Automation is coming. We all know that. But what does it look like? It’s easy to conceive physical robots in factories and warehouses but much harder to imagine office based automation. I often get asked if there will little robots sitting at computers. As much as my seven year-old son believes that what I do, unfortunately, it’s not quite so dramatic. 

Some of the main software vendors refer to automation as the creation of office robots or bots and this features heavily in their branding.  This “robot” label is already disappearing to be replaced by friendlier terms such as “virtual worker”, “virtual user”, “virtual workforce” and “digital assistant”. 

These can be broken into two main categories: unattended (“virtual workers”) which don’t rely on a person triggering their activities and attended (“digital assistants”) which do nothing until a person asks them to.  Together the virtual users and digital assistants make up a virtual or digital workforce.

Examples in the workplace include a virtual user which scans an email box for invoices, when one is received it extracts the relevant details and enters them into the finance system or a virtual user that enters new start information into multiple systems to create user access and credentials.  A digital assistant exists on a staff member’s computer, takes instructions and goes off to do that task; depending on the organisation the activities could be vast from conducting research on potential clients before a meeting to booking a joiner to perform work on a Council owned property.

The virtual workforce is not intended to replace people. It’s intended to augment the human workforce and make it more productive.

The virtual workforce is not intended to replace people. It’s intended to augment the human workforce and make it more productive. By removing the repetitive menial and manual tasks that most people hate and are not good at, those people can concentrate on doing the things where they can add real value: problem solving, innovation, strategic decision making, relationship building, creative tasks, engagement, the list goes on.  Meanwhile, the old menial tasks are still being completed concurrently. 

Without a doubt, some organisations will see automation as an opportunity to reduce head count.  Those organisations are intending to do that anyway.  In our experience, most organisations see automation as an opportunity to boost productivity so that more can be achieved with less resources.  Matt Hancock MP recently went as far as saying the NHS must implement new technologies and automate to survive. 

Automation isn’t a future concept.  It’s happening and it’s practical.  It’s time to embrace the virtual workforce!

Alex Croucher is Director of Intelligent Automation at

About VKY

VKY are at the forefront of Intelligent Automation technology in the UK and are the first independent Scottish business to achieve partner status with both Automation Anywhere and UI Path – two of the top software vendors in the global automation market. We understand how to get the most out of the technology and how to avoid the pitfalls.  VKY will be presenting an Automation masterclass at DigitalScotland on 30 May 2019