Posted on April 12, 2018
While there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty around automation in the workplace, training your workforce on key automation skills can enhance both employee job satisfaction and your bottom line. New automation technologies can help free up employees from mundane, repetitive tasks and enable them to do more strategic and creative work. Moreover, from the organization’s perspective, automation can increase productivity, reduce costs, and minimize errors.
During this transformation, HR and learning & development leaders play an important role in helping their workforce embrace the automation skills they’ll need for success.
Many of us in the corporate world have a predictable conversation with our bosses almost every year. It goes something like this:
Boss: “Smith… I just got the numbers from upstairs. They’re asking for a 10% lift again this year, and you’ve got to do something about the high error rates. Your team’s 15% re-work rate is killing our bottom line.”
Smith: “I apologize, sir. Can I hire more people? As I’ve mentioned several times, my team is maxed out, and things are just slipping through the cracks.”
Boss: “Sorry bud. The budget is flat again. Figure it out.”
What if instead, you could smugly reply:
“I understand, sir, but the best my team can offer this year is a 100% increase in throughput with an error rate below 1%.”
Much in the same way that physical robots have revolutionized the manufacturing industry, software robots are now capable of having a similar impact in the white-collar business world.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) simply means using modern process automation tools to quickly and reliably replicate how human beings perform routine daily office work on Microsoft Excel & Word documents, web applications, CRMs, desktop apps, APIs, databases, and Citrix terminals.
“Software robots” can perform repetitive, high volume office work significantly faster and more accurately than any human could!
Many companies in heavily regulated sectors like banking, insurance, financial services, manufacturing, and legal are over-burdened with manual tasks involving high volumes of structured data being performed across multiple legacy systems which are difficult and risky to integrate with one another. The only way to scale is by hiring more people, spending more time & money training them, and hiring additional supervisors to catch mistakes.
Equipping fewer existing workers with software robots that can perform their most mundane tasks can dramatically increase the amount of work completed while simultaneously reducing errors & rework to almost zero.
Companies who discover Robotic Process Automation quickly discover benefits including:
Easy, non-invasive implementation
Faster, more significant process improvements at a relatively low cost
Increased compliance, consistency, and transparency
Higher employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.
Robotic Process Automation certainly isn’t magic. It takes passion, new automation skills training, and an innovative spirit from everyone involved.
Additionally, Robotic Process Automation isn’t limited to enterprise monoliths! I firmly believe that small, medium and large businesses of any kind can benefit from it. In fact, I’m currently teaching my 13-year-old daughter how to build software robots and gain key automation skills because I’m convinced that next generation workers will only thrive if they have an automation-first mindset.
Contrary to what many consultants will tell you, the process of introducing Robotic Process Automation into any organization can be simple and straightforward:
First, choose a small, stable, well-understood process that meets the Robotic Process Automation success criteria specified below.
Next, determine which tool or tools will most likely be able to handle the systems and steps you intend to automate. Top Robotic Process Automation tools include UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism.
Train your workforce with the necessary automation skills to implement the project. (More on training resources below).
Finally, automate that process, embracing any challenges & discoveries that present themselves along the way.
Once you’ve completed a small Robotic Process Automation pilot, you’ll have a much better sense of your team’s automation strengths & weaknesses. You’ll also gain some additional insight & intuition about other processes that might make sense to automate, and with any luck, you’ll have firsthand experience with the time saving and error reduction benefits that frequently accompany automation implementations.
1. Choose the right processes: Robotic Process Automation is most successful when applied to repetitive, high volume, rules-based, standardized processes that consume and/or emit reasonably well-structured data. For instance, if a task requires copying various bits of data from Excel, system A, and system B into system C, then exporting a PDF and attaching it to an outbound email–that’s a process begging for automation!
2. Assuage job loss fears: Humans have an innate need to feel secure and in-control. The minute someone starts talking about automating the work they do every day, they will often jump to dark conclusions. This can lead to subtle or even overt sabotage of well-intentioned Robotic Process Automation initiatives. One of my favorite techniques for easing fears and getting buy-in from the troops is to inform team members that they’ll each be getting virtual Iron Man suits, thus enabling them to provide superhuman value to the company.
3. Choose the right tool: Robotic Process Automation is a hot topic, and many tool vendors are clamoring for a hot, savory slice of lucrative pie. I heartily recommend putting your hands on 2 or 3 of the top-ranked tools during your pilot, because only a few Robotic Process Automation tools are truly powerful while still being intuitive to non-technical users.
4. Partner with IT: Once you’ve determined that Robotic Process Automation is a good fit for your organization, it will be time to formalize and scale. This will require IT hardware, conventions, and best practices, so it’s best to involve IT in your plans as early as possible. You might even find that IT resources can help you build better, faster, more reliable robots from the beginning.
5. Train your workforce with Robotic Process Automation skills organization-wide: Most people in your organization won’t inherently have the skills to create good automation. Many won’t even have the basic technical proficiency to evaluate their own daily tasks to determine whether they are good candidates to automate. Providing the right training from the start will go a long way toward diminishing insecurities and inspiring innovative participation. Their confidence & competence will skyrocket.
To ensure everyone is aligned, empowered, and working toward the same goal, it’s important to equip your team with world-class knowledge about Robotic Process Automation in general, to supplement their technical skills, and to get them up to speed quickly on your chosen tool. I’ve created a suite of training courses that provide exactly that.
Robotic Process Automation Overview: This 2-hour course will provide the big picture about Robotic Process Automation, including its history & drivers; benefits, challenges, and risks. The course will also discuss industries & applications where it fits best; an overview of current tools; a simple software robot demo; and an implementation plan you can use as a guideline to introduce automation into your company.
Robotic Process Automation Tech Primer: For any team members who don’t already have strong technical skills, this 3-hour course will help anyone increase their overall technical proficiency. To provide the most value in an RPA-equipped environment, workers must have a combination of business AND technical skills, so they can help automate processes across multiple system boundaries including email, documents, databases, websites, mainframes, and APIs.
UiPath Robotic Process Automation RPA – Level 1: This 6-hour course will get you up to speed quickly with what I believe is the most powerful and intuitive Robotic Process Automation tool available. Its thorough and detailed curriculum will take you step by step through installation, orientation, basic robot structure, control flow, error handling, debugging, decomposing complex processes into reusable components, and of course detailed instruction about how to automate text files, Excel worksheets, websites, and more. Level 2 coming soon!
Robotic Process Automation holds great, proven potential to increase your company’s ability to deliver rapidly, delight customers, and demolish competitors. Automation is the future, and Robotic Process Automation is your first step on a journey that will soon include Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and more–taking your company to previously unimagined strength, agility, and capabilities.