No, the robots are not coming for your job as they ready to take over the world … yet. But the future of the world’s workforce will mark a significant shift and work will be heavily reliant on the teamwork of human and machine, noted the just-released IDC white paper, Content Intelligence for the Future of Work.

And we’re not quite in sci-fi film territory either, said Holly Muscolino, research vice president of content and process strategies and the future of work at IDC. “A software robot (or ‘digital worker’) is essentially a software program that automates a task that has previously been accomplished by a human worker,” Muscolino explained. “The term ‘robot’ is used to signify the role that these software solutions play in automation, however, beyond that, there is no relationship between a software robot and the physical robots that we may see on the manufacturing line, patrolling supermarket aisles on starring in ‘Star Wars” movies.”

SEE: Robotics in the enterprise (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Software tech classified as digital-workers

Muscolino added, “A variety of software technologies are classified as ‘digital workers.’ The technology gaining the most airtime today is robotic process automation (RPA), but other automation technologies, and AI-enabled technologies, like digital assistants and chatbots, are also classified as ‘digital workers’.”

Another targeted theory, perhaps apocryphal, often predicts robot co-workers as a threat, with the cry, “they’re taking our jobs!” In reality, Mucolino said, “Though there may be some vulnerable populations, the reality is that in most cases these software solutions automate a task or sub-task, not an entire process or an entire job. In many situations, these solutions augment the capabilities of human workers, enabling those workers to focus on higher value tasks and innovation, driving additional values for the organization. This also improves the employee experience and engagement by eliminating routine, repetitive tasks.”

More than mundane jobs for robo-colleagues

Our future digital colleagues won’t just be relegated to mundane data input or other repetitive jobs. The growth of machine learning (ML) through human-centric artificial intelligence (AI) means robot assistants will help employees make better decisions. In most cases, these technologies enhance, rather than replace, human capabilities. For example, the survey found that technology evaluating information will grow by 28% in two years, and 20% of activities related to reasoning and decision making will be performed by machines. In the same two years, 18% of administration will be handled by software robots.

Robots cost and bring in big money

The intelligent process automation (IPA) software market includes content intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA), and the IDC report predicts it will grow from $13.1 billion in 2019 to $20.7 billion in 2023.

Since many of the repetitive processes and tasks that are well suited for automation by RPA are document and content centric, content intelligence technologies frequently go hand-in-hand with RPA in intelligent process automation use cases. Automation initiatives will also be enabled by process intelligence, a new generation of process mining tools providing complete visibility into business processes — the critical foresight needed to improve the success of an IPA project.

Robots will ease-on in

In some cases, the inclusion of digital workers won’t be very intrusive, “the training revolves around changing the process and learning new policies and procedures,” Muscolino said. “However, entirely new jobs are being created to develop, train, and maintain these software solutions. Workers are also free to learn new skills and take on new tasks, which also involves retraining.”

Robots increase customer satisfaction

More than 40% of survey respondents have experienced a notable increase in customer satisfaction and employee productivity by deploying content intelligence technologies into their digital transformation strategy. Additionally, more than one-third of respondents saw an improvement in responsiveness to customers, new product or revenue opportunities, increased visibility and/or accountability, or increased customer engagement.

Other robots takeovers, uh, takeaways

The shift toward human-machine collaboration is presenting new challenges:

  • 75% of respondents said their organizations were finding it difficult to recruit digital skills
  • More than 20% cited inadequate worker skills and/or training
  • The top three corporate initiatives enabled by content intelligence are employee engagement, customer engagement and digital transformation
  • The top three applications that consume the data generated by content intelligence are customer relationship management, business intelligence and risk management
  • The average expected increase in spending for content intelligence technologies over the next year is 31%

Robots for all

There’s also not a single industry targeted for this 50% robot-software addition to the workforce. “These technologies are relevant to all industries,” Muscolino said. “We see financial services firms and finance departments as the earliest adopters of some automation technologies.” And while the crux of the report notes the state of the future workforce in two years, “These solutions are available today for some use cases.”

Robots may come with warnings

But, like all things in life, your digital work associate comes with some caveats, Muscolino warned, “These technologies require new skillsets to deploy/maintain. Also, in many situations significant change management initiatives are required. Organizations need to analyze existing workflows to understand where to deploy automation resources. Many organizations establish cross-functional automation centers of excellence to bring together all relevant stakeholders and establish and govern best practices.”

Robots ‘augment’ human co-workers

The study, sponsored by digital-tech company ABBYY was comprised as a result of surveying 500 senior “decision-makers” in large enterprises in North America, the UK, Germany, France, and Australia.

“The IDC survey proves that automation can and should be human-centric, augmented with artificial intelligence,” said Bruce Orcutt, senior vice president of product marketing at ABBYY in a release. “Ethical, responsible automation will create a more productive, happier future where human workers can focus on higher-level, creative and socially responsible tasks, and customers get better experiences with faster service. Businesses that are early-adopters of incorporating content intelligence within their automation platforms will gain a significant competitive edge.”

For more, check out AI is key for business success, but lack of skilled staff remains a barrier on TechRepublic.

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