News Ticker

A Digital Construction Age requires Digital Workers

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been in vogue since 2003. Outcome-oriented Centelli, an award-winning consultancy, enables productivity improvement through what they refer to as Digital Workers, as the software can perform the same administrative tasks as a human worker.

By freeing up employees from the repetitive, dull, but highly important transactional tasks, the Digital Worker can perform tasks up to 15* faster, and in an error-free manner. A process can be automated in less than 4 weeks from discovery, with no disruption to existing technology infrastructure. This enables companies to better utilise employee skills, and ultimately engage in higher value work. Companies from all industries are now realising the cost, effort, and time-saving benefits of process automation.

With the vast number of stakeholders in the construction ecosystem, the potential growth opportunities for the industry are enormous. That said, machines will not replace a human sense of understanding of the contextual environment in which both operate.

Welcoming the Digital Worker

Emerging from the Business Process Management (BPM) movement of optimising end-to-end business processes in the early 2000’s, RPA software is configured to perform specific tasks that people carry out on computers. In essence, the key question is, “In an ideal world, what tasks would people not have to do?” When ‘pain’ tasks have been identified by people, Digital Workers collaborate with people to improve speed, accuracy and output1.

Always On, Never Wrong

Digital Workers are software robots that work with any application via a user interface, and a control dashboard or orchestrator. The RPA platform then automates repetitive, rule-based, predictable administrative or operational tasks2.

Digital Workers use the user interface, i.e. screen, keyboard and mouse interactions, and where possible, application programming interfaces (APIs) to interact with a wide range of enterprise applications, such as:

Once a process, and the requisite task training are captured, Digital Workers can be left unattended to run 24/7, all year round. If there is a variance in the process that the digital worker cannot resolve, an exception or error report will be produced in the same way as a person would, subsequently requesting support from a supervisor.

Driving Real Benefits

The construction industry faced several challenges before Brexit and COVID-19, including labour shortfalls, regulatory changes impacting production, and materials and transport shortages3. These problems have increased since 2020. Digital Workers offer a part-solution to some of these problems, when resources, people and money become even more scarce.

RPA has proved a powerful tool for automating complex building activities, reducing project costs and duration4. Common deployment areas for Digital Workers in the construction industry include automating accounts payable in finance, sub-contractor onboarding, and project planning. A fast-growing area in automation is the deployment of attended bots to support agents delivering customer service and within contact centres.

Depending on the size and scope of the automation initiative, transferring manual workloads to digital workers has meant that construction companies such as The Vistry Group, Balfour Beatty, and Skanska have experienced a return on their investment ranging from tens of thousands to millions of pounds a year.

A summary of non-financial benefits is illustrated below.

Transforming Efficiency and Effectiveness in the Workplace

The impact of digital technologies such as process automation, artificial intelligence, and other innovations, has attracted a lot of commentary relating to the impact on people and what the future holds for employment. Research commissioned in 2019 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) revealed that whilst the nature of work may change, there are at least as many opportunities to increase the number and quality of jobs5. Meanwhile, the Digital Workers are transforming productivity and effectiveness, performing tasks up to 15 times faster than a person, whilst eliminating errors.

Jobs Remain, Just Different

Innovations in software based or industrial robotic technology offer a great number of people the opportunity for liberation. Freeing people up from repetitive tasks that can be time-consuming, uninspiring, and highly prone to inaccuracies, a new paradigm is possible where employees can explore their skills and move to more cognitive tasks promoting feelings of progression, exploration, and creativity.

The CIPD surveyed 759 employers from several business sectors in 2019. Employers reported that people whose jobs have been affected by digital technologies such as automation tend to experience an increase in autonomy, job complexity and are better paid. Other performance benefits from such investment include an improvement in the quality of goods and services (52%), reduction in costs (37%), and increased revenue (34%)6.

These findings are in line with Centelli’s own experience, whose clients have reported that there have been no job losses whilst employee morale and productivity has gone up as they are able to focus on the more complex tasks with focused attention.

Bots are Treated like Staff Members

The Digital Workers are onboarded and trained in the same manner as a human worker. A Digital Worker uses a virtual machine – essentially a high-spec laptop. Once permission access to the organisation’s systems, applications and utilities has been granted, similar to setting up a human employee, the DW/bot is trained and replicates all mouse clicks and keyboard strokes performed by a staff member. Digital Workers have proved particularly effective when legacy systems lack APIs.

In organisations where Centelli – and their world-leading RPA partner UiPath7 – have deployed Digital Workers, staff have embraced the software and its ability to effectively, “take the rut out of routine”. In many instances, the Digital Workers have been given human names to promote identity and inclusion. In one such case, Costain – a leading UK-based smart infrastructure company – named its first bot Archie.

Since adopting automation at Costain, results in the finance function have drastically improved productivity and saved time. Highlights include:

  • 400,000 invoices a year processed,
  • 80% are straight-through with no human intervention,
  • Time saving per invoice is 9 minutes8.

Steven from Costain says, “(Automation) means huge, huge savings for the business, and it is generating an enormous capacity so that our people can add value”.

The Future for Process Automation in Construction        

Automation is accelerating, and it is only going to move faster and faster. According to a recent report by Deloitte, 53% of respondents have already started their RPA journey. This is expected to increase to 72% in the next two years9. If this adoption rate continues at its current level, RPA will have achieved near-universal adoption within the next five years.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global RPA market size is expected to grow at a global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25% upwards during the forecast period 2021-2810. This means the market will be worth USD 13 billion by 2030, from USD 1.29 billion in 2020. The construction industry is likely to contribute around 10% of that growth, valuing it at USD 1.3 billion11.

To view a short video on digital workers, please go the link below.


The future is where Human and Machines work collaboratively. We work with a lot of “machines” like a steam engine / motor in a factory to a car to a mobile phone, all of which make our lives more productive.

It is time to embrace automation in the office and offload the routine, repetitive tasks to the machines. Let’s focus on what makes people different – thinking, engaging in cognitive, complex, human-focused tasks.

Digital Workers are a highly beneficial tool for the construction industry, but the benefits are inextricably linked to their deployment. Professionals – notably business users, human resources and senior management – need to think how adoption will return real benefits, today, tomorrow and beyond. Technology should never be implemented for its own sake. It is an enabler and should be considered in terms of a company’s strategic goals, and those of the people that work in the enterprise.

Find out how Digital Workers can revolutionise your business – contact Ross Middleton at, or call 07909 646284


1EY, Robotic Process Automation,, 2022

2Gartner, What is the Difference Between RPA and AI?,, 01/02/2021

3 PBCToday, Challenges Facing the Construction Industry in 2022,, 01/02/2022

4The Constructor, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the Construction Industry,, 06/01/2022

5Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, Technology and the Future of Work,, 06/01/2021

6Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in partnership with PA Consulting, People and machines: from hype to reality Research report,, 01/04/2019

7IDC MarketScape, Worldwide Robotic Process Automation Software 2021-2022 Vendor Assessment,, 2021

8ABBYY, Costain Transforms its Finance Department using ABBYY IDP,, 2022

9Deloitte, Deloitte Global RPA Survey,, 2022

10Fortune Business Insights, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Market Share, Size & COVID-19 Impact Analysis, By Deployment, By Operation, By Application, By Industry and Regional Forecasts, 2021-2028, FBI102042,, 07/06/2022

11Centelli & UiPath, proprietary statistical estimates, 05/07/2022