Robotic process automation (RPA) is generating a lot of interest and hiring activity because of its potential for automating and integrating processes without the need for a big budget IT project. Who’s going to do all this RPA work? Maybe more types of people than you’d think.
Good choices for RPA applications tend to be processes in which employees interact with two or more applications, performing data integration or data aggregation tasks. While the work is robotic, people wind up doing it in the absence of an automated system — and in the absence of RPA, creating that automated system was considered impractical because it would consume too many IT resources or the existing software didn’t provide the necessary application programming interfaces (APIs).
[ Want a primer? Read also: How to explain Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in plain English. ]
As distinct from Business Process Management technology, which tends to be used to redesign processes, RPA is typically used to automate a process as it exists today, while subtracting time and labor from them.
Because RPA bots mimic interaction with the user interfaces of existing applications and can be created relatively quickly, they can often get the job done without big budgets or APIs. The requirement to architect and maintain RPA bots means IT should be involved in architecting them for durability, opening up new opportunities for technical personnel. Software testers wanting to make a change could be among the leading beneficiaries; the automation used to simulate human interaction with software during testing is very similar to how RPA works.
RPA careers: Not just for technologists
At the same time, RPA opportunities are not limited to technologists. Business analysts and others with the ability to analyze business processes and imagine how they can be automated can learn to produce bots themselves or write up the requirements for an RPA developer to work from. Business leaders whose organizations have not yet taken advantage of RPA have the opportunity to champion the possibilities and carve out a role for themselves leading that initiative (see cautions, below).
To learn more about the possibilities, we spoke with Shail Khiyara, who until recently served as Customer Experience Officer at UIPath (and before that held executive roles at Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism), Ahmed Zaidi, Chief Automation Officer and Managing Partner at Accelirate, and Wayne Ariola, general manager for Tricentis RPA.
Who makes a good match for an RPA career path?
“That’s a question we asked early on — where are we going to get these people?” says Zaidi, whose firm provides RPA consulting services. While the ranks of RPA professionals are growing, and the leading RPA tools vendors offer free training, there are not enough experienced RPA pros to go around, he says. Let’s look at 4 RPA job titles:
How do I become an RPA developer?
Who makes a good RPA developer? Part of the attraction of RPA is that it does not require as much coding (or testing and debugging of code) as traditional software development. That means RPA developers do not necessarily have to be programmers — although they ought to be capable of doing some light scripting, at least, to go beyond the limits of visual tools. The same kind of power user who starts out creating Excel macros and winds up learning Visual Basic to enhance the automation of spreadsheet tasks could be an RPA developer.
However, mostly RPA developers come to the role with programming skills and an understanding of computer science. Although RPA tools emphasize low-code, visual techniques for defining applications and integrations, an understanding of programming control flows, exception handling, and data structures is still important.
“I guess if someone really likes to code, they might not be a good match,” Zaidi says. “Most developers quickly see, okay, instead of writing an if-then statement, I can drag a box that becomes my if-then.” In addition, they can write code whenever necessary, if they bump up against the limitations of the visual tools, he says.
Zaidi himself did software quality assurance, not programming, before making the leap to RPA. “RPA is a great opportunity for QA and testing people,” he says. “Anyone who understands traditional test automation tools will be at home with RPA.”
In a presentation you can watch on replay from the Starwest 2019 software testing conference, Ariola makes the same point. “If you want an instant pay raise, go get the RPA certification,” he says.
His company, Tricentis, is best known for its software testing tools and has developed its own RPA product … which he suggested users of its testing software would find very familiar.
RPA is “the inverse of software testing,” Ariola says. Instead of creating automations designed to test a software application until it breaks, as a tester does, the RPA developer aims to create automations that will be resilient.
“The punchline is that a 10 year specialist in software testing, a test automation professional is probably making in in USD at about $110,000,” Ariola says. “If you just changed your title to RPA developer, you’re probably going to make about $165,000.”
Zaidi says the best software testers are well paid, so he is not so sure they will find more money in RPA — but they will certainly find demand for their services.
[ How can you build RPA skills? Check out 8 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) training and certification courses. ]
How do I become an RPA Architect?
For a good RPA solution architect, you essentially need a good software architect, Zaidi says. While the style of development in RPA is different, he still looks for software architects with 5-8 years of experience who “understand how to produce good, modular code and integrate that code,” he says.
Understanding efficient software design patterns is as important, as is knowing when to create two streamlined bots rather than one bloated bot. An architect should also be able to make good judgements about when an application is stretching the limits of RPA too far — those cases where a traditional software development project might make more sense.
Without that big picture view, Ariola says automation initiatives can fall victim to what he calls “the RPA death spiral.” That is the scenario where the first few projects initiated by an organization — often on a departmental basis, with little or no involvement from IT — seem to achieve a tremendous return on investment, leading to the creation of more bots. If those bots were created by inadequately trained developers, or by system integrators who go home after the initial implementation, those bots will start failing as they encounter unexpected changes in user interfaces or the data they are being fed.
A good RPA architect makes the bots more robust, resilient, and maintainable.
How do I become an RPA Analyst?
Just as good RPA architects are good software analysts, good RPA analysts are good business analysts — people who can analyze business process and businesses needs when defining the requirements for an application or integration.
The line between developer and analyst can blur in the RPA world, given that developers ought to invest time in understanding the processes they are automating and analysts can potentially use RPA tools to produce application prototypes. More typically, Zaidi says, anlaysts produce Visio diagrams and PowerPoint slides.
The job may not be that different, but business analysts may still find it worthwhile to define themselves as RPA specialists while the demand is rising.
How do I become an RPA champion?
Khiyara says the enterprise customers he worked with often redefined or enhanced their career paths by championing an RPA initiative. Sometimes they come from within IT, but often they are executives from outside of IT trying to get something accomplished outside the limits of the time, money, and attention IT can devote to their needs.
“A lot of business units are creating RPA centers of excellence, often without IT involvement,” he says. The titles of the people leading these programs vary. They have an exciting opportunity to write their own job descriptions, but as a career path it comes with some hazards, he says.
“A lot of those people are struggling because there isn’t a clear training path for them, or a clear definition of what their role is,” Ariola says. He compares it to when business began naming the first Chief Digital Officers, and no one quite knew what that meant.
An RPA champion coming from outside of IT ought to put some energy into establishing a good relationship with IT that will ensure long-term success, Khiyara says. “I do think the vendor community can do a better job of bridging the gap between business and IT, rather than expecting that to happen on its own.”
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