With skilled workers becoming increasingly hard to find, could a digital employee be the answer to chronic skills shortages?
According to research from City and Guilds, nine in ten business struggles to locate the skilled staff they need. Kirstie Donnelly, managing director of City & Guilds, said: “The UK is facing a skills gaps crisis which, if this crisis goes unaddressed, could have a disastrous impact on UK businesses’ ability to compete on a global scale post-Brexit.”
The use of AI systems across many business processes has been expanding over the last few years. As the technology has progressed, specific business functions have seen a rise in their use of automated systems – most notably within customer services and HR.
How businesses and organizations use AI-based systems could be about to change with the development of DigitalWorkforce.ai from IPsoft. Described as the first-of-its-kind marketplace, the new service will enable businesses to download AI-powered digital workers that come with decades of experience in enterprise AI for specific roles, skills and industries.
Digital employees that can collaborate with human colleagues to enable
businesses to cloud source AI-powered digital workers that come with decades of experience in enterprise AI for specific roles, skills and industries, and with advanced cognitive, self-learning and conversational capabilities. The first available job role is IT Service Desk Engineer.
IPsoft explains: “The Digital Employee marketplace industrializes and democratizes AI use within enterprises by providing a new, intuitive way to hire digital workers quickly. This defines a new category of enterprise AI-powered by Amelia, IPsoft’s cognitive AI agent. Unlike solutions underpinned solely by chatbots or robotic process automation (RPA), Amelia’s cognitive intelligence allows her to interact naturally with humans and continuously learn from every interaction, all while integrating and communicating with back-end systems.”
Amelia makes hiring digital workers easy by helping them integrate seamlessly into a company’s systems, as well as providing systems management and access. When businesses onboard Digital Employees, they join the ranks of some of the world’s leading global brands in building the Future of Work, with digital and human co-workers collaborating on critical functions, roles and projects.
The future of HR?
To gain an insight into how AI could transform human resources into the future, Silicon UK spoke with Chetan Dube, CEO and Founder, IPsoft and began by asking: What does automation mean for small businesses? What processes can they automate today using current technologies?
Many SMBs have already adopted automation solutions, such as chatbots. However, these are limited by their inability to verge off script and have a natural, human-like conversation. So, while they’ve opened up the opportunity for SMBs to compete with larger enterprises on customer service, by enabling 24/7 access, their inability to answer complex requests ultimately frustrates customers. This, in turn, can leave lasting damage to a company’s reputation.
To overcome this challenge, SMBs are increasingly investing in more sophisticated and intelligent solutions. Digital customer service agents, for example, leverage artificial intelligence, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and neural network algorithms to deliver more human-like experience that is more satisfying to users and to execute tasks independently, so they can resolve customer queries. This is genuinely helping small firms punch above their weight for customer experience.
AI-powered digital employees are also able to automate business operations functions, such as in IT, finance and HR. For micro-businesses, in particular, some of these roles would previously not have been present due to the significant capital investment of hiring an employee to fill that role. However, these are roles which support business growth and productivity – mainly if it means that other employees aren’t having to “chip-in” to get them done.
For example, a digital employee can act as an HR specialist to support in onboarding new employees to provide access to company systems (so HR managers need to just make one request to “onboard Joe Bloggs” vs individual requests for building access, IT resources, etc.). Automating operations services in this way not only saves capital but also frees up human resources to focus on more value-add tasks, for example, HR teams can then focus on building a great training programme or supporting a recruitment drive.
Is the future of small business management creating entities (these could be bots or other intelligent agents) to help owner/managers better run their businesses?
Digital employees present a mostly untapped opportunity among the small and micro-business community, despite the immense opportunity that they present for firms where time doesn’t just equal money – but is critical to innovation, finding new customers, and fighting for a share of their market.
Business leaders should be actively seeking to build a hybrid workforce of digital and human employees. Digital employees can both take on the repetitive, rote tasks to relieve humans to focus on more complex issues, as well as act as a whisper agent to provide guidance around completing company processes or following industry regulations. This augments the ability of the human workforce to work more productively and create greater value.
Business leaders themselves can use digital employees as an executive assistant, to help by diary management and to ensure that they can always quickly and easily access the critical business information they need to make decisions.
What are the key challenges facing the small and micro business owner wanting to use more automation? Isn’t AI and Machine Learning only for big businesses?
Small and micro business owners have previously been held back by the cost and complexity of undergoing an AI project. Many sophisticated AI technologies that have been shown to deliver ROAI (Return on AI Investment), like digital employees, were only available through large and expensive enterprise packages. It often would also require the company to hire in-demand and expensive talent with AI or automation expertise to implement and manage the new technology.
However, new procurement channels for AI are dramatically transforming how SMBs integrate new technologies, making it more affordable and accessible for every organization. For example, IPsoft’s online marketplace, digitalworkforce.ai, allows businesses of any size to go online and browse, interview and onboard digital workers – is already paving the way for complete democratization of AI.
What was previously an advanced technology that only large organizations could afford, like banks or telecommunications providers, is now available at the click of a button for micro and small businesses alike. With an online marketplace for digital workers, none tech-savvy workers will have a quick and cost-effective way to browse and cloud-sourced digital employees with a wide range of skills and role-specific knowledge.
Is a bot or other Machine Learning-based entity, a small business’s next employee?
As we approach a point of ‘uberisation’ of digital employees, there is no doubt that small and micro-businesses will rapidly evolve towards a hybrid workforce. Indeed, Forrester predicted one-tenth of start-ups would emerge with more digital workers than human ones by 2030.
In the years ahead, expect to see digital employees playing an increasingly important role in improving productivity and innovation in small firms by freeing up human staff for higher-value tasks.
Will some freelancers and micro-business eventually be competing against AI-based services?
Freelancers are typically employed based on the desired skillset or to manage a specific project. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will compete for a freelance role. We may see further stimulation for the gig economy as more cumbersome business processes are automated, as firms can focus more resource and attention on value-add projects that may require additional skillsets.
For micro-businesses, it won’t be that their own services will be competing against AI-based services. However, there will be hot competition between those firms using AI-based services and those that don’t. With the productivity gains on the table, those that do will undoubtedly gain a competitive edge in the years to come.
What does small business automation look like in 2025?
The world of work is changing dramatically. By 2025, I predict that the workplace will be 50:50 human-digital colleagues. From coordinating HR administration, such as expenses and office management, to IT service desk management, such as troubleshooting and device configuration, digital employees will play a key role in helping small businesses run smoothly, managing repetitive requests and processes in the background, around the clock.
In the future, we’ll see business owners employ digital employees in a variety of horizontal and vertical roles: IT, HR, banking, insurance, healthcare, retail, telecommunications and more. In the next five years, the volume and complexity of tasks that can be automated will only become more impressive and more transformational.