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What is a Digital Worker?

Posted by Charlotte Foglia

What is a Digital Worker?

In the future, work as we know it will be vastly different (if predictions hold true). Automation will replace humans in many roles, and more demand will be placed on higher-order cognitive, social, and emotional skills. “Busy work” will cease to exist, freeing our time for more creative and strategic endeavors. Companies will completely re-envision their structure and processes to support the new way we get work done.

Much of this is predicated on the emergence and evolution of “digital workers”. But what are these “digital workers”? Are they humans equipped with the right technology to do better, smarter work? Or are they AI “employees” taking over roles previously done by humans?

The answer is a bit of both. Let’s explain.

What is a digital worker?

As technology advances, our definition of the digital worker is evolving. Today there are two working definitions.

One describes a virtual employee of sorts that can be trained to carry out automated tasks, such as creating invoices or answering customer questions. Forrester defines it as “a combination of IA (intelligent automation) building blocks, such as conversational intelligence and RPA (robotic process automation), that work alongside employees. They understand human intent, respond to questions, and take action on the human’s behalf, leaving humans with control, authority, and an enhanced experience.”

Allwork simplifies the definition to the following, “Technology, such as artificial intelligence or robotics, that performs tasks previously accomplished by a human worker.”

As machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) continues to improve, the complexity that digital workers can handle also progresses, enabling them to learn by doing, rather than being limited by pre-defined rules. This frees human employees for more creative and strategic work.

The second definition for a digital worker is less futuristic but no less viable and probably more relevant to the current state of most organizations. It defines a digital worker as an employee with digital skills that uses computers and/or computerized information to carry out or support their work function.

The rise of the digital worker has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, compressing growth that normally would have taken a few years into just a few months. According to a recent global Gartner survey, technology mastery is moving faster than ever. The proportion of respondents who say they are digital experts increased by more than 30% from 2019 to 2021.

At the same time, the number of workers who want to continue to work remotely is also contributing to the rising digital workforce. According to PWC’s US Remote Work Survey from November and December of 2020, 55% of employees want to remain remote at least three days a week post-pandemic.

Upgrading accidental digital workplaces to intentional ones

More digitally savvy employees and the shift to remote working are pushing companies to ramp up their digital transformations to better retain and attract top talent. Digital workers expect technologies that are in line with their level of mastery, and the flexibility to work where, when, and how they want.

In the rush to accommodate the work-from-home situations required by the pandemic, many companies have built what we call “accidental digital workplaces”. These are experiences built less by design and more by raw need. While they may address the most pressing requirements in terms of basic communication and access, they are not built to scale and evolve.

A digital workplace should do more than just exist. It should not simply be a collection of collaboration and productivity tools that your company implemented.

Two employees connected on laptops technically comprise a digital workplace—but how good is it? What matters is the experience and the quality of the collaboration. Today’s uneven remote work experiences reveal the deficiencies in accidental digital workspaces.

Clouds, content platforms, apps, and collaboration tools are all steps in the right direction. The next phase for companies would be to transform processes using AI to augment human workers, but many aren’t there yet. In reality, what ends up happening is these technologies throw off inhuman amounts of data, which overwhelms the people doing the work.

How can companies achieve an effective and intentional digital workplace, without drowning their employees in a sea of information?

Improving the digital worker experience with Content Intelligence

Communication and collaboration tools and project management and workflow tools are the building blocks of a digital workplace. But the thing that moves a digital workplace from good to great is the ability to mine all of these tools for valuable knowledge and insights.

Content Intelligence makes this possible, connecting disparate data and using NLP and machine learning to truly understand the meaning and context of each piece of data. This saves employees time not just in searching for and aggregating information, but in analyzing and understanding its relevance to a given query.

When companies are planning their digital workplaces, it’s important to understand where the bottlenecks are. For example, do employees have to access multiple enterprise systems in order to complete business processes? Are they missing information as they go through business process steps? Are insights being overlooked because they are only shared informally over Slack?

Industry research shows that employees spend an inordinate amount of time looking for information, wasting hours per week. With Content Intelligence, digital workers can find what they need quickly and easily, from one point of access. It also solves the “you don’t know what you don’t know” problem, bringing forward information that an employee might not have been aware existed, or realized was connected to the issue at hand.

When digital workers spend less time searching for what they need, they can spend more time on high-value tasks. Productivity goes up. Engagement and well-being improve. Innovation thrives.

In fact, an IDC/ABBYY whitepaper, “Content Intelligence for the Future of Work”, found that 40% of companies that implemented Content Intelligence technologies saw increased employee productivity or increased customer satisfaction.

More than 30% reported “an improvement in responsiveness to customers, new product or revenue opportunities, increased visibility and accountability, or increased customer engagement.

A positive digital worker experience starts with a smart content intelligence solution. Learn more about the power of intelligent search here.