Broad competencies are needed for successful RPA

Boudewijn Vanpeteghem Editor Connect on Linkedin
Key Messages
  • RPA touches on the business model of organizations.
  • Bots change the working environment, some roles will disappear and new ones will emerge.
  • Employees must invest in acquiring new skills to guarantee their employability on the labor market.

Notions of coding are necessary but insufficient to be successful in an environment where automation techniques, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), are becoming increasingly sophisticated and effective. Soft skills, including analytical skills, anticipation and a critical attitude, are equally important. Jean-Philippe Thirion, the Leader of the Belgian Blue Chip Boutique 'Financial Institutions' (FI), emphasises this.

Computer systems that speak to each other automatically have been around for a long time. Because we are constantly taking new steps towards artificial intelligence and 'machine learning', employees with new combinations of competencies are needed. Jean-Philippe Thirion: "Basic knowledge of the new technological language is becoming a must. In education, children are introduced to coding from primary school onwards. This gives logical reasoning a new boost"

Only robotise what you fully understand

"Only you can't get there with just that basic knowledge. More competences are needed to be effective. You have to be able to think and act anticipatively. It is no longer a question of being able to determine which processes qualify for RPA. You need to have a picture of what consequences automation has for the rest of the organization. This requires insight into the end-to-end processes and forces you to look over silos. That is why you can only robotise what you fully understand. This requires a thorough mapping of the processes involved and of the consequences of the introduction of the software robots".

Jean-Philippe indicates that being able to react appropriately to events, for example the organizational consequences due to market developments or system failures, is no longer sufficient. It is a question of detecting possible future events at an early stage and taking appropriate action on the basis of incomplete information. "You have to prepare the organization and the people so that they can make analyses based on just a few indications".

"Reacting quickly on the basis of incomplete information becomes the new normal."

Jean-Philippe Thirion, Leader of the Belgian Blue Chip Boutique 'Financial Institutions'

A different mix of competencies

The Blue Chip Boutique (BCB) Leader gives the example of the financial sector. "People want to know all the details before deciding. That is no longer possible. Acting quickly on the basis of incomplete information becomes the new normal. Automation must also change, speed up and strengthen the decision-making process. Collecting and structuring data takes less time because RPA greatly facilitates these tasks. This also applies to the additional research that ultimately leads to insights that lead to decisions. Organizations need to adapt to this and employees need to be trained to function within the new framework. This requires a different mix of competencies: being able to work with the insights instead of being trained in collecting and processing information".

The top management of an organization is collectively responsible for RPA and must be aware of this, Jean-Philippe points out. Each Leader has to define the needs in his department and develop a plan to get the necessary skills on board. Recruitment, training and outsourcing, as well as the hiring of consultants, should be taken into account. "This combination of top-down and bottom-up decision-making brings coherence and strengthens the whole. On top of that, a culture of 'continuous improvement' is needed. RPA causes a lot of change".

Organizations therefore need to train employees. Jean-Philippe lists several soft skills such as being able to encourage and challenge people, being resilient, being able to adapt and to decide quickly, being critical and empathic. These are becoming competences that matter more and more. "Employees benefit from RPA. The software robots do the repetitive and numbing work, and people can be more enterprising".

"A culture of 'continuous improvement' is needed. RPA causes a lot of change."

There is no blueprint for RPA

For Jean-Philippe, the introduction and use of bots is an iterative process and he points out that everyone, providers in particular, is learning. There is a lot of demand for people who code. The BCB-Leader stresses that there is no blueprint for RPA. "We have building blocks that we fit together in a certain way depending on the organization".

"RPA touches on the business model of organizations. Simplifying systems and working methods makes people fear for their jobs. To be successful, organizations must therefore invest in acquiring new skills, both hard skills and soft skills. Bots change the working environment and employees need to be prepared for this. Some roles will disappear and new ones will emerge. This requires employees with a different set of skills in order to guarantee their employability on the labor market. But isn't it first and foremost the management that has to issue its employees with a 'passport of multi employability'?