On March 11, 2021, Laura Hendrix, Senior VP and Director of Enterprise RPA and Process Improvement/Quality at First Horizon Bank, joined Simplilearn for a conversation about robotic process automation and process improvement.  As Laura describes it, it’s a field that has its practitioners asking themselves, “What in the world,” because of the new tasks and challenges the job presents every day.

Laura has over 15 years of experience in engineering and business roles.  In her current role, she specializes in helping other peoples’ visions become reality by facing and overcoming challenges to achieve award-winning success in efficiency and quality.  She helps them develop creative solutions by working collaboratively with stakeholders.

A Typical Day in RPA

Laura says that there is not really such a thing as a typical day in robotic process automation.  In RPA, the team deals with user-facing screens, backend systems, and infrastructure, and there are always new ways for something to fail and force the team to compensate, work around, and re-design.  These unexpected developments are layered on top of their regular work to improve and automate business processes.

For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the bank to shift to remote operations, there was a mismatch between the networks and laptop systems at their offices and the ones the employees had at their homes.  The bank issued many employees new laptops that were newer and faster than those they had in the office.  At the same time, the employees’ home wifi networks were mainly much slower than the in-office networks.  That mismatch required redesigning aspects of their systems to compensate for both the faster laptops and the slower networks.

RPA and business process improvement complement each other.  Laura observes that business processes are often the result of years of additions and modifications so that they don’t represent a single, cohesive design.  Before they can apply RPA to automate a business process, Laura and her team often must re-engineer the process to optimize it;  otherwise, the RPA team will end up automating a broken process and won’t accomplish any benefit for the bank.

Laura considers herself fortunate that First Horizon has put her in charge of both the quality process improvement team and the RPA team.  In other organizations, the separation of the teams can cause miscommunication and execution gaps.  With both functions working closely together, they can brainstorm together and arrive at the best solution.  Her team acts as facilitators to help the business departments re-think and optimize their processes to co-create the best solutions.

How Process Improvement and RPA Work Together

The RPA and process improvement team gets calls from all of the areas of the enterprise.  Often processes overlap different functions and departments, and the quality process improvement part of the team takes the lead to facilitate the cross-functional meetings to arrive at a good process design.  At that time, the RPA team can come in to do the automation work.

The quality process improvement side of the team relies more on soft skills than technical skills.  Change management and the interpersonal skills to keep the change process productive are a big part of it.  Sometimes, the “customer” departments don’t initially understand why the quality process improvement team needs to facilitate the redesign when they are not subject matter experts.  Soon, however, they realize that the facilitation helps the subject matter experts communicate their requirements clearly to each other and create a shared vision of the optimized process.

On the RPA side, there are two main functional groups: business analysts and developers.  The business analysts create written process definition documents that set forth the complete specification of how the optimized process will work.  This team requires strong soft skills in communication and technical writing.

They hand over the process definition documents to the developers who will implement the process in software.  Developers have a higher need for technical skills, but the robotic process automation platforms generally do not require specific coding skills.  Instead, they need skills in program and workflow logic and systems-level thinking.

Lean Six Sigma thinking is important both for the quality process improvement side and the business analysts.  Both are trained to look at processes and determine what needs to be fixed and what needs to be rebuilt from scratch.  They also understand how to build processes that provide measurable and repeatable quality.

Lifelong Learning for Career Health

For people hoping to move into process improvement, Laura recommends looking at their current work and learning skills to improve their own processes.  In addition, she recommends that they pursue certifications in Lean Six Sigma and project management.  These particular skills have the added benefit of being useful across almost all industries and in many job functions.

People looking to move into RPA can look at resources like Simplilearn’s SkillUp program to get free materials for self-study and see if they have an interest in and aptitude for RPA.  If they then decide that this is the career they want, they can enroll in formal programs for training and certification in RPA.

Laura’s advice to help people stand out in the job market is to work to stand out in their current jobs and demonstrate curiosity, a willingness to learn, and a proactive approach to gaining skills.  She followed this path in her own career and got noticed by her bosses, which led to her rise in titles, responsibilities, and salary.  She advises not to wait until you are offered more money or a bigger title before pitching in on a needed task but to volunteer for the additional work to gain the experience and new skills.

She offers the same advice to people who are currently out of work. She recommends spending part of your time volunteering for non-profits or charitable work to show your willingness to stay active and engaged helpfully.  You may even be able to offer advice along the way to improve the processes where you volunteer.

Laura also places a high value on lifelong learning. She wants candidates who show they are committed to improving their skills and take the initiative to learn new things.  Laura looks at formal education and training and at work experience to get a picture of their skills, initiative, and experience.  As she says, “Learn continuously – never, ever stop learning.”

You can watch the entire webinar above.

Learn RPA using the advanced UiPath platform with the Robotic Process Automation certification training course.

Getting Started on Upskilling

To help you follow Laura’s advice on continual lifelong learning, Simplilearn offers many resources.  Our SkillUp program provides free access to many of our self-study resources in 300 digital skills so you can try out new areas of interest.  You can then move on to formal certification courses in areas like robotic process automation, Lean Six Sigma, and project management.  The best time to start is right now.

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