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Angela Salmeron

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Angela Salmeron

The digital workforce in the cognitive enterprise era

The way we conduct work is changing profoundly, and the current crisis has accelerated the transition to a digital future. The rise of the “digital co-worker” is a notable example.

IDC predicts that by 2025, 40% of the G2000 companies will augment their human staff with digital co-workers – powered by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics, and intelligent process automation (IPA) – designed to navigate and manage large ecosystems and perform complex cross-business interactions.

The future of work depends on AI augmentation

Digital co-workers are much needed in the new cognitive enterprise. The volatility, speed, and complexity of doing business today has created conditions that cannot be addressed optimally with human work only. Digital co-workers will be increasingly deployed to either perform repetitive tasks using AI/ML models or to augment employees' ability to act.

Digital co-workers will play an important role in supporting decision-making models for business agility and resilience. They can ingest large volumes of data, perform rapid scenario analysis and forecasting, and support employees with planning.

And this is just the beginning of the cognitive enterprise. With most companies suffering from poor knowledge management across business functions, digital co-workers can bridge data silos and decision-making silos and help separate signal from noise at scale.

Honing the human-digital worker relationship

Beyond the impact on the cognitive enterprise, digital co-workers will work side-by-side with human workers, augmenting their skills and automating tasks. By the end of 2021, IDC expects the contribution by digital co-workers will increase by 35% as more tasks are automated and augmented by technology, including AI, robotics, AR/VR, and intelligent process automation. Further ahead, human and machine collaboration will create synergies that we cannot possibly envisage today.

Change management and culture remain crucial

Digital co-workers will be an integral companion in our working lives, but they're business game changers too. Leadership teams need to carefully balance adoption of this technology with the right workforce and change management strategies, including governance, skills, ethics and cultural change. The adoption of digital co-workers, and intelligent technologies in general, will influence how enterprises view their labor models. According to IDC surveys, intelligent and automation technologies will likely augment rather than replace employees, as the chart below illustrates.

The adoption of digital co-workers, and intelligent technologies in general, will influence how enterprises view their labor models. According to IDC surveys, intelligent and automation technologies will likely augment rather than replace employees, as the chart below illustrates.

However, regional differences do exist:

  • In the U.S., 65% of enterprises are retraining or expecting to retrain their workforces rather than eliminate positions (13%).
  • In Europe, while intelligent technologies are augmenting employees in half of companies (51%), they are also more likely to create redundancies (26%).

Impact of intelligent technologies on employees

IDC believes employee retraining and development are crucial for organizations to survive and thrive in the digital world. In Europe, for example, companies will lose $229 billion in revenue by 2025 if they fail to address their digital skills gap.

Working hand in hand with intelligent systems will come with a learning curve for human employees. For example, they will have to learn to apply human judgement when working with digital co-workers to avoid potential bias and deviation from an accepted outcome and to conform with relevant governance frameworks and policies.

Intelligent investments in an intelligent workforce

Intelligent digital co-workers are a compelling solution, but investments in this technology must be grounded in a solid business case. With companies currently seeking quick ROI and time to value, it is no surprise that they are primarily targeting customer-facing business functions for automation, including marketing (79%), customer service and support (75%), and sales/distribution (75%), according to IDC. This outside-in/customer-first investment approach looks for maximum business impact. These intelligent companions will soon be indispensable in our work routines. And like human employees, their capabilities and impact on the business will be tracked in equal measure.

Choosing the right IT partner, with relevant technology expertise, full life-cycle services, and sound business acumen will be critical for success in deploying digital co-workers.

About Angela Salmeron

Angela Salmeron

Associate Research Director, European Future of Work at IDC. Angela has over 10 years of experience in the ICT industry and is currently an associate research director with IDC's European Future of Work research service, based in London. In this role, she provides coverage of key technology trends across the Future of Work, including the digital workspace, security and trust, collaborative platforms and the augmented worker.

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