Digital labor and intelligent automation: The impact on the workforce behind the hype

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by Brenda Byrd

Digital labor and intelligent automation offer compelling business benefits that include cost reduction, increased accuracy, ability to scale and consistency. While these well-deserved benefits are undeniably impressive, the real impact at the workforce level on service providers, businesses, clients and talent retention is still emerging.

Behind the hype is uncertainty around the term “digital labor” and what it means for today’s workforce. Essentially, digital labor is the term for simple, repetitive virtual “workers” that perform tasks once exclusively performed by humans. This digital workforce includes intelligent automation software, applications and processes.

To be sure, digital labor enables a “do more with less” business strategy, but it also offers other benefits worth considering:

  • Simple, routine, monotonous tasks are ideally suited to digital workers, which are able to deliver outcomes with fewer errors and faster response(s).
  • Human workers are retained but their focus changes. Employers are able to direct more sophisticated, high-value tasks to their retained human labor – making work more challenging and rewarding.

Those two benefits alone offer a win-win strategy to both employers and the workforce. This is especially true for today’s millennials, who have high expectations for their work life. Today’s workers are technology-driven and want job responsibilities that offer purpose and an opportunity to improve their personal and professional lives. Millennials are not content with ordinary and standard roles. They have little interest in routine tasks such as copying and pasting information from one application to another, creating IDs or performing password resets.  Fortunately, these activities are ideal candidates for digital labor, which never tires of this routine work. A virtual agent smoothly performs repetitive tasks, especially those requiring little or no judgement.

Chatbots and other digital colleagues

Adoption of self-service, intelligent automation, analytics, workflow technologies and chatbots are transforming job tasks and customer interactions. Intelligent automation allows humans to abandon simple and repetitive tasks and focus on more challenging and rewarding assignments. As a result, today’s workers have an opportunity to develop richer and more meaningful skills that offer more interesting, exciting and satisfying work. Appropriately challenged workers are less likely to job shop—reducing staff churn and improving retention rates.

The advent of digital labor has been seamless and increasingly transparent. Think about your most recent travel experience. You now have ownership of travel plans from start to finish with minimal human intervention. When searching online for available flights or accommodations, a chatbot or virtual assistant may appear on your screen offering assistance or making recommendations based on your search criteria. The same is true for the check-in process at the airport kiosk.  The kiosk allows you to check in and obtain a boarding pass without human intervention unless required or preferred.

You may have experienced digital labor when seeking after-hours customer assistance. Businesses offer 24×7 support through chatbots. The chatbot is another form of intelligent automation, able to accurately provide instantaneous response regardless of the time of day. Gartner predicts that chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions by 2020.

Cost savings, increased functionality, a seamless customer experience and a higher-skilled workforce are all benefits of intelligent automation. Ready or not, digital labor is here and is sure to stay.


Brenda Byrd is an offering lead at DXC Technology, specializing in customer experience and finance and administration offerings within DXC’s Business Process Services group. She brings over 40 years of operational and technical experience, including system and application installation and configuration, client relationship management, requirements management, business process management and technical leadership.

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