Definition

digital labor

Digital labor is work that is performed by robotic process automation (RPA) systems. The digitization of labor is being facilitated by technologies such as cloud computing, social media, big data, mobility, data analytics and machine learning.

RPA software can be trained or configured without the need to manipulate code, so that business users can access and control the automation technology without the need for IT specialists. What distinguishes RPA from traditional automation is its ability to integrate multiple systems and enable them to adapt to changing circumstances.

The shift to digital labor will be driven mainly by robotic process automation, which is underpinned by three different classes of technologies, according to KPMG partner Cliff Justice:

  • Basic process automation - macros, scripts, screen scraping and business workflow technologies that sit at the OSI presentation layer.
  • Enhanced process automation -  technologies that use natural language processing.
  • Cognitive platforms - application software that is able to parse context and understand meaning.

Discussions around digital labor often include the impact its globalization will have on mature economies. Employing software robots can cost as little as one-third that of employing an offshore worker, and robots are expected to disrupt current outsourcing practices. The increasing digitization of labor is expected to drastically reduce the amount of effort that is currently required to produce services and products and will generate new jobs to support RPA.

This was last updated in February 2016

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