Tim Barnes, Head of Robotic Process & Automation, Telstra
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterized by a fusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological. In his book, “Shaping the 4th Industrial Revolution”, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum believes that we must act now to shape the brave new world technology is creating, rather than letting it simply emerge.
Advances in communications, connectivity, cloud computing and an ever-increasing deluge of data are providing the perfect circumstances for rapid advancements in automation. It is inevitable that sooner rather than later, we’ll all be working with or at least augmented by ‘bots’, created through a variety of robotic and automation solutions built specifically to increase productivity in the workplace.
Whilst there is little dissention that the digital workforce will account for a substantial proportion of productivity over the next 10 years, it's still rare to see the use of ‘bots’ even mentioned in corporate workforce strategy. It’s now becoming increasingly critical for businesses to integrate the digital tools and not to alienate or eliminate humans from it.
According to Schwab, there has, ‘Never been a time of greater promise or potential peril’, where the line between capability and capital no longer exists.
It’s now becoming increasingly critical for businesses to integrate the digital tools and not to alienate or eliminate humans from it
Proactivity, agility and a versatile, lean workforce are going to be key requirements for navigating the uncertainty.
At Telstra, our T22 strategy is about preparing for the future. New digital platforms underpin the strategy to enable industry-leading cost reduction, simplified product offerings, structure and ways of working that empower our people to better serve our customers.
One of the first steps in building ‘bots’ at Telstra has been using Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Bots can be programmed to complete some of the complex, structured processes across numerous and varied types of applications. They can work 24x7, completing processes quickly and consistently delivering results with unerring accuracy.
However, RPA does have limitations and cannot provide the same ‘cognitive thought’ that humans can. For more cognitive tasks, we need ‘machine learning’, which despite the over-hyped name, is essentially good old-fashioned mathematics. The addition of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) gives our employees ‘eyes’ to read documents, while Natural Language Processing (NLP) enables language comprehension and sentiment analysis. Other more advanced techniques such as ‘Deep learning’ and ‘Reinforcement learning’ mimic intelligence and reasoning with seemingly super-human powers.
At Telstra, we are proactively educating our workforce about digital tools and systems that can be of use. We have created new roles for RPA Process Controllers and RPA Developers within the business who look after the operational management of the bots. We have also launched training on a suite of automation tools available to all employees. On the day training was launched, we received over 200 applications from employees keen to learn how to develop bots.
By proactively planning for a future where digital tools perform the work and our people are elevated to manage these tools, we are embracing the opportunities technology provides.