The adoption of robotic process automation and other various flavors of intelligent automation is continuing to grow as businesses accelerate their automation initiatives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts predicted this could lead to an increase in several existing business, development and technology-related jobs, as well as the emergence of new RPA job descriptions. Some experts also predicted that RPA efforts could enable enterprises to consider creating new types of roles in the future.
RPA proved to be a key factor in enabling organizations to pivot in response to the pandemic's effects. "One of the big things that has been interesting has been the way the bots have helped with business continuity during the crisis," said Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "They have been able to do load leveling across many important types of work previously done by humans."
He pointed to the example of an airline he spoke with that used to have a team of 27 people handling travel cancellations. Each cancellation took an average of six minutes. After COVID-19 hit, it had a 15-fold increase in cancellation requests. The airline quickly implemented bots to handle the increase in requests with a smaller team. "This idea of using bots for dealing with business resiliency is an aspect of the pandemic we are starting to see more of," Le Clair said.
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Many RPA jobs that support these efforts will involve enterprise automation technologists. Other roles will also grow in importance. "Companies will need a number of specialists to address areas such as systems ethics and human-machine teaming, as well as many generalists to interface between business and IT," said Jon Knisley, principal of automation and process excellence at FortressIQ, a process mining vendor. He expects that many RPA job descriptions will include a unique combination of soft and hard skills to identify technologies, understand their implications and deploy them in a structured process in collaboration with various business teams.
Growth in existing jobs
In the short run, the adoption of RPA will drive the demand for a variety of existing roles in business, development and support, and machine learning categories, said Amardeep Modi, practice director at Everest Group, a management consultancy and research firm.
In the business category, he expects to see increased demand for project managers, process and operations specialists, and business analysts. In the development and support category, he expects developers, testers and IT support roles that have a solid understanding of AI, RPA and various other RPA-related technologies.
Growth in the use of intelligent automation to complement RPA will drive demand for data scientists and machine learning engineers. Modi also expects to see more demand for linguists that can improve various natural language processing aspects of automation. In addition, UX designers that understand how to weave AI into customer journeys will also become common in RPA jobs.
Tom Clancy, senior vice president at UiPath Learning, expects to see a rise in more RPA job descriptions calling for an RPA developer. This will be the workforce tasked with creating, designing, developing, and implementing RPA and hyperautomation tools. RPA developers are required to investigate, analyze and set up processes that can be automated to maximize efficiency for organizations' business models. This role works across the business and its function to ensure that hyperautomation technology investments are working to drive business value.
These individuals may also be called solutions architects or business automation analysts. They will work with the entirety of a business to identify business processes that can be automated, understand where efficiencies could be created, and develop and implement the required automation technology. They would also be able to adapt to fast-changing business needs and technology capabilities. "These roles would not be executing on an already determined playbook or dragging and dropping out-of-the-box solutions, but leveraging dynamic thinking and creative problem-solving to ensure automation is having the most impact possible," Clancy said.
Many types of RPA jobs will require a more rounded balance of skills. "The technical delivery team, particularly automation engineers, need to be less 'spiky' in their skill sets and instead be more well-rounded," said John Cottongim, co-founder and CTO at Roots Automation, an automation-as-a-service provider. Automation engineers by nature need to have a broad set of capabilities in order to support a mix of no-code platforms, API integrations and traditional coding practices to build fully functional offerings for clients.
Traditional development teams often look for talent that has deep capabilities in narrow fields. In contrast, Cottongim said automation engineers should be conversant in a wide variety of tools and techniques but not necessarily a master in any one.
Automation engineers will also need to have skills beyond traditional roles for engaging with their business partners and being able to distill business needs into rapidly executed automation offerings. They will also need to be able to apply a customer-centric view and build in an agile manner, while partnering closely with their business teams.
Cottongim also expects to see more demand for cloud architects and cloud engineers that can support intelligent automation needs. They will need to understand how to create applications built from a mix of VMs, databases, networking and high-availability management techniques. A holistic viewpoint around how these components can work together will enable enterprises to accommodate the unique usage patterns of various automation products.
Le Clair believes RPA capabilities are evolving toward greater levels of autonomy, much like the five levels of autonomy for self-driving cars. Level 1 RPA focused on automating workflow, and level 2 RPA involved bots directed by humans. Now, enterprises are deploying the third and fourth levels of automation in which the bots can execute more tasks and processes without human assistance.
This will require a new kind of role -- Le Clair refers to it as a "bot master" -- to orchestrate the training, monitoring and assessment of this new generation of bots. "Humans will have a specific role in mentoring the machines and getting in the middle of the feedback loop," he said. The bot masters will require a blend of technical and soft skills to get feedback from and guide UX experts, business subject matter experts, front-line employees and developers.
New jobs enabled by RPA
The widespread adoption of RPA and automation could create several entirely new roles that could help enterprises and government agencies increase the value of their initiatives while ensuring good governance. Prince Kohli, CTO at Automation Anywhere, predicted that enterprises may adopt the following new roles:
- Ethical algorithm engineers are like data sheriffs for organizations and government agencies, ensuring that algorithms are designed to be impartial and neutral and don't reflect any unconscious biases.
- Chief efficiency officers work across the entire organization to implement holistic initiatives designed to reduce wasted motion, transition burdensome administrative tasks to bots, and save time, money and headache for employees and organizations alike.
- Heads of healthcare process automation help find ways to free human attention to create better outcomes by automating processes, improving the use of AI support and ensuring good governance across all processes.
- Smart city architects help collect, manage and implement change based on the data they receive to ultimately shape urban planning and the systems that power a city's grid.
Related to this, Le Clair also expects to see a digital equivalent of HR that could be called something along the lines of "bot resource management." This person will help to manage the digital worker in the same way as a human worker. One idea is that each bot would be given a hire date, a manager and a termination date. It may also be wise to separate the development and management responsibilities. Some companies may not want the same person that develops a bot to do the reporting on bot behavior.
Kohli expects to see this role strike a balance around understanding how to manage the strengths of humans and bots. Humans excel at cognition, judgement, empathy and versatility. Digital workers excel at predictability, accuracy, endurance and speed. "Think of them as a talented coach that puts employees, whether human or digital, in the best position to succeed," Kohli said.