Article

Broad competencies needed for RPA success

Though basic coding is a necessity, it is not enough to succeed in an environment where automation tech, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is getting more refined and efficient. Soft skills, like powers of analysis, the ability to anticipate, and a critical outlook, are just as important. An idea emphasised by Jean-Philippe Thirion, Leader of the Belgian Blue Chip Boutique (BCB) ‘Financial Institutions’ (FI) and the BCB in Luxemburg.

Computer systems that talk to each other automatically have been around for some time. We are striding onwards to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, so we need employees with new skill combinations. Jean-Philippe Thirion: “A basic grasp of the new language of technology is a must. Children are already coming to grips with coding in primary schools. And that's an added boost when it comes to learning to think logically.”

Only Robotize what you know well

“You can't get there alone on a basic understanding. More competencies are needed if you want to be effective. You have to be able to anticipate and act. It's no longer a matter of being able to identify which processes are suitable for RPA. You need a clear picture of how automation is going to effect the rest of the organisation. That requires comprehension of the end-to-end processes, and forces you to look across the spectrum. For that reason, you should only robotize what you know well. And it rests on a thorough map of the processes and the consequences of bringing software robots in.”

Jean-Philippe suggests that an appropriate response to events, such as the effect of market developments or system failures on the organisation, is no longer adequate. It comes down to an early detection of potential events and appropriate action on the strength of incomplete information. “You have to get the organisation and its people ready in advance, so they can base their analyses on the merest of indications.”

Rapid response on the strength of incomplete information is the new normal.

Jean-Philippe Thirion, Leader of the Belgian Blue Chip Boutique (BCB) ‘Financial Institutions’ (FI) and the BCB in Luxemburg

The Blue Chip Boutique Leader cites the finance sector as an example. “People want all the details before they give a decision. That's no longer possible. Rapid response on the strength of incomplete information is the new normal. Automation should also change, accelerate and reinforce the decision-making process. It takes less time to collect and structure the data because RPA makes the tasks a lot easier. That's equally true of the extra research that yields the final insights on which the decisions are based. Organisations need to adapt, and employees have to be trained to operate properly in the new context. That calls for a different mix of skills: the capability of setting to work with those insights, rather than training in information collection and processing.”


Onboarding the skills
An organisation's top management is collectively responsible for RPA and needs to be aware of this, Jean-Philippe points out. Every Leader has to identify the needs in his department and work out a plan to bring the necessary skills on board. In the process, consideration should be given to recruitment, training and outsourcing, and hiring in consultants. “That combination of top-down and bottom-up decision making brings coherence and reinforces the whole. On top of that, what is needed is a culture of ‘continuous improvement’. RPA generates a lot of change.”

Organisations need to train employees for this. Jean-Philippe lists several soft skills such as the ability to inspire and challenge, resilience, adaptability, rapid decision-making, a critical and empathic disposition. Competences that matter more and more. “Employees benefit from RPA. The software robots do the repetitive and deadening work, and the people get to be more enterprising.”

What's needed is a culture of ‘continuous improvement’. RPA generates a lot of change.

Jean-Philippe Thirion, Leader of the Belgian Blue Chip Boutique (BCB) ‘Financial Institutions’ (FI) and the BCB in Luxemburg

Jean-Philippe sees the introduction and use of bots as an iterative process, and he points out that everyone, providers especially, are learning as they go along. There is a lot of demand for people that code. The BCB Leader stresses that a blueprint for RPA does not exist. “We use building blocks, which we fit together in certain ways depending on the organisation.”

“RPA is affecting an organisation’s business and operational models. The simplification of systems and work methods is making people fear for their jobs. To achieve success organisations need to invest in the recruitment of new skills, hard and soft. Bots alter the work environment, and there is a need to prepare the employees for that. Some roles will disappear and new ones will come in. That requires employees to take on a different set of skills if they want to safeguard their employability. But shouldn't management provide the employees with a ‘multi-employability passport’, as it were, in the first place?”