We asked senior RPA leader and digital transformation expert, Kieran Gilmurray, a few questions about his experience with intelligent automation. Here’s what we heard:
Traditional automation tools were designed to automate back office tasks, like invoice processing. How do you think automation should adapt to support knowledge work vs. more clerical work?
Kieran Gilmurray: Colleagues in firms complete repetitive work (i.e. ‘clickety-click’) and cognitive work (‘thinkety-think’). Therefore, if we only concentrate on manual work we are only doing part of the job. We need tools that help automate end to end, both the ‘clickety-click’ and ‘thinkety-think’ to allow colleagues to concentrate on the things that need innate, human skills that turn the dial massively for both the individual, and the firm on value. We also need better tools e.g. VR | MR | AR and automation; prescriptive process flow design and coding tools that sense the change that needs to happen; far greater use of data analytics — NLP — AI etc. to drive real change. We should not concentrate at the edges of automation, raising a victory flag and celebrating. Real change involves radical redesign and a different way of working, thinking, and behaving. Tinkering around the edges will drive some benefits, but not as much as firms can achieve through wholesale digitization (i.e. ways of working, behaving and delivering value).
We hear a lot about democratizing RPA. How far off are companies from empowering citizen developers, and how do you see this evolving?
Kieran Gilmurray: I am not sure everyone knows what that word actually means. but lots are guilty of repeating the word ‘democratisation’ — “2020’s RPA naughty list and how to get off it in time for Christmas 🎅. Or run the risk of getting no gifts this holiday season or indeed the next!.” On top of that, programs to drive efficiency at the citizen developer (CD) level are few and far between with ‘full’ developers still delivering the vast majority of automation programs. (Parts 1–6 of “Digitally dexterous organisations and the need for Citizen Developers.”). But with the right low-code/no-code tooling, and the right skills and mindset, CDs can deliver.
But also let’s broaden the conversation from CD RPA/IA as marketing, HR, finance, legal etc. all need digital tools in a digital age if we are to transform orgs. For example, marketing teams are using canva.com, veed.io, and kapwing.com to produce content every day that would have taken a cadre of technicians months and £100,000's to do. So CDs are real, they are benefiting digital transformation, and as tools develop further in every business area, we will see more benefits arriving.
What are the areas to watch in RPA over the next 1–5 years?
Kieran Gilmurray: Automation will grow relentlessly. Low-code/no-code tool kits/platforms that make automation truly simple for everyone but have inbuilt governance flows to allow everyone to engage and contribute with rigor. For example, any code build should go to a central governance AI tool to validate, then to a human if that is not sufficient and get checked before we allow a citizen dentist loose on the jowls of an organisation. We need greater prescriptive and sensing built in to allow RPA/IA to rebuild itself instead of the convoluted change and recode processes we have. We also need to stop talking about RPA alone (you cant build a house with a screw driver alone) and give people the tools, training, and support they need to make the difference they know they can make as digital workers.
Any final thoughts?
Kieran Gilmurray: We live in interesting times. We are in a period of digital Darwinism. Digital haves and haves not are starting to appear. Covid has got firms and people to do the ‘unimaginable’ in record time and habits have formed. We are not going back to the way we operated before. So expect competition for talent to grow, digitally committed firms to accelerate, and non-digital firms to wither on the vine (though I hate to say that). The new world is not going to be fun for everyone. If jobs can be done anywhere then expect firms to move anywhere (i.e. you may be high cost compared to elsewhere). We also have to be careful we don’t exclude folks from this new world (think lack of affordability; digital dexterity or indeed of literacy, which could result in folks being excluded from society). The future is bright but we need to take everyone with us, for society to benefit.
Note: these answers are Kieran Gilmurray’s, who has led many digital transformation and intelligent automation initiatives. These comments do not represent any team or company Kieran works for or has worked for.