We’re now in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where humans work side-by-side with machines. This means business users must attain new digital skills to effectively supervise the huge influx of “digital workers,” driven by the rise of robotic process automation (RPA) software robots. 

It’s even more significant given that companies deploying these bots expect an increase by as much as 50 percent over the next two years, according to IDC in its Content Intelligence: For the Future of Work survey. 

The reason we’re seeing more software robots within the enterprise is that transformation initiatives are no longer solely owned by the IT department. Instead we are seeing organizations form a new Center of Excellence (COE) where multiple people within the organization are involved in the automation process, capturing C-Level visibility and engagement.  These COEs are growing at a pace, with business analysts becoming central to the process of assessment and use of RPA tools to facilitate change.

Historically, AI technologies like machine learning have been difficult to incorporate, but now next generation applications are packaging AI technology in a way that is easy to train and consume in order to build and extend the digital workforce. But while “teaching” the new software robot no longer requires a developer in AI or machine learning, it does mean that business analysts will need to gain more skills to be proficient in process assessment methods, designing, training, deploying, and managing the new digital workforce. 

A concerning 75 percent of global enterprises in IDC’s Future of Work report said it was difficult to recruit people with new digital skills needed for transformation, and 20 percent cited inadequate worker training was a leading challenge. As we enter a new decade, business analysts with these higher skills are therefore crucial more than ever to adequately supervise and train digital workers. 

So how can we prepare our workforce for the new digital era? There are two approaches: advocacy and access.

Advocate New Digital Skills

Let’s be clear, the digital skills gap I’m speaking of is not the transition we saw at the turn of the century where people traded their filing cabinets and typewriters for personal computers and Microsoft Word. Over the last decade enterprises have successfully transitioned to business process automation solutions in virtually every department from shipping, legal, accounts payable, payroll, human resources and recruiting, to sales and marketing and customer service. Today’s workforce is proficient in using software for automation and collaboration.

Despite the advances in automation however, employees are often still performing manual work that falls outside of these systems especially when these processes involve unstructured content – documents, images, text, and emails. 

Now, with advances in AI, robots can be trained to carry out this manual work through the use of specific pre-packaged advanced skills. Also, by showing the bots how to perform a task, pointing out where they went wrong so they learn from their mistakes, they effectively gain human understanding such as thinking and reasoning so they become subject matter experts.

This is a key stage of the automation process and why it is important that business analysts understand how AI for content can be applied and incorporated into their procedures. 

They will need access and knowledge to tools that can understand a business process and make recommendations. They can use these tools that apply AI to processing content but do it in such a way that does not require an advanced degree around machine learning and other AI technologies. This type of training and digital knowledge is imperative as companies move forward with automation. By doing this, it frees up more time for the employees to concentrate on more complex tasks or important business activities, like improving customer service. It is enabling and empowering more people in the organization, not just a few people with tribal knowledge who know the systems.

Take the role of compliance officers, for example. The challenge for these employees is sifting through the amount of documents and data associated with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) checks as part of customer due diligence process requirements. Without performing thorough checks, banks are at serious risks at incurring hefty fines in the millions.

Many banks are using RPA as a first step to automate the collecting of documents and data, but still leave it up to the compliance officer to sift through documents and find the data that is relevant to their decisions. 

By allowing robots to read the contracts and pick out relevant data, the compliance officer and the legal team can focus on the higher value work rather than manually inputting data into software or searching for key phrases. Digital skills will help a wide variety of professionals to augment and improve their work productivity from the legal team, HR, accounts payable, claims adjustors and more.  

New Generation of Technology Training

Equipping your workforce with new skills that complement the digital world of business today has mainly been industry driven. Some of the major RPA vendors such as Blue Prism and UiPath offer conferences, seminars and webinars that teach you how to train digital workers with Content Intelligence skills. Likewise, AI-enabling companies also offer the same resources for working with cognitive skills no matter which RPA platform you choose. Other resources are value-added resellers and integrated solution partners who will work with your automation team to deploy digital workers and train them to maximize their efficiency.

As organizations become more comfortable and proficient with training bots with specific cognitive skills, you’ll soon find internal marketplaces emerge within companies where departments and business units across the entire organization can share and access them.  

Universities are also catching up to the speed of business and offering courses to equip the next generation of business and management graduates. There are notably two universities offering software robotics courses. California State University at Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics is offering both graduate and undergraduate courses explaining the applications of RPA to drive efficiencies and improve performance in accounting. As part of a partnership with UiPath, the course features presentations and applied demonstrations from experts in the field including professionals from the Big Four accounting firms. 

From the technology perspective, Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College Schools of Information Systems & Management is offering an Advances in Robotic Process Information course for its Master’s Program in the spring of 2020. Technology leaders will share their experiences and give students access to the latest artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, such as RPA tools from Blue Prism and Content Intelligence skills from ABBYY. 

With a new set of digital skills business analysts will heighten the level of automation in their company so staff can focus on more higher-value tasks that require emotional intelligence qualities such as judgement, discernment and empathy. It’s a sophisticated balance between being efficient in their core profession, understanding the organization’s needs and being digitally proficient to embrace the future of work. In turn, businesses can expect increased employee productivity and be on their way to have a better pulse on their overall Digital Intelligence – having a complete understanding of how their business operates and to allocate resources and improve operations based on facts. 

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The piece Are Business Analysts Ready for the New Digital Era? by Bill Galusha first appeared on Innovation & Tech Today.