What is a digital worker in RPA?



Q: What is a digital worker in RPA?

A: A software robot that automates tasks and processes. Whenever someone talks about “digital workers” or “virtual employees” in an RPA context, they’re simply talking about software bots – programs trained to execute specific actions in specific applications.


Looking past the label

Despite the label, a digital worker is not truly comparable with a human worker. Even the most advanced types – those that use AI and machine learning as they automate – can still only work within a set range.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. Whatever label you prefer – software bots, virtual employees, digital workers – these automated assistants represent the next generation of white collar digital transformation.

So, to get more specific, what is a digital worker in RPA used for, and what different types can you find?


Different types of digital worker

“Digital worker” is something of an umbrella term. It’s often used to refer to (subtly) different types of automated assistants synonymously. Of these different types, the main categories include:

  • Software bots

Computer programs that automatically complete tasks for you.

In traditional business process automation, a software bot is often really just a bit of rule-based conditional programming.

In RPA, meanwhile, the bot can work at the interface level. This means it navigates an application in much the same way a real human would, with clicks and scrolls.

  • Attended bots

An attended bot works in conjunction with, and under the direction of, human employees on front-office tasks.

It won’t trigger without human intervention, and it will handle tasks for the individual employee. (Rather than operating on a company-wide basis.)

  • Unattended bots

A bot that operates in the background, triggering and complete routine tasks automatically.

Once configured, an unattended bot will handle repetitive back-office processes by itself. This can be at the interface level, or via an engine of back-end “if this, then that” rules.

  • Intelligent automation

Intelligent automation is the most recent category of digital worker.

These virtual employees leverage a mix of different technologies – process automation, machine learning, natural language processing, cognitive technologies, computer vision, etc.

And, in so doing, they can then automate ever-more complex tasks. (Ones previously not possible without AI capabilities.)


So what is a digital worker in RPA good for?

You can train a digital worker to handle almost any process. It can take over more formulaic elements, or handle the entire process end-to-end.

For example, you might have an accounts bot that automates high-volume tasks. Think invoice processing, reconciliation, and payment processing.

Or, you might have a digital worker trained in IT admin. The bot would handle processes like user management, instance creation, and report generation, for instance.

Perhaps your digital worker operates across the supply chain. Here, it might assist with checking stock quantities and pricing.

Maybe it’s a customer support bot. In this scenario, then, the digital worker will field online queries, answer FAQ, and perform basic account admin. (E.g., parsing emails into a CRM.)

The general rule of thumb is that if it’s a routine process, it’s a process suitable for a virtual or digital employee.

But if it’s a process that requires creativity, nuance, or soft skills, it’s one requiring human attention.


The promise of the digital worker

The promise of the digital worker in RPA is that of a blended workforce. Humans and bots work alongside each other in a faster and more efficient workplace.

So, boons include increased employee bandwidth, reallocation of human resources, and smarter, smoother process completion.

In turn, this represents a shift in the way we perceive and apportion human work.

Virtual employees handle the repetitive administrative processes. And human employees are then made available for value-added or strategic work.


In conclusion

So, what is a digital worker in RPA?

It’s software-based labour designed to automate common office processes.


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