How to start a CAREER IN PROCESS AUTOMATION — the hottest new technology
Perhaps you discovered this article because you heard of robotic process automation (RPA) and the central part it plays in digital transformation. Is this because automation is coming into your business or is it already there?
If you want to get a job in automation to future-proof your career and get a bigger salary, I hope to answer your big question:
“how do I get started in getting a career in automation?”
There are a couple of starter roles to start you on your automation career journey that we will look at, I’ll share how I got started and most importantly I’ll give you the heads-up common interview questions, the responses that interviewers are looking for and the skills that you will need to stand out on paper and boost your chances of securing a role. Keep reading to the end for bonus information to blow your interviewer away.
What I did
I started my automation career as a junior business analyst and in a few short years jumped to senior business analyst, to managing analyst teams, hiring and leading developer teams and setting up automation operational excellence teams. I’ve worked as both an Analyst, developer and also as an Automation lead. I’ve worked in finance and fintech, utilities, healthcare and Ecommerce. I’ve worked at some tier one consultancies as well as small-to-medium businesses. Instead of staying put in one position, company or industry for several years, I took the risk to gain as much experience as possible so that I could learn every aspect of the entire automation lifecycle, and gain a wide and varied perspective of the different ways that RPA (Robotic process automation) and Intelligent Automation is used. As well as how teams use operate in different ways.
Through my ‘obsessive’ networking in Central London, and building a global network in most continents, I realised that this experience was quite rare as the automation industry (as new as it is) is quite siloed. Most Automation analysts don’t have knowledge of how to develop a robot or what happens once a robot is launched, and developers and support engineers don’t know how opportunities are vetting or analysed. Even many Analyst-Developer hybrids don’t have the experience of how to support and manage robots or how to set up governance models in order to maintain the benefits from the Bots they’ve developed.
Lean Six Sigma → Lean Automation → Lean Intelligent Automation
Let’s take a step back further, when I first heard of automation, I was a Process Improvement Analyst, where we used Lean Six Sigma techniques to re-design business processes to make savings. At the time there was a lot of free training or very low cost so I studied everything I could get my hand on. Now I’ve trained over 8,000+ aspiring automation professionals my secrets, my tips and techniques as well as my do’s and don’ts that you wouldn’t find in traditional automation training, to give y students that extra boost to stand out and accelerate their careers (hopefully even faster than I did).
Two main paths of Automation: Design it or Build it
The two main career paths are either to become an Automation Business analyst or an Automation Developer. A junior analyst can become a senior business analyst to lead teams, and junior developer can become a Solutions architect. Both paths lead towards becoming Head of Automation, just with different perspectives. If Head of Automation is where you want to be in the next say five years then it’s advisable to learn both sides and gain experience in analysis and development, so that you will be able to fully understand and guide your entire team.
Whichever route you choose, you need to get certified. But don’t just learn anything that’s available, have a strategic approach, as time is limited.
What does an Automation Business Analyst (RPA Analyst) do?
The Automation business analyst (or Automation Analyst) role is a very central position. As many automation teams can be quite small (as this keeps them nibble to deliver faster), a business analyst aka BA commonly will wear a project manager hat. As an Analyst-PM hybrid, you’re analysing the data, identifying opportunities and you’re designing the solutions as a BA, but you’re also managing the automation project to get that automation launched and delivered.
As a business analyst you may be assigned to a business team (with a more experienced analyst), working closely with them to gather information on how the team and their processes work. You are responsible for gathering their requirements so that you and your team can understand how different technologies can help the business reach their goals.
With the right tools, you will be able to assess a process’s suitability for automation and be able to identify the best opportunities that your team can work on as projects.
The lead analyst or Program manager, who is responsible for collating all the potentially projects together to create a prioritise backlog of work, will assign you a project to work on. You may be required to work on this on your own or you may be part of a “squad” which is a micro team of analysts, project manager and developer(s).
As the Analyst, you will be the liaison between the business team of process experts and the automation developers throughout the entire project.
This will require you to run, or be part of;
· workshops to understand the details of the current state of the process (drawing up the “as-is process map)
· sessions to gather details requirements and user stories (problems experienced, root causes and what they want to be able to do)
· solution design workshops to re-engineer a more streamlined process (drawing up the “To-Be” process and defining a list of acceptance criteria)
NB: you’re not actually designing the new solution or coming up with the ideas, because you’re not the process expert, but you’re facilitating the teams by using your tech knowledge to guide them to the right solution)
When capturing all this information and As-Is, To-Be designs, the central document that every Automation analyst MUST use is called the Process definition document (the PDD). This document allows the Automation analyst to translate the business’s problem into a technical solution.
You will use this PDD document when liaising between the business and the developer teams to ensure the solution is clear, unambiguous and has everything the developer needs to build a robust Robot. Business and Development are two very different worlds and as the business analyst you need to be able to speak both languages, so you can effectively communicate with all your stakeholders.
Once you’ve created the PDD you will most likely be involved in these activities leading up to, and even AFTER the automation is launched:
· Collecting test data (so that the automation can be tested that it works)
· Creating test cases (working with the process expert to define what needs to be tested and how)
· Supporting the User Acceptance Testing (assisting the process expert with testing the finished automation, to ensure that it is robust and can work as expected in any situation)
· Support during Hypercare (helping raise issues, bugs during the hypercare period, aka the warranty phase which tests the bot is still working once it has been launched)
As you can see the Automation Business Analyst has a lot of engagement with the developer, so having an understanding of how an automated process is built is a very useful skill to have
What does an Automation Developer do?
The Automation developer role obviously is the most important because you’re responsible for building the automated solution, however getting started may not be as difficult as you may think.
I’ve interviewed many people straight out of university (‘College’ if you’re from the States) for Junior development roles at top firms and we weren’t looking just for tech Whizzes, and you didn’t even need to have ample experience in development. A lot of the people we hired just had a logical mind and had a good understanding of what Robotic Process Automation was.
We looked for those with engineering or science degree, but even if they didn’t have degrees having programming experience building websites or being an amateur video games programmer was sufficient. Showing evidence of have a logical mind meant they would be able to understand how an automation ‘robot’ would think and thus find it easier to build automated processes.
Seeing that an interviewee had good knowledge of RPA showed us that they had proactively researched the industry and technology and had a personal-development mindset, so would be motivated to learn the latest development tips and best practices.
You will most likely be assigned to a project once the business analyst has started the Process Definition Document (PDD). As a developer you will be involved in the flip-side of what the Analyst would do. You’ll be:
· Reviewing and providing feedback on the PDD (any details which are missing, or any elements which aren’t clear)
· Creating a Solution Design Document (SDD).
o This is the developers equivalent to the PDD, in fact as a developer you will use the PDD to create this. It is more technical, showing the architecture of the automated process and the various objects that you will use to built it
· Advising the analyst on the test data you need for testing during your development, SIT (System integration testing) and during UAT
· Creating a test plan with the analyst (using the acceptance criteria)
· Developing the automated process, testing as you develop each component
· Potentially carrying out peer-reviews to testing automation developments of other developers
· Supporting the User Acceptance Testing (this may require manually triggering the automation, or walking the team through the automation, if this is an unattended bot where staff don’t interact with it)
· Support during Hypercare (bug fixes and updating the SDD document with ll known exceptions)
· Knowledge transfer to the Support engineer so that they are able to take over and support after the ‘hypercare’ phase is complete
As a junior developer, you may not be required to do all of these items listed above, focusing mainly on developing the automated process however you will be required to liaise with the analyst. But do note, before long you will need to present to business teams as your experience grows, so good communications skills is much more important in Automation than most other developer roles. The reason being, RPA/Automation is a ‘business led’ technology so the business is heavily involved in all aspects of the implementation process.
How to get certified in RPA (Robotic process automation)
As time is finite so you want to get that Automation job fast so you need to be strategic. You could probably complete basic RPA training in a few weeks but to maximise your chances of success you’ll want to focus on the most popular platforms that most companies use. It wouldn’t be massively valuable if you were certified in automation on a very obscure RPA software platform, as you’ll find it hard to find jobs that are hiring for that experience.
On the flip-side many businesses I’ve seen advertise for developer experience of an obscure RPA platform and for the very same reason they struggle to find any developers with that experience — as a result you will find that these job posts remain on the jobs boards almost indefinitely.
The three top RPA vendors are UiPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere. In a Tech Crunch article in 2021 UiPath was said to have a 27.1% market share, Automation Anywhere was second with 19.4%, and Blue Prism had 10.3%. So that’s way more than 50% of companies that are using one or more of these three. It’s advisable to get experience in at least one, and I mean at least one because the more knowledge you have on these three the more versatile you are. UiPath and Blue Prism are my favourites, mainly because the use graphical maps to drag and drop actions into the automated workflow, it’s just easier to understand.
If you want to secure an automation analyst position I’d strongly advise you learn how to build at least a basic automated process (a Bot) so that you can design more robust fit-for-purpose solutions when you understand what a bot can/cant do, and you can better communicate with your developer colleagues.
It’s unfortunate that many automation analysts don’t know how to build a bot, which tends to cause a lot of disagreements and confusions within automation teams, but you wont have this problem, and you’ll be way ahead of your peers.
Get started with RPA / Process Automation training for free
Each of the main RPA software companies offers their own training academy with video classes and quizzes (another disadvantage of obscure RPA software vendors is they don’t have complete training, perhaps only a few YouTube videos). You can download their free trial or free edition of their application their website has different courses for you to work through, straight away. You will find traditional develop and analyst certifications which look great on your CV.
A quick caveat, some training is freely available to the public, some are free but require that you’re an existing client having bought licences, and some training has a price tag. Also, if you’re new to RPA they content may be overwhelming, and you may find it difficult to pass the certification exams on your own.
There are companies (some of whom are partners of ours) who offer intense online and in-class training courses to get you upskilled and certified quickly at basic and advanced developer levels all the way up to Solutions Architect level. Either way, these courses can be as much five ten thousand dollars to get fully qualified as an advanced developer. Though the price tag seems high, it might make sense to make that investment because the increase in your salary would far outweigh the costs.
As mentioned, whether you want to be a developer or still to business analysis gaining an understanding of how to build a bot will make you a better analyst and it crucial in getting ahead.
The automation studio is where the “Bot” (automated process) is built and you can download the free editions here:
Download Automation software here free:
Blue Prism: https://www.blueprism.com/free-trial/
Automation Anywhere: https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/enterprise/community-edition
Developer training for specific vendors:
UiPath Academy: https://academy.uipath.com
Automation Anywhere university: https://university.automationanywhere.com/
Take the Blue Prism exam: https://home.pearsonvue.com/blueprism
Automation / RPA interview questions and good answers
With RPA certifications on your CV and perhaps you’ve been able to demonstrate some experience in developing automated process, hopefully you have some interviews lined up, great. Here are two common interview questions that you may be asked and some great answers to impress the interviewers. If you’re going for a junior analyst or developer role, they wont be expecting you to have this level of knowledge. Many be people who have been in automation for less than two years may not know all of this, so this should put you in prime position.
Benefits of Automation
QUESTION: Name some benefits of automation:
· Teams work more efficiently
Automating mundane, monotonous and repetitive tasks frees up time for staff become more efficient.
· Automation can provide better work-life balance and job satisfaction.
Non-value-add tasks can be automated so staff can focus on the more enjoyable, interesting, human-to-human interactive and creative activities. This also reduces the need for too many late nights, taking a little off the pressure as they’re getting more work done
· Automation solves technical issues a lot faster than software development
Many legacy systems have technical barriers which stop applications from seamlessly communicating with each other. Building an AI is expensive and takes a lot of time to develop, and implementing software developments on these applications, especially for a large companies, can take maybe years.
RPA on the other hand can take a matter of months maybe even a few weeks to go from idea to development to launch. Businesses can see the return on their investment a lot faster. Quite often within that same year.
· Automation provides Out-of-hours services and support
Even when everyone’s gone home robots running the automated processes can continue to work on items and can even offer out of our services such as automates triggered by chatbots. This can greatly enhance the customer experience as customers can have their needs met outside of working hours, through different avenues and this may result is new way to generate revenue streams.
If a customer’s questions could be answered immediately at any time 24–7 rather than waiting for the offices to open at 09am, this can speed up the sales time.
· Automation provides analytics and insights
If a process or part of a process is automated the Bot can collect information and performance metrics on each process. It’s logs it’s keeping a track of everything that it does and this can be used to create data analytics and Management information for business leaders to look at performance in detail and find areas that need improvements. Business leaders will be able to answer specific questions like; what percentage of customers buy product A on Wednesdays?
· Automation allows managers to scale up their workforce instantly
A lot of businesses, especially in customer services, have seasonable peaks and troughs in work volume throughout the year, or potentially teams are forecasting a massive increase in work that they don’t have the staff for. Teams can implement automation to streamline time-consuming processes or parts of processes (like gathering or moving data), so that existing teams can do more. If 20% of a team’s processes could be automated, that 20% more people-power.
QUESTION: Name some challenges and issues with automation
The interviewer wants to see how you would solve these challenges and what solutions could mitigate these issues
· Poor process clarity
This is where the process has never been clearly defined before, each staff member may do their version of the process a little differently, but the team doesn’t really know what the standard process actually is. A process that isn’t standardised would be very difficult for a developer to build.
SOLUTION: work with the team to design a standardised approach first, where the solution is the most streamlined. The documented process must be clear and unambiguous, and you can use a Process definition document a PDD (the golden phrase that your interviewer is going to want to hear) so that the developer knows exactly what they’re building.
· Inaccurate or incomplete process documentation
It’s quite common that teams’ haves process maps and training documents that are old and out-of-date, perhaps the applications have been updated a few times since the documents were created.
SOLUTION: Though a good starting point for designing the solution, these shouldn’t be relied on. Analysts should sit with the subject matter experts and process owners to walk through the process in real situations to understand how processes are done today.
This is called “shadowing” where the analyst becomes the staff member’s apprentice-for-a-day, looking at what they do and asking questions about their actions and decisions to fully understand the process. This way the analyst can accurately map out that process As-Is, and by working with several team members in a workshop to standardize the process
· Automation can act differently in Live environment compared to test:
As a developer, you may test something thoroughly, but when you launch it the bot acts very differently. This is not uncommon for many reasons, the data format that you tested on was a different format to real life, the applications could be slightly different, or it could be that the real life application has more users so it tends to load its pages slower
SOLUTION: The most important thing to do to mitigate these unexpected issues is to have a Hypercare phase (sometimes called Post Go-live support or warranty period). This ensures they the automation team are on hand to babysit the automation after its launched into real life situations.
However, even before you launch you want to ensure the test environment, where you’re the bot is tested has its applications that are up to date and the same version as what is in the live environment. For example, issues can arise when the test application is version 1.1 but version 1.2 in production. Everything needs to match exactly or as close as possible to the real thing. This also extends to the format of real data. Data for testing shouldn’t be made up but should be a true reflect of what will happen in real life.
QUESTION: How would you identify automation-suitable solutions?
There are six characteristics of a process that can help you identify a process that is suitable for automation.
1. The process should not require any human intuition, as automation can’t think so it can’t make judgment calls or use any prior knowledge of a situation. Robotic Process Automation can only make predetermined steps and make pre-determined decisions
2. The process can only use standardized input this is data with predetermined formats such as options in radio buttons, tick boxes or a drop down menus. Bots can also retrieve, input and transfer data from structured layouts like a webpage or excel table. A Bot wouldn’t understand data in unstructured format, like specific text within an email or comments box message
3. The process and applications must be stable. Automation Bots repeats the same steps over and over again, so the process and the applications it uses shouldn’t keep changing otherwise if a button changes its name or location on a page, this could cause the Bot to error when it doesn’t find it
4. The process needs rules based/logic based decisions. The developer needs to be able to program exactly how the robot needs to decide and what pre-determined option to take.
a. E.g. IF married send form A, ELSE IF single send form B, ELSE IF other send forms C
5. The process should be repetitive. If it’s just a one-off process then it’s probably not worthwhile automating it.
6. The process should have a high work volume. Just like being repetitive you want to make sure that it’s high volume so that your automation saving your business a lot of time
If you want to learn more about how to accelerate your career in RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and Intelligent Automation, subscribe to my YouTube channel Tony IA (Intelligent Automation, Simplified) for videos created weekly, to simplify intelligent automation for business leaders and professionals who are new to automation to level-up your knowledge. Become empowered to optimise your business and discover new technologies, in a lean and accelerated way.
You can also learn more about other tips in my blue book of secrets, Business @ the Speed of Bots: The AEIO YOU method HOW TO IMPLEMENT ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION THAT SCALES. Get ready for the new digital transformation age for more information. The foreword is written by Guy Kirkwood, who is ex-chief evangelist at UiPath, and a very well-known advocate of RPA with over 20 years of experience in outsourcing.
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