels, such as chat or email, or you hand off tasks via a workflow or BPM tool. Throughout your activity you may be obtaining information from many systems of record – modern and legacy. Our vision is to have our software robots work seamlessly within all of these digital channels and for the Blue Prism Digital Workforce to be an integral and valuable team as any other in your business.
For an example of our position on this, we were the first RPA vendor to announce a strategic partnership with a low code and BPM platform. Appian is recognized as one of the most exciting vendors in the space and they immediately saw the significance of our technology in their vision of the future digitized workplace. The Appian platform now has Blue Prism capabilities fully integrated and provides support for handoff to and from the Digital Workforce, directly from either tool.
This was only the start. Our partnership with TrustPortal enables a “robot aware” middleware layer that can be integrated into your existing digital channels – mobile, internet, intranet, chat – and can transform front office and human assisted processes, without resorting to RDA’s “Digital Duct Tape”.
We will also announce new partnerships very shortly – one which will now enable secure information sharing via the Blockchain. Another that will enable collaboration with the digital worker using both Virtual Agent and IVR. This collaboration across legacy and modern digital channels will be essential as you progress your digital transformation journey at a faster pace than you ever thought possible.
AI and the Autonomous Digital Worker
The importance of enabling the Digital Worker to Collaborate via all of these digital channels becomes self-evident, when you consider the methodology and workflow required for most business contextual Machine Learning. Unlike “pre-trained” algorithms – such as the more commoditized Computer Vision and NLP capabilities that we expose via other skills such as Knowledge and Insight – the ability to learn within the context of a Business Process using YOUR data will almost certainly involve some form of feedback loop and iteration of the Training Data and ML models. To achieve this, it is essential that a low confidence prediction can be escalated to a human worker for review, and that the data is captured automatically to enable the model to be further optimized. Our Machine Learning workflow, coupled with the “process aware” collaboration mechanisms we are ingraining into this skill, will enable this to become a reality. This workflow is explored further in our “Learning and Problem Solving” blog.
Final Thought – Embrace your Digital Colleagues
The future of the digitized workplace will involve a blurring of the lines between Human and Digital Labor. We are working towards a day where the Blue Prism Digital Workforce is just another team in your organization – one that can interact with your customers, accept work, move work between other digital workers, or to and from your people, completely autonomously and without human intervention into the platform. It will be able to learn from observing your activity, will give you access to (and insight from) data across the IoT, modern and legacy systems of record. This is not a bleak, dystopian future where robots replace humans – it is a future where your business can grow organically and efficiently by connecting the IT fabric of your entire organization and empower your workforce to trust and rely on their digital colleagues by bringing to bear the skills required to augment and enhance their ability to deliver.
This is a future that should be embraced, not feared.