Humans vs. Bots – Who will win in the workplace?

Debunking the paranoia that bots are taking over our jobs.

Melissa L. Edwards

Melissa L. Edwards

Managing Director, Digital Enablement, KPMG US

+1 703-286-8207

Debunking the paranoia that bots are taking over our jobs, this TECH talk focuses on the realities of where workforce disruption will actually occur and how to leverage the digital employee for effective results.

Video transcript

Good morning. When I get a chance to spend some time with a client of mine, a healthcare organization, and I walk down their halls and experience what their employees are seeing on a day to day basis, it is a wonderful experience of community.


Let me give you some examples. First of all, there's a Starbucks on every floor, which I certainly like. There's a cafeteria with rotating stations and specials every day. Sometimes celebrity chefs from the city come in. There are blood drives on a weekly basis, as you would expect for a healthcare organization. There's parties every week in the conference room. They're also very big into the health of the employee. At the bottom level of their organization, they have a Lucky Strike, a bowling alley. Employees frequently be seen there. Zumba classes, CrossFit, Pure Barre. They even have a lash bar. Well, you didn't come here to hear me talk about lash bars. Instead, what I wanted to explore with you is really, are these organizations right for automation, and is automation right for them?


Do they have the conditions that would make for automation and artificial intelligence? Does their workforce actually need this type of work for them in their organization? And lastly, if the answer to that is all yes, then how do you prepare for that? How do you prepare your employees? How do you prepare the organization for that? Coming back to our healthcare example, they have two whole floors in their central office dedicated to billing and finance.


And their revenue cycles specialists spend time with insurance companies, processing claims, processing rejected claims, fulfilling medical records requests, taking phone calls, from you sometimes, about “Why is my bill so high? I don't know what this code means.” Because in healthcare, the lifeblood of the back office, unlike the front office, it's really about days receivables outstanding. How quickly we can get monies owed to us back from insurers, and sometimes back from our patients. And their revenue cycle specialists spend time dealing with that.


And sometimes that work can be very manual and very repeatable. It can be about downloading reports and looking to see “Was there missing information in something we need to submit to an insurer. Are there errors in the documentation we're trying to submit?” Sometimes looking at an Excel spreadsheet on one side of a screen and actually comparing that to another system on the other side of the screen, copying data from one system, pasting it into another system. Highly repetitive work and lots of it. They process over millions and millions of claims every year. And this highly repetitive work that we do over and over again, well they refer to that as soul crushing work, because there's so much of it and it never seems to end.


I want to give you a little picture for what this might look like. So those two floors in their corporate office are about length of a football field, with another football field right next to it. So they need a significant number of people to process and meet their requirement to the business for what they're hoping to achieve on their DRO. And it's a struggle. It's a struggle to meet those metrics. I wanted to look and see, well “why is that? Why are we having that trouble and what is the reason for that?” So, I come back to the billing analyst, the claims specialist, the person who's taking your phone call about why claims are so high. And the business feels as though it needs about a thousand people to do that amount of work.


But it gets a little more complicated from there because even at a thousand people for this type of work, it's hard to keep people interested. And there are a number of factors that are accounting for approximately about an 18% attrition rate in just this particular area. So, we can do the math pretty easily. A thousand people is what we need just to essentially manage where we are today, but they're losing over the last year, 180 people, and they only get back about half of that. And the reason that attrition is happening like we're seeing it is, one, the work isn't terribly fulfilling, but that's not the only reason. There's a war for talent. I'm sure many of you see that. There's lots of opportunities for the employee. There's something else that's happening, too. Those parties in the conference room that happen on a regular basis –a lot of those are retirement parties. People who've been there 30 and 40 years celebrating a wonderful, wonderful experience with the organization, well they're leaving now.


These numbers, about 18 to 20% attrition, have really caught up with the business, and even hiring back isn't getting the work done. And if we need a thousand people to do the work, that's creating a pretty significant gap in terms of productivity. And many of you may have faced this in a similar way and there are ways that you can fill that gap. Ideally, maybe rethink how the work gets done. That's easier said than done. Over the last 20 years, we've seen a tremendous amount of offshoring, third parties. That's certainly an option. But it still is a significant gap and the gap keeps getting wider and wider. And so this work that those revenue specialists are performing, the billing specialists are doing. A lot of that work we see is really ripe for different forms of automation. That can actually really perform well, with highly repeatable tasks, certainly with a lot of volume. You can actually program it to download a report, to look for inaccuracies, and the bots actually have the nice advantage of actually being able to work 24/7. So, it's ideal when you're faced with this productivity gap.


And it can have a nice impact. It doesn't solve the problem as a whole, but it can absolutely have a nice impact. Because you see bots are really good at tasks, but they're not good at whole careers, whole jobs, they're good at certain tasks. So, we'll explore that a little bit more, but even with automation, it doesn't solve the problem, but it's helpful. And I want you to remember this, because we're going to come back in just a minute. I think they say now “put a pin in it”. Let's put a pin in that. We'll come back to it in a minute. We talk about, well, “how do we message this with our workforce? Are bots coming to take our jobs?” And, this is something that people talk about. In fact, if you don't believe me, there's actually a website. Will A Robot Take My Job. And, I welcome you to pull out your internet machines or your devices and look it up yourself, if you're curious. If I have any KPMG colleagues in the room, I beg of you, don't look up accountant, you probably won't like what the answer says.


But for the billing specialist, that answer isn't very good. And you could imagine what that might look like. And so, we invite you to essentially think about your new office mates. Lots of organizations now, well maybe not physically, have a look like what you see here are certainly looking at digital workers to augment some of that soul crushing work that your employees really don't enjoy doing, and oftentimes can lead to that attrition.


As we think about, is your work automateable, is your workforce ripe for automation? Is the work ripe for automation? Then how do you prepare for what's to come? And how do you address that concern? Well, are we just going to be a workforce of robots? Right? How do we think about this? How do we prepare our employees for this? And when I think about that, I'm reminded of a story from the very famous economist Milton Friedman, who studied the labor market globally. And back in the 60s he took a trip to China to see some of the new labor programs that they started. He wanted to understand how were they so successful, really learn from these new labor programs that China had started. And his host took him to a construction site where they were working on building on a new canal. And when he got there, he was a little puzzled because he looked around and he saw all these labors with shovels.


He said to his host, “Where's the machinery? Where are the backhoes? Where are the steam shovels? How come we don't see that here?" And his host said, "Well, Doctor Friedman, this is a jobs program. We're offering jobs." And he thought about that and he said, "Well, if this is a jobs program that maybe you should give them spoons." I think it's such a profound statement because are you in the business of just providing jobs at any costs? Or are you in the business of getting worked done in the most efficient way and trying to offer an engaging work environment at the same time? Creating a workplace that employees love to be a part of, and all of those are possible. And to do that, we encourage organizations to think about future-proofing what your business can look like to make that happen.


And we call that workforce shaping. And sometimes it's about creating the workforce you need from the workforce you have. And looking into your sort of crystal ball, if you will, for what's to come. Maybe it's looking a year down the road, three years, five years, ten years down the road—and thinking about some basic principles as you start to think about the future. And really what we think that means is creating a digital mindset. And it isn't just a digital mindset from the top leaders in the organization, but really across the business. And there are four things that we find to be very indicative of what creates a digital mindset. And the first is that everyone is a leader.


And what that means is that, in essence, you have a part of the business. Everyone has a part of the business and we're all responsible for our success and to guard against failures. And creating that in all of your employees so that they're vested in the future. It's also about connecting end to end, and this is a, I find, a really interesting concept. It's something that organizations, because of the way we've structured them, sometimes find complex. And what that means is, looking at a process not from just what's happening in your team, or work in front of you, or in your department, but across the organization. How does a consumer expect to procure services from you or interact with your business? They don't know what your departments and your organization structure looks like.


They only know they want to have an experience or some goods, or something coming out of it at the end. And so seeing end-to-end is really a new way to think about how you actually run your business, and with a skillset that will be important in the future for that. Everyone's an innovator in your business and that was very effective in the hospital organization that I referred to earlier. They just recently finished running a bot-athon, where they asked everybody in the organization to share ideas around what to automate in their business. Some of these automations were actually tasks that those revenue specialists were performing, and you know what? They didn't care. Because they know there's enough work to go around to keep them plenty busy, but they don't want to do this soul crushing work anymore. They’re happy to share their ideas. And by the way, when they ran their contest, there's no money involved. There was nothing like that. It was just about being able to put your idea forward, being heard and seeing your idea implemented.


And last but not least, is really the courage to challenge. This means acting fast. You have an idea and working quickly on it and encouraging people to experiment. It might mean failing fast as well, but then trying again. When I get asked the question, “Who will win, humans versus bots?” I think my answer is really this, as humans, our ability to imagine, to invent, to even reinvent is really limitless. So choose humans every time.

Thank you.