The Phenomenon of Digital Labour

By Madhvi Mavadiya | 30 June 2016

It is of paramount importance that humans and systems are employed in the most beneficial way for businesses. Alongside this, with the number of requirements that need to be applied because of increased regulatory reporting, risk management and investor transparency obligations, it is untenable to exist in industries that offer a multitude of solutions. bobsguide spoke to Michael Henry, General Manager, Global Client Onboarding, KPMG LLP New York about the subject, the digital labourer and the future of data.  

Where did the digital labourer emerge from?

I think this phenomenon of digital labour is in its infancy but at the same time, there have been many historical precedents. In the US, at the turn of the twentieth century, 80% of working age people were working in agriculture, but if you had told them that by the turn of the next century, only 0.03% of the population would be working in agriculture, it would have scared everybody.

Why didn’t this cause a labour problem?

It just didn’t. Back then, we were going to have a whole class of people trying to find jobs and yet, we seem to have made it through. That’s an example of mechanical labour taking the place of human labour and the same principles apply today. In a world in which capital is against labour, when machines have the capability of doing something, everyone is going to have to make a decision about whether or not they want to perform the function with people or with machines.

Is this just an evolution thing?

Over time, the machine capability will get better and cheaper and we will still have plenty of work for humans to do. I don’t think anyone in the UK or the US dreams about working in farming and alongside this, no one aspires to sit at a desk and do the horrible job of staring and comparing. It’s a question of increasing the capabilities of technology and taking the place of jobs that human beings don’t like to do or are poorly suited to do.

Could you give an example of how this worked?

I’ve worked with a general insurance company who insure rolling stock for railroads and if you’re familiar with that business, you would know that controlling the integrity of a particular railroad car is a huge cost. The way insurance companies assess claims and damage in rolling stock is by sampling, which is not the most efficient way of doing this.

How did the company ensure that the process was more productive?

One of the innovative technologies, which we can call the digital labourer in this case, was to introduce a fleet of drones that could follow and monitor the cars so that video footage and analytics could be used to inspect the damage.

What are the advantages of digital labourers?

It’s less about the people and more about the increased capability. There is no human being on the planet that can perform due diligence or KYC/AML regulations as well as a machine can; it can apply 13,000 rules in 0.03 seconds. It’s not that we are replacing the people who were enforcing the rules; those rules were just not being applied. We should look at how we can improve the performance of the industry by using digital labour while letting people focus on things that require humans to do.

That’s the wave of the future: expanding the coverage so we can lower risk at a reasonable cost and let people do the things that they are good at. 

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