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Mitigating the societal impact of the digital workforce

By Johan Steyn, 31 January 2022

Digital workers are undoubtedly the way of the future. The technology is already mature and ready for large-scale roll-out in businesses of all sizes. Local technology companies like CLEVVA are already transforming the world of customer service by offering digital experts directly to customers via multiple digital self-service channels. These digital experts are capable of resolving context and rule-rich queries without the need for human intervention. This not only reduces call volumes into contact centres, but changes the role of agents. Importantly agents also have access to their own digital expert, allowing them to expand their scope and specialise in the psychology of the customer experience rather than the complex servicing rules.

The adoption of digital workforces designed to perform more of the rule-bound work within companies is not only making it easier to scale, it is reducing the cost of improved productivity. This has positive implications for improved public service delivery and social welfare.

Instead of commuting to work, workers can now work from home or other remote locations. The continual availability of smartphones, computers, and other electronic gadgets is blurring the line between work and home life. In an increasingly digitised world, it’s hard to tell business from personal life. These employees desire to form business relationships outside of their workgroups to improve internal knowledge transfer. Traditional “create and push” information management methods no longer meet workers’ increasing needs.

Politicians, economists, and business leaders are debating the long-term effects of rapid technological innovation. This issue is becoming increasingly critical as technology continues to revolutionise the world of work, resulting in huge societal disruption.

Unfortunately, given the disruptive effects of prior waves of digitisation, the evidence suggests that the next generation of artificial intelligence technologies will result in large-scale employment losses. Like previous innovation cycles, people with higher knowledge and training will benefit more from automation.

These initiatives should always be approached as a people-first plan rather than focusing only on the technology. The welfare of the people who work for companies, their future skills needs and career ambitions and the larger business priorities should be aligned and supported by technology – not the other way round.

We need to take our people on the journey with us, get their input and address their fears. Workers naturally fear for their jobs when we speak about automation and digital workers. A suitable change management plan will ensure people will cooperate and will increase their excitement.

Addressing the correct business case is also important. Before they think of a technology solution, business leaders need to agree on the challenges they are solving for. And start small, show success early, gain cadence and the organisation will follow you on this exciting journey.

Johan Steyn is a Smart Automation & Artificial Intelligence thought leader and management consultant. He is the Chair of the Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics with the IITPSA (Institute of Information Technology Professionals of South Africa). He writes in his personal capacity.


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