Blog | Oct 19, 2020

The Rise of the Digital Workforce in UK PLCs

C19 Workers


The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation programs to a velocity that was unimaginable at the start of this year. Businesses across all sectors have relied on technology to maintain operations and deliver customer experience in highly volatile market conditions.

In particular, there has been a marked shift towards greater automation, with some organizations scaling up their use of digital workers to fill in the gaps and pick up the slack where human workers have been unable to perform normally. The digital workforce has proved its value, not just in helping businesses to weather the COVID storm, but in delivering the speed, agility and resilience that had become critical to long term competitiveness, even before the pandemic.

Over recent years, the entire narrative around automation has started to shift from one of tactical deployment, where organizations look to streamline specific processes that are slow and inefficient, to a more strategic approach. Forward-thinking organizations now recognize automation and the digital workforce as a platform and enabler for wholesale digital transformation and for pursuing new opportunities which they wouldn’t be able to with a traditional resourcing model.

Intelligent Automation, where traditional Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is integrated with AI and additional functionality such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), is providing business leaders with an intelligent digital workforce direct from the cloud, which they can scale in real-time to meet rapidly evolving business needs. Digital workers are acting as the integration layer within enterprise IT systems, taking away the barriers of legacy IT and disparate data which have for so long held up innovation and digital transformation within organizations.

With Intelligent Automation, business leaders can break free from the shackles of legacy IT, skills shortages and insufficient or poor quality data.


To gauge the extent to which Intelligent Automation is now considered a strategic driver within businesses, we recently undertook analysis of large and mid-cap companies in the FTSE 350 Index. We found that over the past five years an increasing number of these organizations have started to highlight their deployment of automation, AI and cloud computing within their financial reporting.

The analysis demonstrates a growing recognition within UK Boardrooms that Intelligent Automation is becoming an important influencer and driver of corporate strategy.

More than 40% of FTSE 350 companies referenced their automation programs within their latest financial reports, almost double the number that did so in 2014. More than a quarter of companies highlighted their use of cloud computing in their 2019 reports compared with less than 10% in 2014. And remarkably, 20% of FTSE 350 companies emphasized their strategic use of AI in 2019, compared with less than 1% five years ago.

Business leaders in all sectors are reporting on their use of digital labor, AI and cloud-based technology to transform and optimize all areas of their operations, from customer experience and supply chain management through to fraud detection and HR.

A number of annual reports specifically referenced staging strategic off-sites for senior management teams to learn more about these technologies. Business leaders are waking up to the potential of Intelligent Automation throughout their operations and they are taking every possible step to ensure they have first mover advantage.

Many companies listed in the FTSE 350 Index that have not referenced these technologies in their annual reports will still be deploying them in some capacity. However, they are likely to be pursuing more localized and tactical programs in pockets of their organizations, rather than at a strategic, organization-wide level. These businesses are still likely to be generating some benefits from these projects but not using Intelligent Automation and AI as a platform for strategic change. This means that the speed to value for these transformational technologies will be slowed down and the risk of these organizations falling behind their competitors will increase.

Without doubt, in order for cloud-based Intelligent Automation and AI to deliver real strategic value to organizations, these initiatives need Board-level sponsorship and ownership from the outset. This is critical for the digital workforce to act as a true catalyst for transformation and innovation. And as our analysis shows, this shift was gathering pace even before the events of this year.


The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that businesses today need unprecedented levels of operational agility and resilience to respond in real-time to change and disruption. The threat and impact of COVID-19 will pass, hopefully soon, but the need for organizations to act and react at speed is set to stay in what Accenture describes as the era of the Never Normal.

When we come to re-visit our analysis next year, reviewing 2020 annual reports, we fully expect to see an even steeper curve in the number of FTSE 350 companies deploying Intelligent Automation, cloud and AI in a strategic way. There can’t be many Boardrooms that are yet to recognize the opportunity that a cloud-enabled intelligent digital workforce presents – whether that’s in protecting and improving operations, enhancing customer experience or freeing up talent to focus on high-value work.

CEOs are urgently looking to embed the speed and agility that has characterized their response to COVID-19 into their everyday, ongoing business operations and workforce cultures. And central to this is the introduction of an intelligent digital workforce, delivered straight from the cloud, to provide an agile and resilient platform for digital transformation and innovation.

If you’d like to learn more about how boards are shaping their organizational models around a digital workforce, download The Strategic Intelligent Automation Index, here.