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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one of the hottest digital trends gaining traction in 2020. With RPA, businesses can automate away mundane and repetitive tasks to focus on work that not only drives revenue, but also brings employees job satisfaction.

In our latest virtual conference, “RPA Insiders Virtual Conference,” hosted by Udacity and UiPath, world-renowned panelists and keynote speakers —-  from companies including Spotify, Forrester, and PwC — gathered to discuss what RPA is, how COVID-19 has impacted the industry, and what it takes to be an excellent RPA developer.

Here are the top five takeaways centered around RPA as an emerging technology that we got from the conference on September 15.

1. RPA Empowers the Workforce

At its very core, RPA consists of performing consistent steps on similar data that doesn’t often change. It’s based on a defined set of rules that don’t need human judgement or intervention. Work like moving or entering data into a system, copying and pasting, and signing into applications are all examples of the kind of work RPA excels at.

As Professor Leslie Willcocks from the London School of Economics puts it, “RPA takes the robot out of the human.” Manual, repetitive, boring tasks — the kind that tend to make employees want to slam their heads on their desks — is the work that RPA wants to take over, freeing up people to focus on more interesting work that has more value.

“We’re moving towards a mixed human-machine workforce,” says J.P. Gownder, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester. In this new augmented work-style, robots and machines cover the lower-level work while humans focus on data-driven decision making.

“RPA is not here to take your job,” says Bryan Lamb, CEO of WhatisRPA.com, “I’m actually here to give you an Iron Man suit.” RPA empowers workers, giving them tools, resources, and free time to focus on the human aspect of work.

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2. RPA Won’t Take Jobs. It Will Change Them

The second takeaway paints a less scary picture of the technology. RPA will automate away a lot of the tedious, boring, low-value work, and leave behind roles that require critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making. 

While this may sound intimidating, our panel of experts were quick to reassure that a massive job loss isn’t about to happen because of RPA. Mike Quindazzi, the Managing Director at PwC, said “I’ve never seen a client automate themself out of a job.” 

Really, RPA adoption is just a next step in workplace transformation, similar to the last four industrial revolutions. It’s a natural change in process. In time, people will see it’s not that their jobs are going away, it’s that they’re becoming more interesting.

So what kind of skills does the average worker need to keep up with as roles evolve and change? Sidney Madison Prescott, an Automation Lead at Spotify, says critical thinking, developing a creative mindset, understanding process flows, and being data-driven are all keys to excelling in a post-RPA adoption world.

“A lot of the [solutions] we do at Spotify, we’re looking specifically at ‘how do we approach a business problem from a different angle’. This really requires that you not even think outside of the box, it’s about thinking that there is no box,” explains Prescott.

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3. COVID-19 Accelerated RPA Adoption

It’s no secret that before COVID-19 hit, many legacy companies were dragging their feet when it came to modern technologies. Using automation to advance innovation was something that lean, trendy startups invested in. Enterprise companies stuck with tradition.

But once the global pandemic shut down offices all over the globe, the workforce had to change. Big, slow-moving companies who had business processes from the age of dinosaurs (think: paper files, a reliance on in-person meetings, no ability to work remotely) had to change to stay afloat.

“Investing in automation,” said J.P. Gownder, “[became] a forcing function.” In other words, COVID shifted the curve when it comes to RPA adoption. 

“COVID-19 has increased the number of meetings for everyone. We really need automation to keep up with the new normal,” explains Gownder.

While life, especially the way we work, has changed dramatically, companies found that their customers still expected a certain level of service. In order to keep up with those demands, many businesses are turning to RPA in order to streamline outdated processes and empower their workforce to do the best work they can.

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4. Developing a Digital Transformation Strategy to Align RPA Is the Key to Success

Automation in general is a huge domain now. If you begin to establish RPA in a business without an overarching plan, it can quickly become a mess that is overly complicated to maintain and doesn’t add that much value.

Instead, it’s critical to spend time forming a digital transformation strategy that dictates expected, tangible outcomes. From there, you can design how RPA can become part of your system, instead of just automating random processes here and there and hoping for a huge ROI.

“It’s very much about understanding where the business is going or it wants to go,” says Kieran Gilmurray, Global Automation Lead at Mercer, “then working out where you can apply RPA…to allow you to help the business deliver successful business outcomes.” In other words, for the most success, you need to plan ahead.

So what should your digital transformation plan include? You need to validate the business case, understand the processes, and look at the bigger picture. Consider scaling, security, and governance from the beginning so you don’t have to force it into your automation once everything is already working. Work with your workforce to get a grasp on what their every day work looks like, and what parts of it they wish they could delegate out to other people.

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5. The Best RPA Developers Focus on Providing Benefits to the Business

RPA developers are a rare breed, so there aren’t many of them to compare to each other. Still, Kieran Gilmurray spent some time covering the top attributes of an excellent RPA developer. 

The biggest takeaway from his list was that while having in-depth RPA skills and experience are important, Gilmurray spent the most time focusing on the idea that RPA developers should be ultimately focused on providing big picture benefits to the business.

RPA developers don’t just “do RPA.” Applying RPA to random processes without a destination or goal in mind isn’t innovation. Instead, RPA developers should build with a strategy in mind, making changes not only to code, but potentially to the processes themselves.

Watch the full session now:

In Conclusion

In 2020, the innovations that RPA adoption can bring are just beginning. It will be fascinating to see what companies look like and how employees experience work as RPA becomes more commonplace. 

Without expert RPA developers, there’s very little workplace advancement that can be done. Right now, the demand for people with RPA expertise is soaring (Gartner predicts 50% of the Gulf Cooperation Council will adopt RPA in the next two years) and there aren’t enough developers to fill that gap. 

Watch the RPA Insiders Virtual Conference Highlights

Plus, don’t miss the RPA Insiders Virtual Conference highlights video to get a rundown of the conference.

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