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Blog | Mar 19, 2020

Rethinking Workforce Readiness Beyond Coronavirus

By Michael Marchuk
VP, Advisory Services
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While the world is still reeling from the current, and future potential, impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, there is a sobering realization from most organizations that they may not be well prepared to support on-going operations in the face of a wide-spread labor shortage due to illness, travel restrictions, or fear. While most companies have a generalized “disaster recovery plan” in place, most often it applies primarily to the technology systems rather than the human capital of the business.

The irony of this type of plan is that the systems designed to support the business operations would be more robust than the employees using it. What if there were employees who were as resilient as the systems that continue to process transactions and keep the business running during times of crisis? Luckily this type of “super employee” does exist, but organizations are just now starting to see them in a new light as a potential solution to situations like this.

The Digital Worker

A new class of employee, the digital worker, has emerged over the past several years through the maturity of the robotic process automation (RPA) software platform. This digital worker offers capabilities to perform work with speed and accuracy, interacting with the same applications that human workers do, but from within the safety of a secure data center environment. By protecting the digital worker with the emergency plans that cover the IT data center services, this workforce option provides business-continuity for critical functions. It’s like having employees “in the cloud”.

Vulnerabilities of a Traditional Workforce

Business operates on human interactions and decisions, but what happens when those interactions become impacted by an overwhelming situation? Some interactions that are purely designed for human experience would be unavoidably impacted during periods of civil unrest, pandemic, or similar wide-spread issues that increase fear among people. For example, movie theaters and restaurants, cruise lines, as well as sporting events and other recreational activities could be shut down during these periods as people retreat to the apparent safety of their homes. However, many other organizations would see an increase in their activity and require the capability to flex their workforce quickly to support the added demands. Examples would be hospitals, health-care product manufactures, transportation and supply chain firms, as well as governmental agencies who would be coordinating the official actions with first-responders, media, and emergency supplies.

Let’s look at a potential solution to this type of issue.

Labor Contingencies

In this type of scenario, digital workers that have been trained to provide the bulk of the operational activities can continue to maintain the business while human workers are safely within their homes, interacting electronically with their digital coworkers when decisions requiring human interaction arise. This workforce plan not only protects the humans that would traditionally congregate in large offices, but also offers a reasonable option to any organization that is looking to handle a surge in the workloads caused by a wide-spread health or safety issue. It’s simple to virtually “clone” a digital worker to support additional workloads during peak periods, but nearly impossible to ramp human workers with a pre-orchestrated plan to do so. Even if the plan includes a contingency for additional human workers from other divisions or resource pools, those resources may not be available due to the impact of the illness or civil unrest issues that are at the root of the problem. The only reasonable option would be to engage the digital workforce to extend the capabilities to support the surge in need.

Keep Company Assets Secure at Scale

Perimeter security is important for restricting access to corporate assets. However, in a situation such as a pandemic where employees and contractors could be required to work remotely for an extended period, many corporate applications and data services could be unavailable from anyplace outside of the corporate facilities or unavailable due to the shear number of remote employees trying to reach them through a limited remote-access capability.

Upgrades to this type of remote access can be done quickly but may introduce additional points of vulnerability for both external and internal “bad actors” due to the rapid response. Hiring digital workers for processing workflows has several benefits that remediate these risks. Digital workers trained to navigate multiple internal applications and data sources to accomplish a business function could be the primary interface to supporting the business. Remote employees interact only with the digital co-worker securely to receive only the outputs the digital co-worker was trained to provide. These interactions provide another layer of protection from potential security vulnerabilities, but also add the capability to maintain logs of the interactions to audit them for compliance.

Digital Workforce for Humanity

So, while it is yet unknown what the overall impact of the COVID-19 virus will ultimately be, the emergence of this virus and the fear that has accompanied it has again lifted back the veil of the economy to show the potential vulnerabilities that our businesses are relying on. If your organization has not considered the advantages of a digital workforce, perhaps it’s time that you have another look. It’s not about removing humans from the business, it’s about protecting them and allowing them to do what humans do best: show our empathy to others during times of true need.

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