Could ‘citizen developers’ be the key to business continuity?

Businesses around the world are reeling from the extraordinary force that is the coronavirus

It has sped up some businesses (from wine merchants to online workout providers), slowed down others (including food and beverage companies) and halted others completely in their tracks (clothing companies Oasis and Warehouse are just two to have collapsed into administration during lockdown).

In the face of constant uncertainty, leaders have responded swiftly to keep things running: ensuring employee safety, putting infrastructure in place for remote work, and enabling continuity plans. For many, the toughest leadership challenge is only now emerging. Leaders need to figure out how to make a comeback from the impact of COVID-19, especially when our ‘new normal’ reflects a very different reality than anyone had planned for.

What’s ahead for businesses post-COVID

Companies have the mammoth task of protecting their people and productivity in times of ongoing crisis – and according to a PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 45% of chief financial officers (CFOs) anticipate that their companies will see productivity loss. As we define new practices around ways of working, the question becomes: How do you develop and roll out the right training to support increased employee productivity? The answer, suggested PwC in a recent webinar, lies in upskilling workforces at scale.

2019 Global CEO survey observed that 79% of business leaders believe that a lack of skills is threatening the future growth of their organisation. Upskilling and automation have long been discussed as C-level imperatives, but the current environment is only accelerating the demand for digital maturity. The need for automation is driven by not only efficiency, but also resiliency.

Though most efforts around transformation and automation have been driven from an enterprise-led perspective, a centralised effort alone cannot achieve scale. Instead, enterprises should focus on enabling infrastructure that allows the entire organisation to play a role. If a finance or operations professional sees an opportunity to make things more efficient and has knowledge of the digital tools available to help automate it, that’s half the battle. And, when you can help your workforce learn automation technology, this opens the doors for citizen-led innovation, where employees surface the areas that can become more efficient, pinpoint to processes that need optimisation, and embrace the opportunity to reinvent their work.

Jumpstarting citizen-led innovation

To help jumpstart citizen-led innovation, it’s important for businesses to leverage free tools that are already available. This includes Digital Fitness, a mobile app that assesses one’s digital acumen and enables an individual to put together a development plan to increase his or her digital abilities. There are also on-demand automation courses available through UiPath Academy, a training platform that has enrolled over 600,000 individuals. Whether people are interested in learning basic automation concepts or want to earn a professional certification, the Academy’s free, extensive curriculum will enable them to get them up to speed.

Once a group of employees has started building automation literacy, it’s important to then involve them in bottoms-up ideation, from leveraging hackathons to running internal competitions to generate ideas around what can and should be automated within an organisation. Here, a collaborative tool like the Automation Hub exposes more people within the organisation to the possibilities of automation and shows how it can help them in their work.

Citizen-led innovation in action

Jincy Jerry, Assistant Director of Nursing, Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (MMUH), likes to think of herself as a citizen developer – as she gained first-hand experience of software robots as a result of her role when she was deciding on an automation project within the hospital. 

“While scouting solutions to help alleviate the administrative strain placed upon our hospital workers, I attended a seminar hosted by UiPath in December last year. After that, I downloaded the company’s Community Edition studio – which allows people to learn more and test out the software robots themselves. It was my experimenting with them that convinced me to encourage the hospital’s administration to roll out the software across the IPC department at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Today, software robots disseminate patient test results in minutes – which has in turn enabled our nurse specialists to spend more time dealing with COVID-19”, said Jincy.

At the time of trying out the robots, Jincy had no idea how instrumental they would be in the critical period of the outbreak during which Irish nurses and doctors were no longer leaving the hospitals to go home to their families.

With the COVID-19 testing data automated, the information was processed in a fraction of the time, and patient results were disseminated within minutes. It saved IPC three hours per day, allowing nurses to spend their time managing the pandemic.

Not only the Mater was able to respond quickly to the COVID-19 outbreak, but it ended up inspiring hospitals around the world to turn to automation to greatly speed up their processes, and remove the administrative strain from nurses.

Jincy added: “In all, Mater Hospital has so far carried out 7,761 COVID tests (at the time of writing). Of them, 7,647 were tested in the Mater Laboratory, and subsequently, 827 patients were diagnosed with having COVID-19. We needed all this information quickly. The software robot assisted IPC nurses in processing and disseminating these results to the front line staff swiftly and essential infection control measures were put into action to contain the spread of virus as fast as possible. Prior to the robots’ arrival this would have been inputted and downloaded manually – taking hours of valuable time. But with UiPath, collating and processing all this data is carried out almost instantaneously now.”

The importance of enabling people to become citizen developers truly is highlighted no more so than at Mater Hospital. 

UK workers want upskilling 

Enabling citizen developers with the right training is not only a no-brainer for business – it’s becoming a common request from workers themselves.

A recent survey showed that 68% of UK workers wished their employer provided training on new skills, while 71% desired further training to improve their existing skill level. Furthermore, 86% feel employers should be more willing to invest in digital and technology training. 

In addition, 68% also said they would feel more secure in their role if their employer offered the chance to develop their skillsets – whilst those who have upskilled or reskilled said they have subsequently benefitted with increased responsibilities (51%), increased pay (41%) and greater job enjoyment. Perhaps most alarmingly for businesses, 42% of workers have considered quitting their job because they feel their skills are no longer required or valued.

It is therefore crucial that business leaders listen to the calls of their employees and invest in them, so people can grow and develop alongside the business they represent – a step that can unlock and yield further benefits to business. Enabling citizen developers within an organisation offers multiple advantages – allowing the business to benefit from relevant insider knowledge, adding to a company’s intellectual property, plus boosting innovation and digital transformation – and their merits should not be underestimated. Especially as we move through uncertain times and into an uncertain future.

About the Author

Chris Duddridge is Regional VP and Managing Director UKI at UiPath. We deliver the most advanced Enterprise #RPA Platform, built for business and IT. As you strive to benefit in the Automation First Era, your digital transformation accelerates here. Find out more:

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