The RPA market is booming post-pandemic. Putting the power to automate processes into the hands of … [+]
Automation may solve a lot of problems, but making it accessible to the workforce is a challenge in itself. Low- or no-code development platforms have become very popular by addressing this exact problem, offering drag-and-drop tools that allow non-technical workers to automate processes and engage with digitization without having to understand the finer points of programming.
But companies providing these accessible automation tools need to keep up with digital transformation themselves, so how well do no-code platforms work when used internally by the people who built them?
Low-code, high speed
Using automation in the workplace is becoming much more common, and Gartner has projected that the RPA (robotic process automation) market will grow by nearly 20% between 2020 and the end of 2021, predicting that 90% of large organizations globally will have adopted some form of RPA by 2022. The pandemic has undoubtedly played a part in the sector’s rapid growth, as companies look to ramp up productivity while dealing with severely restricted budgets and dramatically altered operations. Low- or no-code development platforms have provided an option to automate individual processes without diving too deep into large-scale digital transformation, which may not be the top priority for companies just trying to get back on track.
One of these no-code platform companies, Creatio, has experienced this “substantial spike in interest throughout the pandemic” first hand, says founder and CEO Katherine Kostereva, who argues that this “is no surprise since so many organizations were forced to change their business models and rethink their approach towards deploying business technologies.” Headquartered in Boston, with 650 employees worldwide serving 100 countries, Creatio found that they also needed to “double down on automation to maintain the efficiency of our processes,” says Kostereva, while also “hiring new remote employees since the start of the pandemic” to keep up with demand. While Creatio experienced this increase in customer base and headcount, they also needed to adjust some of their internal workflows due to the pandemic. “We have had to transform some of our operations due to our changing interactions with partners and customers,” says Kostereva, “so we needed to provide new employees with smooth processes to be able to make changes as fast as possible.”
With a goal to “capitalize on agility and speed” Creatio had been implementing their no-code approach for a while before the pandemic to build their own business applications (excluding their financial system) throughout the company, engaging employees to use no-code tools themselves without having to run their ideas past multiple managers and navigate an IT backlog – this background in no-code processes has helped Creatio to onboard new remote employees and deal with an increased customer base. To complement this method of decentralized automation, Creatio also adapted their company structure to work in “smaller no-code teams for each key function… with a very rich and diverse mix of knowledge and skills,” so that employees and new staff could become “self-sufficient much more quickly to help them move fast with automation projects,” explains Kostereva.
Focusing on agility and speed with organizational change has its drawbacks however, even when using your own transformational tools. “Not everyone is ready to become a no-code developer from day one,” says Kostereva, “there are sets of skills and traits that you need to consider and invest in a training process to build these skills.” While low- and no-code tools are designed to open up automation to non-technical people, creativity and an agile mindset are still inherent parts of programming new tools or automating processes, even if the development process no longer requires detailed programming knowledge. While these skills and attributes are useful for everyone when moving to a new way of working, “during our journey of using no-code tools internally, we’ve learned that we need to be careful selecting no-code developers with the right skills and knowledge,” says Kostereva, and allow others to catch up at their own pace. Even if Creatio managed to “quadruple the number of people engaged with the internal automation processes,” diversity of thought and skill sets are still crucial components of a successful digital transformation.
Engaging people with automation is also a case of breaking down barriers between different departments and encouraging collaboration, as Kostereva found with Creatio: “With a no-code approach, you need to expect a higher level of engagement from all stakeholders so you’re able to think and act quicker… part of this was rethinking the cooperation between IT and other areas of the business.” While IT departments may have an outsized role in digital transformation efforts, Kostereva found that by providing other team members with the ability to create new applications, the role of IT changed to focus on “managing programs towards data governance, setting up guardrails and administration rules” as well as “deploying automation without causing chaos.” In this sense, Kostereva argues it is “equally important to transform the role of IT team members” to ensure that they can take on more management and governance responsibilities, as the rest of the staff becomes more IT-savvy. Once every member of every team can automate any process they want, with IT acting as a final check against “chaos”, Kostereva also cautions patience and preparation: “our appetite for change started to grow. Applications and feature requests have skyrocketed and we constantly face the issue of deciding which processes to build first… Automation attracts automation, and you should be ready for this.”
While there are no hard and fast rules for implementing automation throughout an organization, and especially not when giving every member of the company the tools to implement it themselves, Creatio’s case of using no-code tools to become more agile and remove hierarchies has certainly thrown up a few interesting pointers. Building on existing skill sets of those more used to the pace and agility of automation and nurturing these creative skills in others can help to smooth the process, as well as arming IT with the right management skills to deploy and prioritize new tools created by different departments.
In general, Kostereva argues that no-code automation “will form a new set of organizational skills… it’s important for organizations not to expect these skills to develop spontaneously, and adjust to support the human-centric side of this change.” Apart from speeding up the pace of change and allowing new processes to be built and deployed where they are needed, an automation strategy that puts the power in the hands of individuals “has an incredible potential in unleashing the creative potential of employees, allowing organizations to innovate much quicker” says Kostereva. If this potential can be harnessed in every organization that has adopted low-code automation over the last year, these technologies could well become a major factor in the post-Covid recovery.
I have run companies for 30 years, including Pod Group – an IoT mobile network. At Pod Group I developed a management structure that promotes our human skills, in order
I have run companies for 30 years, including Pod Group – an IoT mobile network. At Pod Group I developed a management structure that promotes our human skills, in order to help us take full advantage of AI and the future of tech, and to ensure that we are prepared for radical change. My book ‘The WEIRD CEO’ discusses the impact of AI on the future of work.
Follow me on Twitter @ctowersclark and send case studies related to digital transformation and human skills to email@example.com