A human-centered automation tool for building intelligent digital workers

By John Davies

We’ve been talking about the need to solve the knowledge worker’s dilemma for much of this year.

The story goes like this: you hired Lisa, a loan officer, for her high-impact skills, such as industry expertise, client relationship building and finding creative ways to grow the business. But she spends a lot of time on lower-impact work like inputting data, managing documents and creating reports. This reduces the total time she can spend adding more value to your business, such as increasing the number of loan applications per month.

In a world where lower-impact work increasingly swamps talented workers — where the rate and scale of digitization creates information faster than workers can consume and act on it — it’s no surprise tech vendors are introducing solutions to help grow productivity and improve outcomes with the help of digital workers.

IBM Automation recently announced our own digital worker capability with the mission to bring digital scale to knowledge work. For many companies, this means enabling a small number of employees to create great customer experiences at scale, to produce better products and services. For others, it’s all about reducing costs, increasing agility and flexibility, or improving compliance.

Whatever your business goals, we explain the new capability and how it works.

A human-centered tool for helping knowledge workers

By bringing together automation and AI, you can now use the modular IBM Cloud Pak™ for Automation to build digital workers — digital workers that not only automate lower-impact work like data entry and data extraction, but also assist knowledge workers in higher-impact work like task prioritization and decision making.

The tool was designed with the human knowledge worker at its center. Instead of being aligned to a specific task (like a bot) or process (which crosses multiple functions), the IBM Automation digital worker is aligned to a real job role, such as mortgage underwriter, data entry clerk, customer support assistant, HR recruiter or sales assistant. This more intimate alignment to day-to-day work makes it easier for knowledge workers to offload work where they don’t add value.

In three minutes: How the new digital worker tool works

With IBM Cloud Pak for Automation, business users can easily create digital co-workers to execute specific parts of their jobs. This is how it works — at a high level:

1. Model the job role

A built-in assessment capability makes it easy to model existing human job roles: the sequence of tasks performed, the time spent performing those tasks and any required interactions with other roles. The assessment helps you prioritize where to deploy digital workers and set baseline key performance indicators (KPIs) so you can determine productivity gains.

2. Build a digital worker

To perform work within a specific role, you build digital workers by teaching them skills, ranging from simple to complex. You select these skills from a pre-built catalog. Custom skills can also be created. And you can teach digital workers more skills after they’re deployed to further assist their human counterparts.

The digital worker skills line up under the following essential competencies:

“Understanding information” skills:

  • Data extraction from docs
  • Document classification
  • Natural language classifier
  • Tone analysis
  • Language translation
  • Visual recognition

“Making decisions” skills:

  • Rule-based decisions
  • Machine learning (ML)-based predictions

“Taking action” skills:

  • Read an email
  • Send an email
  • Take actions in Excel
  • Start a workflow
  • Run a robotic process automation (RPA) bot

3. Set business controls

When you delegate work to a digital worker, you need to be able to trust the work will be done right. Using the tool’s business controls, business users can easily manage the digital workers they deploy. It’s not much different from managing human workers.

Digital workers perform within guardrails based on their experience levels. Think of guardrails as parameters or confidence levels, set by the business, within which digital workers can operate autonomously. For example, a loan processor digital worker can be assigned to only process loans under USD 5,000. After the digital worker proves itself, the human supervisor can easily update the guardrail to give it more responsibility, such as increasing the threshold to USD 10,000 (Figure 1).

screenshot of guardrails for loan processor

Figure 1. Business users set and adjust guardrails to control the scope of digital workers

The tool also includes built-in transparency to ensure compliance and auditing, and built-in monitoring of digital workers so adjustments can be made based on the quality and quantity of work performed. There’s a built-in management “cockpit” that provides one consolidated dashboard for work done by humans and digital workers.

Net net: Digital workers bring together a variety of automation technologies — RPA, content management, data capture, AI and more — to do work on behalf of human workers in real job roles. For instance, if you want your new account specialist digital worker to pull information from a new application and input it into your customer database, you could use the “run an RPA bot” skill to transfer the information. If you want it to also decide whether to accept or reject the application, you can add a rules-based decision skill to make this determination.

Solving the knowledge worker’s dilemma requires focus on the knowledge worker, and not on automating discrete, routine tasks. For this reason, digital workers can be a smarter approach to augmenting knowledge workers because they:

  • Use job roles as the framework to align the work that digital and human workers do.
  • Give control of digital workers to the knowledge workers themselves through interactive dashboards and adjustable guardrails.
  • Automate more use cases by using a full set of AI-powered automation technologies.
  • Make it easy for humans and digital workers to interact using workflows, emails, shared documents and collaboration tools.

If you’re interested in really experiencing how digital workers could work for you, think about participating in an IBM Automation Design Thinking Workshop. You’ll work side-by-side with IBM designers and automation experts to create first-of-a-kind MVP (minimum-viable product), experimenting with the new tool.

Reclaim productive hours. Learn about the new intelligent digital worker tool for reconfiguring how work gets done.

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