​Striking the balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application isn’t easy. Within any given team, it’s likely that some team members will be over-qualified for their role on paper, whereas others hold a wealth of first-hand experience.

La Fosse sat down with Kieran Gilmurray, Global Head of Intelligent Automation for Pearson, to find out why he encourages his team to gain practical, hands-on experience alongside formal qualifications.

While I have worked with some very capable RPA developers who are not accredited, I have also met accredited RPA developers who have proven to be much weaker coders. I believe qualifications are good indicators that individuals have the discipline and ability to study and learn best practice techniques – yet this rigor needs to be backed up by ‘real world’ experience and reinforced by continual expert feedback.

Completing online courses, classroom learning (whether certified or not), reading analyst reports, attending conferences and learning from others on LinkedIn or YouTube are all decent starting points. But this alone is simply not enough to become an excellent RPA developer who is 100 per cent focused on delivering successful business outcomes.

When a new starter joins my team, I develop an initial comprehensive 180-day plan which is bespoke to that individual’s learning needs. It encompasses all of the different skills that will be required in their role – notably coding, design thinking, OCR, AI, Agile, lean for digital, business strategy and communication skills. Then, we mentor them week in, week out until they are competent. Before their 180-day plan is completed, we develop their next one to ensure the individual continues to progress, learn and develop.

We often migrate individuals between roles to develop their RPA skills further and ensure they continually face new challenges. For example, our coders are encouraged to take on the responsibilities of a business analyst or help orchestrate our control room – giving them hands-on experience of the role. While each team member is encouraged to complete their exams, it is ultimately their choice; some choose to, some don’t.

It is often said that you can train ‘anyone’ to be an RPA developer but I, and many of the experts I speak to on a regular basis, don’t believe this to be the case. Excellent RPA developers need coding skills; the ability to digest and focus on business outcomes; a forward-thinking nature; willingness to experiment; a positive attitude; communication skills; an inquisitive and resilient mindset; an openness to change; and a ready-to-learn way of thinking.

Our conversation shouldn’t just be focused on RPA developers, as they’re just one part of the RPA jigsaw. To succeed at scale, businesses need fantastic RPA business analysts; controllers; architects; RPA champions and change managers; finance leads who can validate and track business cases over time; RPA service support experts; RPA supervisors; workflow experts; testers and design or lean thinking leads. Ideally, these individuals might possess multiple skills, occupy several roles or move between roles.

Securing the right individuals and moulding them into an effective team is key to RPA success. To get RPA right it needs to be resourced correctly – and without these people in place, you simply will not get the results you’re looking for.

This is part one in a series of articles based on our interview with Kieran Gilmurray. Be sure to check back soon for the next instalment.