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How Citizen Developers Can Help RPA Scale

When Deloitte asked businesses recently about their top strategic priorities, three items rose to the top, in order:

  • Focus on continuous improvement (35%)
  • Increase level of automation (24%)
  • Develop analytics capabilities (17%)

Given that these are all things that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help enable, the fact that RPA adoption is accelerating in 2021 should not be a surprise. But what is surprising is that enterprises are not scaling their use of RPA as might be expected. According to that Deloitte report, only a minority (3%) of businesses have placed more than 50 software robots (“bots”) into production.

Every employee can improve productivity with bots, so it’s critical to ensure that every employee gets a “digital helper” as an organization gets bigger because it can make a big impact on the bottom line. And that’s just from the productivity angle. Leading organizations are using automation to improve customer service, improve customer retention, and find new revenue streams.

Deloitte found that, on average, businesses estimated that approximately 20% of operational capacity in their organizations could be fulfilled by bots. Those businesses that had managed to put more than 50 bots into production said they were targeted at 52% capacity as their RPA objectives—a huge difference. But how do you bridge the difference? How do you break through the barriers and deploy RPA at scale?


Enter citizen developers

One way is by creating and building an RPA citizen developer program.

According to Gartner, a citizen developer is an employee who “creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units.” In other words, citizen development is not synonymous with shadow IT. It is done with the full support and permission of the enterprise.

Many businesses already had active citizen developer communities. That percentage has only grown in the two years since. Although it’s true that a successful enterprisewide automation initiative works best when IT is aligned with it and there’s a centralized center of excellence (CoE) to disseminate capture institutional knowledge and best practices,

Citizen developers generally fall into one of two categories: First, basic users create bots primarily for their use or for their workgroup or immediate colleagues. Then there are the more advanced citizen developers who can be used department- or even enterprise-wide automation. Such code generally goes through a proof of concept stage and is subject to review and approval from the IT team or the RPA Center of Excellence (CoE). 

Citizen developers can help you overcome the scalability challenge in three ways:

  1. RPA resources are scarce. Your CoE or IT department doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle all the requests coming in.
  2. Personal and workgroup-level bots can boost enterprise productivity and efficiency as much as larger bot initiatives.
  3. Only by engaging business users as subject matter experts to build and run their own automations can an organization truly scale RPA across the enterprise globally. As subject matter experts, the business users can build automations faster since they know the process and systems involved intimately—Workers who understand processes best can drive the greatest wins.

Let’s break down each of these ways that citizen developers can unlock automation at scale.


RPA resources are scarce

Let’s say your CoE or IT department doesn’t have the bandwidth to fulfill all the RPA requests coming in. A study in May 2020 by McKinsey & Company showed that to thrive after COVID-19 ended, companies need to start reskilling their workforces in RPA. Now.

Then, in a July 2020 survey, McKinsey found more than one-third (35%) of businesses said they specifically need more developers skilled in automation. But where do these workers come from? IT talent is notoriously scarce, especially for emerging technologies. According to McKinsey, the average annual software developer salary in the United States in 2020 was more than $100,000—and that’s if you could find one to hire.

So at a time when businesses are finding that technologies such as RPA deliver tremendous benefits—increased productivity, efficiency, and reduced costs, among others—they are unable to meet the demand for it. The pipeline of ideas is long and full, but the capacity to address those ideas is limited

Citizen developers help reduce the load on your automation team. By allowing citizen developers to work on personal and workgroup automations, you free up your professional developers for the more challenging or strategic projects.


Boosting productivity and efficiency

Personal and workgroup-level bots can boost enterprise productivity and efficiency as much as larger bot initiatives. Although most organizations deploying RPA are eager to get the biggest bang for their buck and go for strategic automation projects with significant payouts, they shouldn’t lose track of the fact that many smaller, more personal automations, when added up across dozens of departments and hundreds, if not thousands of employees, can contribute significantly to the success of an RPA program.

To do this, you need citizen developers. Whereas most large-scale RPA projects are imposed from the top down and managed by IT or a CoE, such initiatives can take a long time to complete and begin deriving value from. For ordinary workers who see the potential for RPA to streamline their own tasks and processes, this can be frustrating. Providing citizen developers with the right low-code tools so they can build their bots, while giving automation teams oversight of all RPA activity, solves this dilemma.


Those closest to the processes can drive the greatest efficiencies

A related point to the last one is that your business users know the processes they do day-in-and-day-out best. They probably already have ideas for how to improve the way things have been done for years. All they need are the right low-code/no-code RPA tools—and your go-ahead. So what are you waiting for? Some of the best RPA ideas are “crowd-sourced” at the grassroots level. And coming from the workers who will be most affected by the changes that RPA brings will dramatically reduce resistance to automation.


Automation Anywhere can help

You can start slow with your citizen developer program. You don’t have to boil the ocean overnight. Give them a user-friendly low-code/no-code platform such as our Automation 360, including tools such as AARI, our digital assistant. Low-code/no-code means that even business users with little or no technology experience or training can take advantage of what RPA has to offer. Citizen developers can quickly and easily build and run automations on their desktop, with access to the folders designed to be shared with them. Their software bots can be designed to handle many of their mundane, repetitive business processes. Not only will this reduce pressure on your professional developers, but you’ll find your organization becoming more productive and efficient in a thousand small ways—that add up to a big impact. And all of this will be done by the people on the front lines.

Create Your Citizen Developer Program.

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