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What Makes a Good Automation Builder?

Richard Baldwin
by Rich Baldwin
Automation-Builder
Automation Summit 2018
 
Automation, AI and Cognitive Technologies: Explore the Opportunities, Build the Business Case and Begin the Process.

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Enterprises that are eager to scale up their automation programs often ask what kind of person makes a good candidate for building robotic process automations (RPA) or cognitive technologies – and where they might find such people. Some look to software development or IT personnel while others look to the business. Here are some common challenges they face:

  • Software developers often gravitate to technical areas of the business that depend on Oracle, Microsoft or open source software. They enjoy applying their expertise of preferred technologies and methodologies to solve business challenges – and they often are prone to a mindset that puts technology first and business objectives second.
  • Automation languages are similar to scripting languages – a far less complex type of work than “hard core” programming – so it’s not necessary to get into the details of software development. As a result, software engineers who are used to more challenging technologies find working in RPA less than challenging.
  • IT personnel often are aligned to system engineers. Their work focuses on assimilating systems or applications for the business to function. But automation is a piece of the holistic system, and each one addresses a subset of or a series of processes that cross a business tower.

While the contributions of software engineers and IT personnel are important to a successful automation program, many are not well-suited for building automations. Automation builders need to have a consistent “business first” point of view – to understand a business functional area, how it meets revenue requirements, and how cost and delivery functions satisfy the customer. But many business people possess only the technology skills needed to accomplish business tasks and light-touch technology work.

So where does one find automation builders for RPA technology?

They can come from any area of the business. Excellent automation builders have come from finance, operations, marketing, software engineering or IT. They often are the ones writing MS Excel macros and investigating how technology can support business initiatives and work tasks. These are the people who understand the business and have a desire to apply technology.

Good automation builders have the following:

  1. A passion for improving. RPA builders have the desire to take an existing business process and make it better. They recognize the value of the process but are dissatisfied with the status quo.  They have empathy for the people doing the work and want to use technology to make their lives better. Good builders recognize where and how to apply RPA technology without disrupting or derailing the existing workflow. They are comfortable making iterative improvements in working to satisfy the customer.
  2. A propensity to ask why. A successful automation builder will be more interested in the reason for the business process than how the process is accomplished. They automate each task with the business goal on the top of their mind and are careful not to automate unnecessary tasks. For example, a task that involves someone reviewing another person’s work is no longer necessary because the automation will not enter erroneous information.
  3. An eye for detail and the ability to listen. Subject matter experts (SMEs) know how the business process works, any variants or exceptions to the process and how to resolve issues. SMEs often are so competent with business processes that they find it difficult to fully explain or teach the process. They may have done the process repetitively for so long that they no longer consciously think about tasks and simply do them by “muscle memory.” RPA builders must be able to communicate with SMEs and observe their precise actions, drawing out details of the process of which they may not even be aware.
  4. A logical way of thinking. RPA builders need to be able to break a process into simple sequential tasks without becoming lost or confused. They should be able to define and design the simplest path to success for a business process. Once they’ve done this, they can address variations and exceptions and identify where the automation is likely to fail so they can create a successful resolution. Defining how the human operator and the robot will synchronize their activities to meet the business goal requires a detailed and logical thought process.
  5. The discipline to stay within scope. Builders must deliver automations that meet the purpose of the business process without adding to or detracting from tasks. Builders adding unnecessary or out-of-scope features will fail to meet the schedule and expectations of stakeholders, and they make the automation unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive to maintain. A good builder will be careful not to remove or diminish tasks so the automation can deliver compliant results and properly handle process variations.
  6. A distinct loathing for errors. Builders must test the automations to perform as expected, handle identified exceptions or errors, address boundary conditions for input or output data, ensure all transactions are accounted for and communicate through error or audit logs on the automation’s performance. Hardening an automation takes effort, discipline and creative thinking about how an automation can “break.” Find people who hates to make mistakes, and they will build quality automations.

ISG helps companies build automations and find ideal builders within their own organizations. Contact me to discuss how we can help you.

About the author

Rich Baldwin is an experienced consultant with more than 30 years of experience in information technology, process automation, transformation and software development. His consulting experience includes work for firms such as Accenture, GenPact and Toshiba. His industry experience includes Department of Defense, energy and utility, retail, finance, and not-for-profit industries. He has held executive and senior technology positions for consulting and finance firms.