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A Citizen Developer Approach to Democratize Automation

For digital transformation to happen faster, the key is to democratize automation. To enable this, Firstsource Solutions launched their Automation League program, a citizen developer led program in September 2020

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With remote working becoming the norm during the last year, there has been rapid progression in digital transformation across several industries. Specifically, automation has now emerged as a key lever to increase employee efficiency and to accelerate business delivery. The urgency and need for automation is stronger now, more than ever.

However, for digital transformation to happen faster, the key is to democratize automation. Firstsource Solutions Limited, a leading provider of Business Process Management (BPM) services with its ‘Digital First, Digital Now’ approach helps organizations reinvent operations and reimagine business models, enabling them to deliver moments that matter and build competitive advantage. Firstsource was looking to drive technology adoption by giving people the tools and skills that enable them to identify opportunities and then design and build their own automation solutions.

To enable this, Firstsource Solutions launched their Automation League program, a citizen developer led program in September 2020. As a first step, the company launched a pilot to put this model to test across two of its largest business units.

Building Skill and Mindset
The project planning research had highlighted the need for training, both in terms of building the right mindset as well as evaluating methods for automation skilling, supported by rigorous mentoring. Firstsource partnered with leading digital transformation trainer, Tiny Magiq, to develop a curriculum that harnesses motivational techniques around the cumulative power of small changes. It is based on Stanford behavioral scientist B.J. Fogg’s model of creating tiny habits.

The training methodology was developed in collaboration with UiPath. Citizen developers were trained through gamification techniques on UiPath’s platform to identify tasks amenable to automation. Even without prior programming experience, employees were able to prioritize tasks perfect for automation using the Automation Hub as well as build, publish and run their own automations on the no-code platform Studio X with pre-designed templates.

Savings Accrued in Time and Cost
The pilot program was highly successful as 170+ automation ideas and 100+ bots were created in a span of 10 weeks, adding tremendous value to internal processes by reducing errors and freeing up time. It also helped drive innovation to boost top-line revenues and bottom-line profitability.

For example, a project team member at Firstsource with no prior knowledge of coding created a software assistant that automates 90% of the holiday hours that she had to enter manually in the past. This allowed her to focus on high value tasks while also saving $2,400 a year. Similarly, one of the team leaders began using a bot to pull together time-consuming summary reports collecting data from team members and collating it in a spreadsheet which was validated and sent forward. The bot saves a total of 460 days’ worth of employee hours a year, leading to $56,355 in business savings. By June 2021, Firstsource aims to deploy 95% of these bots across 400+ employees.

Why Democratizing Automation Works
There were valuable lessons gleaned from the citizen development approach that the Firstsource Automation League program embraced. Firstly, it reiterated the effectiveness of automation as a way to boost employee productivity and happiness. By freeing up time from tedious and repetitive administrative chores, automation allows employees more time to delight customers.

Secondly, a ground-up approach to automation helps ensure better adoption since it empowers the workforce to create bots that truly address their challenges. The role of the IT team is restricted to providing guidelines and governance only, which allows them more time to focus on putting innovative new technologies to work for the business. While every team member does not need to become a developer, democratizing automation helps demystify bots. The identification of citizen developers needs to be strategically driven based on both their role as well as aptitude. For instance, people in roles such as finance, HR, training, and auditing that consist predominantly of manually intensive tasks are likely to be a good fit to be citizen developers. Similarly, identifying employees who are more technology oriented can up the chances for success.

Rewards and recognition play an important role too. The ‘Citizen Developers’ acted as proud evangelists for automation, created positive internal PR while bringing in excitement and momentum. The recognition also helped create a set of ‘Power Users’ who not only created and shared more bots within their line of business unit, but also worked alongside IT to identify automation opportunities for use in the wider organization.

UiPath’s citizen developer family has been growing exponentially since inception and have familiarised themselves with several of UiPath’s offerings, including Studio X. This program teaches employees how to map processes and to identify tasks that are perfect for automation.

The democratization of automation is gaining strength by integrating people, processes, and technology to drive meaningful business outcomes. Citizen development programs such as Firstsource Automation League will allow today’s enterprise workforce to be far more productive in a digital-first era.

Authored by Anil Bhasin, Managing Director & Vice President, UiPath India, South Asia And Sundara Sukavanam, Chief Digital Officer, Firstsource

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