The Art and Science of Robot Wrangling in the AI Era

Technology and cultural readiness are needed for organizations to master artificial intelligence and robotic process automation in the workplace.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

June 11, 2019

4 Min Read
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Recently a robot-staffed hotel in western Japan riffed its robots for "nonperformance." Turns out, those robots weren’t the best at hospitality. “It’s easier now that we’re not being frequently called by guests to help with problems with the robots,” one hotel staffer commented.

While in the knowledge economy, it's more common to see a robot reviewing a document than handing you fresh towels in your hotel room. As with any technology, proper management of robots in the workplace is essential. Organizations need to retool to ready themselves for the new realities of the hybrid workforce and a new type of performance management must be in place. Just as HR departments manage employees throughout the employee lifecycle from onboarding to disposition, IT must take a similar responsibility for robot wrangling -- from implementation, to evaluating robot performance, and spurring continuous productivity improvements through AI.

Here are a few tips to help guide technology leaders and IT teams in this endeavor:

Give the robot the right job

Once you’ve identified tasks and processes as candidates for automation, determine whether they fit the unattended, attended or hybrid model.

  • Unattended: Executes repetitive, rules-based tasks 24/7 and runs on a virtual desktop without human involvement. Typical tasks might include updating customer profiles, generating insurance renewal premiums, or handling requests for bank account overdraft protection.

  • Attended: Works alongside human workers on the employee desktop, provides process assistance with scripts and “show me” steps, and helps ensure compliance with standards and regulations.

  • Hybrid: Enables the passing of work between humans and robots, where the robot does some work automatically and helps employees do other tasks.

Is the process rules-based with limited variability, or does it require human judgment? For unattended robotic process automation (RPA), a good guideline is a benchmark of at least 70% of the process being rules-based and standardized (i.e., requiring 30% or less human judgment).

Establish KPIs for robot performance

Performance management is vital for robots as well as humans. Benchmark performance gains on every task handed off from human to robot. Is the organization more productive? Are you turning around transactions more quickly? With greater accuracy?

If a robot can create a loan approval letter in one minute where it would take an employee ten minutes, and the employee can now process 10 loans in the time it used to take to do four, it’s clear how much employee time can be shifted to more value-added projects.

Other robot KPIs might include:

  • Percentage of tasks eliminated in a human’s work queue

  • Reduced processing time by task

  • Elimination of downtime

  • Reduction in task repetition

You can’t incent a robot to perform better. If your robots aren’t performing optimally, perhaps they’ve not been assigned the right tasks?

Eliminate automation alienation

According to researchers at Deloitte Insights, “There’s a growing body of evidence that solutions created collaboratively by humans and machines are different from, and superior to, solutions created by either humans or machines individually. If this is true, then it follows that humans, so far from being replaceable, are essential partners in realizing AI’s optimal value.”

Employees must understand that robots make their lives easier. In the new hybrid workforce, it’s essential to have a capacity model that captures the work performed by both on a single dashboard. If the model does not account for all work types and volumes (regardless of who or what performs them), organizations run the risk of understaffing and hurting customer satisfaction or overstaffing and negatively impacting operating costs -- both negatively impacting employees.

Making this dashboard available to employees will demonstrate RPA improvements. Seeing is believing in gaining robot acceptance and understanding the overall value proposition.

Be open to the robot re-engineering process

Moving to a large-scale hybrid workforce will require a new mix of human and robotic talent. Companies that are successful with RPA don’t ignore cultural concerns. This will give rise to the emergence of a new breed of business/tech professional -- the chief automation officer – who will drive the people-process-and technology changes needed for injecting AI and automation into the organization. His or her purview will entail collaborating with other leaders in the organization on everything from navigating the legal implications around ethical use of AI to new responsibilities for reskilling and reallocating human resources.

Per Accenture, the impact of AI technologies on business is projected to bump up labor productivity by up to 40%. The AI era is upon us, and it isn’t a drop in the ocean, it’s a tsunami. It’s not an IT initiative, it’s the future of work as we know it. The time is now to claim your leadership position.


Ryan Hollenbeck is senior vice president and customer experience program executive sponsor, for Verint, a global leader in Actionable Intelligence® solutions with a focus on customer engagement and cyber intelligence. In this role, Hollenbeck confers with business and public sector leaders from amongst more than 10,000 organizations in more than 180 countries -- including over 85% of the Fortune 10 -- on technology-fueled strategies to help them make more informed, effective and timely decisions. 

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Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary

The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT professionals in a meaningful way. We publish Guest Commentaries from IT practitioners, industry analysts, technology evangelists, and researchers in the field. We are focusing on four main topics: cloud computing; DevOps; data and analytics; and IT leadership and career development. We aim to offer objective, practical advice to our audience on those topics from people who have deep experience in these topics and know the ropes. Guest Commentaries must be vendor neutral. We don't publish articles that promote the writer's company or product.

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