For decades, pundits and tech journalists have been heralding
the rise of intelligent machines and how they will revolutionize
the way we live our lives. A big part of that shift involves
"intelligent" software that is supposed to transform the modern
With the arrival of accessible automation tools, often described
as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), we are finally beginning
to see a noticeable change in the way digital technology impacts
our work routine. The successes of RPA early adopters have started
to catch the attention of other businesses that are seeking to
replicate their results. This momentum will propel RPA into the
mainstream very quickly, and just as quickly, the average knowledge
worker will have to transition from never having heard of RPA to
possessing practical experience working with bots.
Here are some ways that RPA is transforming our experience – and
our responsibilities – as knowledge workers.
You might have encountered self-serve checkout lines at your
local supermarket. Instead of a team of cashiers scanning
groceries, a single cashier acts as a trainer and supervisor for
first-time users of this new system. They walk customers through
the process and provide assistance when something unexpected
happens. Implementing RPA represents an opportunity for many
employees to be “promoted” to a similar supervisory role.
Suppose you spend several hours each week searching for emails
that contain details on recent shipments, finding out which courier
company the shipment is being delivered by, checking the status of
the shipment on that courier’s tracking website, and typing that
status into your company’s central supply chain database. With an
RPA solution, you could train a bot to carry out the same series of
tasks. You’ll just be responsible for monitoring your bots, which
will allow you to concentrate on more strategic processes like
performance analysis and inventory optimization.
Since your bots will use the same digital tools (email clients,
web browsers, spreadsheets, etc.) as you used to, you’ll still rely
on your prior experience working with those tools. You’ll also need
to learn enough about the RPA platform to track how your bots are
performing and intervene when they encounter situations they
weren’t trained to handle.
To take your career to the next level, you could learn how to
train your bots on new tasks instead of relying on your IT
department to make adjustments every time your tasks change. You’d
quickly become a more agile, more valuable employee.
For example, if management decides that any part substitutions
in your manufacturing processes need to be approved by two separate
engineers instead of one, then you could train a bot to forward
each substitution request to the correct personnel and only proceed
with the change after the bot receives two approvals.
Even though several “no-code” RPA platforms exist that are much
simpler than full-fledged application development, training complex
bots often requires a basic understanding of programming
fundamentals like conditions, loops, and functions. People who use
computers and smartphones on a daily basis will catch on fairly
quickly, but their shift in job focus could lead to difficulties
similar to the sort that first-time managers often face.