M&E Journal: Virtual Digital Labor for Hire

By Ashish Tikku, Regional Intelligent Automation and Industry Solutions Lead, Avanade

The development phase is over. You’ve got a great script in hand, have scouted locations and talent, and secured the funds. Now, you’re ready to bring the film to life. But before production can start, you have to tackle the critical but mundane tasks of your work. From grips and set builders to actors and composers, you need the right people in the right place at the right time — and you need to make sure they get paid. Onboarding and offboarding has to happen quickly and efficiently. After all, time is money in the M&E industry. And there’s no room for error.

What if this process happened automatically? What if there was a robot that could be trained to collect the necessary data, copy it onto the systems that need it, and send out reminders and confirmations? This possibility is no longer confined to the plot lines of sci-fi movies. Intelligent automation and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) are transforming the entire industry.

Built on fast-evolving technology like artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning, these robots can absorb the tasks that consume your resources. In turn, you can realize lower business costs and improved worker productivity in higher value tasks.

Meet the virtual autonomous digital worker

Automation is nothing new. For decades, organizations have been automating their business processes with varied degrees of success. This was mostly accomplished through workflow or desktop recorded automations using native software development kits. While both approaches solved the desire for automation, they did not help reduce operating costs. The low return on investment raised the question: was it worth it?

Now, there is a new wave of RPA tools that are enabling an autonomous virtual digital workforce. That’s not to say that a digital workforce exists to replace the human workforce — rather, it highlights these tools’ ability to automate end-to-end work. These automated solutions are designed to run without human oversight, so they require a different level of resiliency and auditability. Here’s a glimpse at what is required of this new workforce:

* There should be a small number of humans responsible for managing digital workers.

* Digital workers should have access to the relevant applications needed to run multiple automations.

* Digital workers should be enabled to run multiple processes.

While this new age workforce is managed by the business and operated under IT policies, these digital workers are autonomous and can execute business processes without supervision. Like the human workforce, virtual digital workers should be designed to reflect this shift in automation.

Why design and deploy workers in the cloud

Most organizations are already enabling their human workforce to utilize the endless capabilities of cloud computing. In order to allow virtual digital workers to graduate from performing event-driven automation to more complex decision-based process automation, they must be designed and enabled in the cloud. This would give them native cloud cognitive and machine learning capabilities that make the digital worker more intelligent.

RPAs can utilize cloud cognitive capabilities to enhance intelligence by leveraging optical character recognition (OCR) and natural language processing, such as Microsoft Azure’s LUIS. These allow digital workers to understand, analyze and interpret conversations and digital images via computer vision. Digital workers can use these skills to instantly and intelligently manage workloads, auto-scale as needed and use automatic process mining to analyze business processes based on event logs.

Extended capabilities for autonomous digital workers

Say you want to add a special effect to one of your episodes. Or perhaps you need to create an ad deliverable. There are many different people who need to see the content and approve it before it can be incorporated — a process that takes time and is prone to human error. Automating the content approval process can increase your productivity, efficiency, and accuracy, helping to ensure, and even accelerate, compliance.

However, this type of content approval still needs to be governed by security policies and profiles. Digital workers should assume their own individual identity and not impersonate existing user profiles. In a rush to implement automated RPA bots, many organizations make the mistake of assuming that these bots will perform tasks previously performed by human workers and should, therefore, assume similar identities and profiles. But enabling accounts used by employees opens up access privileges not required by a digital worker and can potentially introduce a vulnerability that can be exploited.

There are other important things to consider:

* Digital worker identifications should be clear within the overall workforce structure and relieved of the human administration processes that are not required. This includes social security numbers, pay and benefits, and review and compliance assessments pertaining to initial and annual disciplines and consents.

* Digital workers should have defined ownership within the organization, preferably enabled by the entity creation.

* Digital workers should be owned by the line of business and managed by the Center of Excellence. Both should be accountable for the request, utilization, audit and retirement of the digital worker’s ID.

A future-ready genre

Recently, Avanade has found success modeling its pilot programs on this paradigm. For example, during a design thinking and process discovery session with a client, we realized that managing queries from customers, partners and resellers took several hours for support teams to read emails, track the cases, query data from various sources and send a response.

To simplify this process, we designed a pilot workflow using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services and Blue Prism’s digital worker and deployed it in Azure cloud. This digital worker now converts emails into CRM tickets; monitors the queue and assigns tickets for resolution; feeds ticket details through machine learning for intent identification and classification; extracts data, such as purchase orders and shipment numbers; gathers desired information from line of business applications, including SAP, CRM and order management; and sends queries back to the customer.

This simple, yet intelligent, automated workflow enabled the client to increase its success exponentially and allowed it to scale virtual digital workers on demand.

For companies eager to employ virtual digital workers, now is the time to start. Their entry into the workforce can start small, but there is great potential for continuous improvement and growth. By taking over the mundane and repetitive tasks, you can accelerate the production process and turn the spotlight back on the creativity that defines your business.


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