Digital Technology
Aug 24, 2017

Bot control:  How to keep your digital workforce in line and functioning smoothly

We know how to manage the human workforce. But what about the digital workforce – the software robots we’re increasingly putting to work in today’s automated world?  Governance of these bots specifically, and of AI in general, is taking on new dimensions while gaining in complexity and importance. It's time we got a handle on managing this digital workforce, too.

Here’s why.  Consider a company with 100 employees. Suppose unexpectedly don’t show up to work one day.  The site manager would be stressed, no doubt.  But the problem would be controllable. Workflow could be realigned and expectations re-set with various stakeholders.

Now picture what would happen if 50 humans and 50 bots made up the same workforce. Suppose the IT team changed the passwords one day and the bots suddenly couldn’t sign onto their systems. The site manager might not even realize a problem existed.  And even if he did, they might not have systems in place to re-adjust the workflow and get the best out of remaining employees and bots.  But if an appropriate governance system were in place, this situation would be in hand—or it never would have happened in the first place.

Elon Musk, for one, is sounding an alarm. He argues that if we don’t institute better governance and regulations over our robots and AI, these intelligent machines could present the “biggest risk we face as a civilization.”  And while Robotics Governance organization is less dramatic and more pragmatic, its members worry, too.  Bottom line:  May be some overstate the potential threat, but it is clear that companies need more authority over their digital workforces

Governance considerations and recommendations

There is a range of governance models out there, from light, agile approaches, to those that call for a heavyweight process with centralized check-in and many sign-offs. Somewhere between the two extremes is often best.  The key is to choose a model with the right level of control that fits your company's needs and culture.

A center of excellence (CoE), consisting of stakeholders who work in every business unit, is a good place to start.  The governance structure, which the CoE formulates, should define the roles and responsibilities of everyone who oversees workforce automation. You will want to develop: 

  • Guidelines and templates for assessing, designing, developing, and deploying bots and AI systems, and enabling collaboration between business units
  • Frameworks for internal enterprise change management
  • Trackable  performance and productivity metrics to assess impact and highlight areas for improvement

In your discussions about who will take ownership of governance, make sure to include:

  • Legal, risk, IT, and all other due to be automated
  • Process-specific SMEs for insight on the process nuances
  • As you roll out your automation, be sure to align  production and development environments to make deployment a smooth one
  • Keep the IT team abreast of automated processes, and instruct IT to communicate any code changes to the operations team before the changes go into effect

To reduce operational risk and make sure your data is secure: Create a cross-functional team to clear temporary backlogs in case of bot failure

  • Maintain people in critical processes for error-free delivery

And to manage internal change: 

  • Involve human resources to support employee up-skilling, which brings value beyond the benefits from technology
  • Prepare employees to work alongside bots and AI systems

Finding the best governance approach is a balance.  Too much governance means you won’t fully realize the value proposition of automation.  On the other hand, too little governance results in process fragmentation and lack of control among other problems.

One last thought:  tomorrow’s leaders are going to desire a platform which provides the level of governance they need for their company’s automation journey.  A modular platform, with flexible automation deployment, may be your company’s most prudent investment.  A good one will let you begin with bots and move on to more advanced AI systems. The best will also have a comprehensive command and control methodology.

The transformational impact of automation and AI systems is affecting every industry. Governance of digital workforces is no longer an option. It is a must.

About the author

Dan Glessner

Dan Glessner

Vice President, Digital

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