Why robotic process automation is truly transformative and how to prepare for it

With a quarter century of experience in helping major financial institutions navigate transformation, Jon Theuerkauf knows disruption when he sees (and doesn’t see) it. He said he’s never bet his career on a technology before now, but Blue Prism’s robotic process automation (RPA) technology made him take the step.

Mr. Theuerkauf is the chief customer officer at Blue Prism, a company at the forefront of RPA transformation.  Blue Prism provides connected, RPA-intelligent software with the ability to automate and perform repetitive tasks so a company’s employees can focus on the creative and more motivating aspects of their work.

Jon Theuerkauf has viewed the enterprise from many different vantage points, with senior leadership postings at GE Capital, HSBC, Credit Suisse and Sberbank on his resume. He has lived in England, Russia, Switzerland, New Zealand and New York. It was while he was working at BNY Mellon in New York City that he tested different software options and felt Blue Prism was the most secure and most easily scalable of the lot.

“We developed 300 digital workers within two months and automated 150 to 175 processes,” Mr. Theuerkauf said. “We scaled pretty quickly.”

A few years later Mr. Theuerkauf left BNY Mellon to start a consultancy and was recruited by Blue Prism CEO Alistair Bathgate for an advisory role. He’s been there ever since.

Why has he bet his career on Blue Prism’s technology? What makes it different?

The reasons go beyond the core technology, Mr. Theuerkauf explained. Instead of a siloed technology that forces companies into an “us versus them” choice, Blue Prism connects different technologies so companies can choose the elements they feel best suit their needs, regardless of who makes them.

“On one platform you can take the best in breed of the other technologies and plug and play that into your platform and create a skilled digital worker,” Mr. Theuerkauf explained. That “non-carbon-based worker” may only have to address rudimentary aspects of a job, or it can encompass more complex technologies such as optical character recognition so it can complete higher-level activities.

Jon Theuerkauf

There’s also a clear separator between Blue Prism and other companies, Mr. Theuerkauf added.

“One thing about Blue Prism is they’ve actually delivered,” he said.

That shows no signs of changing either, Mr. Theuerkauf said. With cloud-based AI tools offering companies the ability to drag and drop key elements of their digital workers, the process is already simple. But stay tuned because more is on the way.

I spoke with Mr. Theuerkauf at Blue Prism World 2019 in Orlando. One popular statistic being floated around the event was the fact 80 percent of the jobs required within the next decade haven’t even been created yet. With change coming that fast, the ability to quickly produce and deploy a digital worker is an attractive trait for companies looking to remain competitive.

And if a better product comes along next year, you don’t have to start from scratch. Remove the underperforming aspect and replace it with the superior one.

“That’s the best of both worlds of having that capability,” Mr. Theuerkauf said. “I can decide that if my people say ‘this is the tool we are going to use’ then we plug it right in. And guess what? In a year from now or two years from now when a better product comes out you pull it out put the new one in and it’ll work just fine.”

Blue Prism also offers a digital exchange that is similar to a vending machine or app store where companies can select previously-built tools that have proven successful and quickly deploy them.

“In some ways it’s simple elegance, and to me that’s how you change how people think about work,” Mr. Theuerkauf said.

Over his career Mr. Theuerkauf has developed a playbook of how companies can best adapt to change. For starters, remember transformation best starts at the top. Someone lower down the hierarchy may have a truly transformative idea, but if they can’t get anyone to listen it won’t take root.

Transformation also takes time. While you’re building your case around the c-suite, spend your time laying the foundational elements for scaling so that once the bigwigs buy in, you are ready to move. If the idea is as good as you believe, a logical question is “how quickly can you deploy this everywhere else?”.

Transformation can also bring pain, because people don’t like to change. As you prepare your case, consider how you are going to communicate the change that is coming and the opportunities it will bring. A psychologist by training, Mr. Theuerkauf said you must be prepared as such changes can strike people at core Maslowian elements such as safety. That can produce strong reactions which can be hard to detect as people keep insecurities to themselves.

“We know humans don’t like to change. We love schedules, we love order, we love routines,” Mr. Theuerkauf said. “These are core fundamentals when dealing with people, as you affect things they use to shape their self-worth and value.

“You can’t communicate too much, you can’t educate too much, and you can’t communicate too much.”

Most often it means the elimination of the rote, back office tasks that are becoming tougher to hire for, especially among younger generations looking to tap into their creativity. While there will be cases where there is no longer a position for some people, it is often less common than many think. Add in an aging workforce and fewer replacements and you are looking at shortages anyway. Why not erase the most boring positions?

The changes will keep coming, and for banking that could mean a move to more kiosk-driven operations, which is something Mr. Theuerkauf worked on when in Russia, where they also tested holographic agents. The popularity of handhelds have produced generations who do not know any other way of interacting.

There is always going to be a need for the human element, as sensitive matters are best not left to the hologram of Alec Guinness.

“Where do you draw that line? It’s easier for the baby boomer to decide,” Mr. Theuerkauf concluded. “Gen X, millennials, the new generation, what tolerances they accept for non-human interactions may be very different.”

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