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Robotics, Efficiency, and the Skills You Need to Implement RPA

September 2017- By Edward Brooks, Founder of the RPA Academy

If your organization hasn’t implemented Robotic Process Automation (RPA) yet, it certainly should in the next 12-24 months. Economies are facing many new challenges, but the development of technologies such as RPA are now available to address them.

Countries like the US, the UK, and Germany have achieved historically low unemployment levels. While the national figures hide wide local variations in major cities, the problem is worse than it was 10 years ago when the phrase “war for talent” was widely heard.

While the economies are not necessarily in “boom mode,” they have crawled back beyond the 2007/2008 position of the financial crisis and have steadily sucked up almost all available labor.

There is also a surprising factor at play. Productivity gains have flattened out over these last 10 years. We all thought the internet and everything that has created (plus years of Shared Services, Outsourcing, Six Sigma and Transformation projects) would make us significantly more efficient. But the statistics don’t back it up.

While the economies are not necessarily in “boom mode,” they have crawled back beyond the 2007/2008 position of the financial crisis and have steadily sucked up almost all available labor.

There is also a surprising factor at play. Productivity gains have flattened out over these last 10 years. We all thought the internet and everything that has created (plus years of Shared Services, Outsourcing, Six Sigma and Transformation projects) would make us significantly more efficient. But the statistics don’t back it up.

This leaves organizations with a challenge - how to become more efficient when they’ve tried so much and really not had a significant impact.

The timing of RPA could not have been better. A technology solution that has been bubbling around for 10+ years finally hits its stride.

Maybe there is a natural cynicism about new technologies. We’ve all seen or been involved in high profile technology projects that have been more expensive and more delayed than anyone expected, and sometimes reputation-ruining too.

But RPA is very different.

  1. It is surprisingly low cost.
  2. The implementation times can be measured in weeks and months.
  3. The payback can be very fast and the ROI huge.
  4. It is fast to deploy.
  5. And it can make an impact in almost any function, in any organization.

RPA does this by automating processes that are rules-driven, highly repetitive, and (usually) high volume. Until the arrival of RPA, people were the only way to deliver these services. This is no longer the case.

That is where the word “robotic” comes from. As Professor Leslie Willcocks from the London School of Economics says, “RPA takes the robot out of the human.” One distinction that needs to be made; it is the activities that are robotic - the technology solution is not actual robots (though they are referred to as “bots”).

RPA platforms sit independently of any other platforms or technologies you use. There is no integration. They work by mimicking the activities that a human would have done.

Built largely on drag-and-drop interfaces, they are fast and easy to set up in theory, though the reality is always going to be slightly more complicated as you come up against systems failure, network access issues, Citrix challenges etc.

The outcomes are powerful:

  • Bots are 80% cheaper than people.
  • They don’t take holidays or get sick.
  • They work 24 hours.
  • They can perform faster turnaround times.
  • They don’t make mistakes (no rework due to human error, and the no costs/delays those errors and rework creates).
  • They are always fully compliant.

All of these outcomes drive the business case for RPA amongst several other powerful benefits of RPA, such as improving customer service, reducing operating risk/s, and freeing up the humans to focus on higher value activities.

It is important to recognize - for career purposes or for your organization - that RPA is just the starting point. Very quickly you’ll see that, while you can automate say 70% of a process, the other 30% needs some human judgement.

Already the technology exists to start looking at the other 30% and learning to either streamline it to make it easier and more certain for the human or to remove it altogether.

In a customer service environment, the bot will start off by suggesting 3-4 potential answers to a problem, and the human will decide on the right answer. By learning what the human is doing, the bot can start to actually answer the problem directly with a fair degree of certainty.

Essentially, this enables you to digitize processes. On its own, that is powerful. However, it is an entry point to significantly more. Naturally, with RPA as a starting point, your needs evolve into Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing and on into Artificial Intelligence.

The timing of all of this is fascinating. At the one end, the economy needs new answers to employment problems; at the other end, there are powerful tools out there to help any organization be more effective.

There’s one cautionary note to add to this. All of these new technologies (RPA, Cognitive, AI, etc.) all need skilled people to implement and operate them. Already there is a huge skills gap between market demand and labor supply. The opportunities for anyone with the right background and training are great now and just going to grow.

Employers need Developers, Project Managers, Operations Leads, Lean Six Sigma Practitioners and more with RPA experience to help start this journey and move across the next 5-10 years of extreme digital transformation.

Employers are starting to recognize that there just aren’t the people with 2-3 years experience in RPA, so they are adapting to use people with the right background and the right training, then supporting them on the job.

As The Wall Street Journal summed up recently, "Robots Aren’t Destroying Enough Jobs.” The challenges are there, and so are the answers. And those answers are going to change how we work during the next 5-10 years.

Interested in learning more about RPA?
The RPA Academy offers on-demand, live online and onsite training in RPA for developers looking to train on the platforms or business operations looking to implement RPA in their organization. Visit www.therpaacademy.com/ for more information.

Here are some quality LinkedIn groups as well:

How is Apex supporting clients and job seekers around RPA?
Apex is ready to support both clients in their RPA hiring needs and job seekers in their job search. We’ve recently added a 16th technical recruiting practice to support the increased demand for Machine Learning, Deep Learning, NLP, RPA, and Bots.

Looking for a staffing partner to assist with Intelligent Automation needs and other relevant skill sets? Contact your local Apex branch here.

Looking for your next career opportunity? Check out our current openings here.