The bots are already here, time to Reskill & Redeploy?

For those employees who have embraced change and freed themselves from the drudgery of robotic tasks, how are they now exploiting the benefits of process automation and adjusting to life with bots?

Less is written about what happens after the initial phases of RPA; after the pilot has gone live and a handful more processes deployed, what are the results and the impacts, especially on the people. How and what happens in practice…do they feel empowered and free? or threatened and bored? Everyone will no doubt have a unique experience, but here are some of our insights and observations from our ongoing projects over the last eighteen months.

Creation of New Roles & Responsibilities

Excluding the more obvious RPA specific roles if you happen to be building an internal RPA team or centre of expertise, there are a few critically important new skills developing within the operational teams, which are essential to the automation-first era and the scaling of the RPA programme more broadly across the organisation.

RPA Process Coordinator

RPA process coordination involves the day-to-day ownership of automated processes, performed by people who really understand the business process, provide and receive inputs or outputs, manage exceptions or errors and invoke process contingency plans when needed. They also provide the first line of support to help understand and diagnose any issues with the robot, applications or operating environment.

These process coordinator tasks are being incorporated into existing process teams, with responsibility shared between resources to ensure adequate cover and continuity across all automated processes. Training is provided to all coordinators on how new automated processes work, how to access and navigate the RPA tools and how to deploy automations correctly in accordance with release control policies. An additional benefit is that the process coordinators begin to examine and consider processes in a new light, with an automation-first perspective, and pretty soon, more automation candidates are proposed as a result.

RPA Specialist

Also termed Citizen Developers, are business users empowered and enabled to identify and develop basic automations for processes directly within their control.

RPA Specialist skills can vary from the very basic to the very technical. In practice, operational and business users are the very best people to identify task and process candidates for automation, and if they have access to the right tools (ease of use!), they can capture the process and provide the data required to assess suitability. More complex areas can be handed over to higher-skilled specialists to more sophisticated develop solutions.

These higher-skilled RPA specialists are also providing an invaluable service to the business by developing ready-made, fully tested, reusable automation components, which are being utilised by the citizen business users to automate processes faster but robustly and aid the RPA programme to scale more effectively.

Upskilling

With reduced manual task based work, where time has genuinely been freed up, business users are finding room in their working day for more important or value-adding activities, some real examples being:

  • Analysis, interpretation & investigation, less time consumed with the production or processing of data, and more time dedicated to review and interpret results, which in turn has meant more timely or informed decision-making
  • Handling true and legitimate exceptions and responding more timely to customers has improved customer journeys and overall contributed to reducing exceptions and standardising processes
  • Expanded scope of work to include activities that previously weren’t performed at all or simply not adequately due to time constraints, which provided greater control and reduced risk
  • Take on new tasks and objectives following internal reorganisations from company acquisitions or mergers and also from regulatory changes which forced a change to processes and a significant increase in workload

The Future of Work

Rather than replacing jobs, so far we’ve seen an overwhelming augmentation of jobs through automation of tasks, but it makes us think about what will be the likely future for the workplace, and importantly, how will people need to prepare for the changes and affects. UiPath alone reports over 360,000 students and over 20,000 certified developers registered, so a new breed of skilled automation-savvy employees are well and truly on the rise.

With an increase in human-in-the-loop automations and the growing trend toward democratised Citizen Developers, the workplace of the future could perhaps be one where employees and robots (or “cobots” as they’ve been called – see also UiPath’s Guy Kirkwood post) will more seamlessly work together, with programmable tasks performed by the bots leaving employees to focus on more social and human-based activity.

So future workplace skills to become far more important will hopefully include those relying on more complex human attributes, those involving emotional intelligence, people management and social skills, creativity and collaboration, but in addition, the skills to understand how to interact with our automated collaborative co-workers.

What if you had more time?

So, if you had more free time at work or worked less overtime in the evenings or weekends as a result of collaborative robotic process automations, what would you do with it?

  • Build more effective social relationships with colleagues or customers
  • Invest in your personal or professional learning and development
  • Provide support to help others
  • Work on longer-term projects to improve further

What would you do, out of these? Or do you have any better suggestions?