digital labor

What is 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.

Types of digital labor technologies

A primary driver in the shift to digital labor is RPA, which includes different technologies, including the following:

  • Basic process automation -- macros, scripts, screen scraping and business workflow technologies that sit at the Open Systems Interconnection (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.
Graphic showing the different types of tasks you should automate with RPA including high-volume, repetitive, labor-intensive, rules-based and low-variance tasks

The broader implications of digital labor

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 October 2021

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