We are entering a golden age of AI-powered digital employees, according to computing and services giant IBM.

With the infusion of artificial intelligence (AI) into automation, we will see an “accelerated adoption of intelligent digital employees that will support knowledge workers”, says a recent IBM Research paper.

The concept of a digital employee – formerly known as a software robot – is not new, with companies such as SS&C Blue Prism, UiPath, Chinese provider Laiye, MuleSoft (part of Salesforce), and others, competing in the robotic process automation (RPA) space, now commonly referred to as intelligent automation. IBM itself is increasingly moving into the market.

In IBM’s view, ‘The Great Resignation’ (in which many workers re-evaluated their lives during pandemic lockdowns), together with skill shortages, supply chain disruptions, increased remote working, and agile process redesign are pushing more and more companies towards using digital employees – bots augmented with AI.

IBM Research, along with several academic institutions, recently published an augmented business process manifesto covering the definitive qualities of a digital employee. 

According to the manifesto, a digital employee should be:

  • autonomous in order to act independently and proactively
  • conversationally actionable to seamlessly interact with humans whenever necessary
  • adaptive and dynamic to react to changes in its environment
  • self-improving to ensure the optimal achievement of its goals
  • explainable to ensure the trust and cooperation of human agents

However, more work needs to be done to better support businesses beyond current solutions that combine automation with AI, acknowledges IBM.

“One area in particular is the limited availability of developer talent. As a result, operational inefficiencies continue to exist and time-to-market — a crucial factor for businesses to remain competitive — is compromised,” it says.

Another ongoing challenge is the need to ensure the trustworthiness of digital employees with AI “explainability”, adds IBM.

“Specific to automation, we must ensure transparency and fairness in how a system learns, remembers preferences, adequately reasons, and acts towards the attainment of users’ goals.”