The autobots are here, but are they here for your job? Robotic process automation (RPA) has the potential to simplify training administration. The efficiencies created by automation has some implications for the role of the training administrator. These tips will help L&D leaders prepare.
What Is Robotic Process Automation?
RPA, says Barb Farley, senior director of Conduent’s Global Competency Center, “is basically using software to mimic repeatable human processes.” Using RPA, a computer can perform certain tasks, like data entry, course scheduling or training request processing, more quickly and with fewer errors than even the best training administrator. In other words, according to Xavier Lhuer, an associate principal at McKinsey, RPA “takes away mainly physical tasks that don’t need knowledge, understanding, or insight – the tasks that can be done by codifying rules and instructing the computer or the software to act.” Lhuer cites McKinsey research that found an ROI between 30 and 200 percent in the first year of using RPA.
“Yes, definitely, it’s going to be taking over work,” says Farley, “but the work that it’s going to be taking over is really work that is very mundane, repeatable, [that] often humans have a hard time doing.” Instead, it will free up time for training administrators to upskill and, instead of simply entering data, for example, to start analyzing data and using it “to make an impact back in the organization.”
In addition, says Rohit Sethi, senior vice president of managed services for NIIT, automation will have less of an impact on some aspects of training administration. “As long as classroom training continues,” for example, “administration tasks around facilitation, meet and greet, and coordination shall continue to exist.” Even in virtual training, responsibilities like hosting support, facilitation, and Q&A and technical support will still be managed by humans.
Farley believes that RPA can also help alleviate some data security concerns. “I, as a human, may get curious and go look at something,” she says, but “a computer is never going to do that. A robotic process automation tool is never going to do that.”
The first step to implementing RPA is to develop a strategy. “How do you want automation to improve a process or improve your overall flow within your organization?” Farley says. Then, identify stakeholders, including business process owners and IT and HR personnel, and gain their buy-in. Finally, map out and standardize your processes. What processes will automation take over, and what rules will you use to “train” the RPA tool? You’ll also need to train the professionals who will be interacting with the RPA.
“Project governance is paramount,” reports CIO. Make sure you plan ahead for any problems that may occur. Improper planning and change management can result in more problems than solutions. It’s also important to keep the input consistent or to document all possible inconsistencies, says Sethi. You can also start with simple, free tools like macros, and, as your needs or your team grow, use advanced tools.
“The adoption of automation is just beginning,” predicts Farley, and “we’re now starting to hit critical mass.” The efficiencies created by automation, like RPA, will allow learning organizations to focus less on the administration of programs and data processing and more on analytics and strategy. That way, we’ll be able to identify specific performance and skills gaps and deliver training and content that is specific to the learner and his or her needs.
“As it evolves,” Sethi predicts, RPA will be used “across the entire lifecycle of training.” Automating some tasks will free up staff members to take on more complex responsibilities, perhaps enhancing their job satisfaction but also creating greater efficiencies for the training department as a whole. Yes, the autobots are here – but it seems they’re here to help.