Kim Kyle-Hays is a Chief Marketing Officer at Softomotive, an RPA company. Given that he has a background in software development, it’s no wonder he’s all up for using new technologies to improve productivity in the workplace. In the eleventh episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks we’re talking about something a bit different - the robotic process automation (RPA).
Workpuls: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of Workplace Productivity Talks! My name is Bojana and today we have Kyle Kim-Hays with us. He is the Chief Marketing Officer of Softomotive. But I'm going to let him tell us a little bit more about what he does and what his company do.
Kyle Kim-Hays Kim-Hays: Hi Bojana, thank you so much for the invitation. And I'm really happy to be talking. Softomotive is part of what's called Robotic Process Automation or RPA. Now, a lot of people when I first tell them this think, “Oh, how cool. So you work with R2D2 and C3PO?”
No, it's not that cool. RPA and the robotic part is maybe a little confusing, because the kinds of robots we're talking about are actually software bots.
So, most of us have parts of our job that are predictable and repetitive and frankly, that we probably hate - worst case scenario and really don't enjoy - best case scenario. What our software does is allow you to automate that. And so you end up in a place where you don't have to spend as much time with the mindless repetitive stuff. But you focus your time and efforts on those things that are more interesting that actually engage you as a human being, and make you more productive in the sense that you're not wasting your time with things that could be done by a macro or an intern, or handled in a lot of different ways. Does that make sense?
Workpuls: Yeah, makes perfect sense. Maybe it makes more sense to me, because I have some knowledge of it. But I guess it's actually explained in simpler terms that we all can get. So you mentioned it's mostly for repetitive tasks. Can you give us an example of how would RPA work in real life?
Kyle Kim-Hays: Sure. So one of our clients prepares taxes for a number of different customers, and so what they do is, they work on them all day and then they have to, of course lock them with passwords. Well, if you do that incorrectly or make one mistake, you could end up losing the file, you could end up frustrating your client. And that kind of work is very... it's very easy to make mistakes. And so you can use RPA software to automate that process. So at the end of the day, when you've finished completing all the tasks that you have, all the tax returns that you have to do, you can run the program and run the automation, run the bot, and have it complete locking all of those tax returns with correct passwords and ensure and be very very sure that there is absolutely no potential for error.
Another good example is human resources. When a company hires an employee they have to upload or enter the data to make sure that employee gets entered into payroll, into HR transferred from the recruiting system that the company has in place into their HR system. There's IT, and so there are a number of different systems. And it's the same process every time but because it's usually manually done by many, many companies, you end up seeing the mistake every once in a while and everyone loses productivity when companies try and go back and figure out, “Okay, what happened? And how to go back and fix it.” Does that help clarify a little more?
Workpuls: Yeah, so it's not only helping you cut time on those mundane tasks, it also eliminates the chance of human error. And especially in cases like those that you mentioned, with the accounting firm and taxes and passwords. That can be a tiresome job and it's very easy to make one simple mistake, it’s just one letter basically and everything falls apart. And there are problems which you need, as you said, go back and find out why they happen and how to resolve them. So it seems that it helps all the way around. Now, from what I know about the RPA and everything, is that such technology is still quite expensive. So it's not very possible for smaller companies to implement it and it’s usually bigger corporations using it. Is that still how it is? Or are we seeing slow change, maybe?
Kyle Kim-Hays: It's a great question. So one of the big things that we're starting to see in the industry, is this notion of a citizen developer. In other words, non technical people who have absolutely no technical training at all, but are reasonably curious and reasonably open to exploring new ideas, or starting to use these tools. And so in order to reach these people and make it more and more easier for them to use, my company in particular has ordered some magnitude lower price point for a desktop version of RPA. And actually, it's called Robotic Desktop Automation - RDA, as opposed to robotic process automation, which is meant to be on a larger corporate enterprise level. So these are RDA solutions, can or ends up most often being very affordable, and extremely easy to use, which is key. Because again, we want people who are doing the work on an everyday basis, who understand the problems and what actually needs to be done, we want them to be able to easily use this software in a cost effective way.
And the interesting thing is that we're starting to see a lot of innovation. Because when you put this kind of tool in the hands of your everyday and business users, what happens is, they hear “Hey, look, I've heard about this new SaaS offering. I think it might help a lot and change the way we do things, but I don't have time and IT has a lot of other things to do. And so we may not be able to explore it for months, if not years, if at all.” And so the other great thing about a really user friendly RDA kind of software solution is that it allows you to explore these new things without having to rely on IT. And there's no risk, no exposure or anything, but you're just trying it out and see if it helps your workflow.
Workpuls: That's great. So RPA or more commonly known RDA in this case is slowly making its way to the masses, I guess?
Kyle Kim-Hays: Exactly. There used to be, one of my favorite analogies is when spreadsheets first came out. It used to be that only highly specialized financial experts would use it because you'd have to learn all the formulas and how to set things up correctly. And now spreadsheets are ubiquitous. Everyone uses them, even for things that are not even related to calculations or numbers. I've seen Excel used in a lot of different ways. It's the same.
Workpuls: Yeah. I use it as well. I'm a writer, I don't need to calculate anything. I use it to track these interviews that we had. I used it to track all the responses that I got: who I reached out to, who responded, when do we have an interview scheduled. I have that all in a spreadsheet and 10 years ago, people who are doing this probably weren't using spreadsheets for it.
Kyle Kim-Hays: Exactly. It'll be the same with RDA, except that in this current environment with the pandemic and all of that, people are embracing technology even more and even faster. So this is a great time, a silver lining I guess kind of thing for RDA because people are starting to explore it. And when you look a few months ago, a lot of people didn't even know what Slack was, didn't know what Zoom was, and now it's part of our everyday language for most people. And so in the same way, I think that people are starting to explore RPA and RDA and really get their minds around what this potentially does.
Workpuls: Okay. It's good to hear that. So besides increasing productivity based on cutting down the time for doing those certain tasks, is there any other way RPA helps increase productivity?
Kyle Kim-Hays: Sure, there are a couple things. First of all, like we talked about, it eliminates a lot of the possibilities of human error, so you have better accuracy. You have more consistency in how things are done, because a lot of times companies, their employees, because we're all people and we have our own way of thinking about things. We'll do things a lot of different ways, the same task a lot of different ways, but it may not be the most efficient way. And so RPA and RDA can help with that. The other thing, as I mentioned before, is that it gives people who want to explore and try and find better and new ways to do things, the ability to try using new technologies and things like that.
Workpuls: Okay, and when a company wants to, once you implement an RPA, is there, what is it on the company side that they need to prepare in order for you guys to come in and start doing what you're doing?
Kyle Kim-Hays: So, frankly, most traditional RPA solutions usually start with a center of excellence where they create a best practices group, and they set up a very highly trained and highly skilled, technically skilled group of people and then begin to try and expand that out to the rest of their company. The other approach, which is the approach that Softomotive advocates is, you just put the tool into the hands of everyday users. And you start with one, possibly one process or one task automated, and then grow from there. And as that begins to grow, eventually you get to a point where you have so many different automations running, then you need a more enterprise level solution. But, we view it as more of a grassroots movement, because that's where you really get the real innovation when you have individuals who are on the frontline doing this work every day, working and using their minds instead of doing these mundane, repetitive, mindless tasks, using their minds and their creativity to try and find better ways to do work.
Workpuls: Okay, it sounds very good. What will be the biggest challenge of companies who usually try to implement this type of solution?
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think the big challenge is driving awareness. 9 out of 10 people if you were to ask them would not even know what RPA or RDA is. And so driving that awareness and getting people comfortable with using technology. I think, also IT, it's their job, IT professionals to create structure and to create processes that are uniform, and this can feel a little uncomfortable. And so getting IT professionals to understand that and that they can still empower their end users, their internal customers, and still maintain the level of control that they're responsible for.
Workpuls: And what's the best way to get the employee buy in when it comes to RPA?
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think continuing to simplify the user interface to make the process easier. I think that having discussions like this and getting the word out there and general evangelizing of the process of this kind of solution is going to be key. We've seen this over and over again, right with new technologies as they come out. And we just, I strongly believe that this is the year where we will see an inflection point in adoption. There's been very good adoption for the citizen developers, getting non technical end users to use RPA and RDA software. For example, 30% of our current customer base, say themselves, or identify themselves as non technical users. And so we're very excited about that and think that it's a real positive sign.
Workpuls: Yeah. That definitely sounds like a big change is coming our way due to this. As you said, the silver lining to all of this might be the higher adoption rate of new technologies.
Kyle Kim-Hays: Right, exactly.
Workpuls: Okay. And let's talk a little bit about productivity itself. What would you say that productivity is?
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think productivity is using employees, most companies say that their most valuable asset are employees, and that's because there is nothing quite yet, even with all the hype around AI, there's nothing that quite matches the human ability to quickly parse through a problem or a challenge and find a new and creative solution. This slitting level of notion of creativity and bringing that, especially in these challenging times, is going to be really critical because it's the best way to be agile, to adapt to changing situations in ways that at this point, no machine learning, no artificial intelligence is able to do. So if we get employees away from doing things in a mindset where they have a certain process and they follow that process consistently, every time I think is key, unlocking that kind of productivity. Does that make sense?
Workpuls: Da.. Yes… I started speaking in my native language there a bit. So do you think that there is a way to measure that productivity somehow?
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think there is, in traditional production environments you measure by units of work delivered. I think that the best way to measure an employee's productivity or effectiveness is by looking at how they interact with others, with their coworkers. So yeah, I'm not suggesting something as mundane or as obvious as the number of emails they send out because that can be completely misleading. But there are new, the next generation of communication tools like Slack, for example. You can really look at the analytics and understand “Okay, this is the person in this group that people go to most often when they have a question”, because these Slack communications are usually very pointed and have a very specific question. And so if you map this out in a graphical sense, you can start to see who your key influencers are, and key centers, and key knowledge workers are. And in this new economy where we need to lean into and value people's ability to be agile, and to be able to be creative and quickly come up with original solutions and approaches to ideas. Understanding who your key employees are, that are involved and more importantly, or equally, at least equally as importantly. Understanding which employees are on the fringe of your company and not integrating as well. And that conversation, that kind of connectivity, you had not in an electronic sense, but in a very real human sense, I think is a key measurement to productivity. It's a new way of thinking about it, and certainly not one that Henry Ford would understand or think about. But I think in this new age, it's more relevant and more valid way to think about it.
Workpuls: It's a very interesting thing. I haven't heard that from many of the people I talked to so far, regarding looking into the Slack messages and seeing who's that person that people usually go to. I still haven't heard a point of view like that and it sounds very interesting to me. So, how important is that? You would probably say that it's very important. Employee engagement for increasing productivity in the workplace.
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think it's a snowball effect. And the great thing about it and being a software engineer originally by training I love that, that this approach is very numbers based. So it's a blend between looking at the frequency of communications and then if you want to dig further, you can do some keyword searching to just understand the general topics that are being explored. And so I think that, like I said, if you believe that your company needs to be agile, needs to be able to respond quickly and needs to come, be constantly thinking of new ways to do things. I think this communication in an interactivity in a very measurable way, is critical and essential to surviving. It's something that we're doing at our company beyond just the usual daily stand ups, the weekly meetings, the virtual happy hours and all those best practices, which are amazing ideas and I love the virtual happy hour because I don’t have to…It's nice not to have to drive home after, so are worried about that.
In addition to that this is a really, a good way to understand and further develop people either as potential leaders, because they're obviously people that are respected and go to people for others in the company. Or to understand development for those people who are operating on the fringe and not as communicative.
Workpuls: We really can be used in that in a number of ways to help everybody in the complete structure of the company. So what would you say is the first thing a manager should do if they want to increase productivity at work? They should look into that type of data, see what are the communication points, but where are they going from there?
Kyle Kim-Hays: Well, there's a little bit of work that needs to be done to set up. You have to have, assuming that you have a solution like Slack or and the appropriate analytical tools but beyond that, I think that there's a level of making sure that people are clear and feel connected and understand what their role is. Especially, when things are moving quickly, we are and in a global environment especially can be a little challenging. My company, my team is spread out around the world. And there are some things that just communicating over video channels or online channels, you miss the subtle cues. A lot of times you're not sure that people are understanding either because of cultural differences or language issues as well. And so, it makes it a little bit challenging and there's a lot more work that needs to be done, especially if you're in a startup company because in a startup environment, which is essentially what we. Leadership has even harder tasks in getting their employees connected, getting team members motivated in understanding where things are going. Especially, since courses are always being corrected on an hour to hour if not daily basis. It sounds like you're familiar with it?
Workpuls: Yeah, I completely understand.
Kyle Kim-Hays: So, I think that the level of work, even though we're now all used to connecting and communicating online with this sheltering in place, the practice that is going on around the world, it's still really, it's even more important. And frankly, I spend far more time communicating with employees now than I did before. And I can't afford just the luxury of sending an email out and copying everyone and their mother because the interpretations and the response it's really surprising to me, even though I've worked in global settings before, every once in a while, I'll run across a new reaction. And that kind of makes me, “No, that's not what I said. Or what are you trying to say?” kind of thing. So, it makes it a lot more challenging in this environment.
Workpuls: Yeah, especially with what's happening right now. I guess everybody has so many things on their minds, worrying about different things, about their families and their own well being, of course. So it can be a bit harder to motivate employees to keep working and to keep those productivity levels as high. What type of advice except over communication, maybe you do have for people in this situation right now?
Kyle Kim-Hays: I think not only communicating and connecting on work related business, but communicating and connecting on a personal level is in an authentic way. I'll be honest with you, when I first became a manager, I never asked people about any of their personal lives and then when I realized that it made me seem like I was disconnected and aloof I started Asking routine questions. “Okay, what did you do over the weekend?” And not really care. So at that level, we're doing it in an authentic way, I think, and communicating and deliberately making time to communicate and connect with people, not just as a group, but on a one on one basis as much as possible. So that you develop that interpersonal communication cadence is extremely helpful. I realized this is a counterintuitive response for someone who was a software engineer and works for a tech company. But yeah, it's one of those things with RPA and RDA people are afraid that their job is going to be replaced by robots. And so I think that our approach that we're taking really resonates with me because it's that interpersonal one on one human connection first that matters.
Workpuls: Yes. I think it's easier when you have that interpersonal communication and getting to know everybody on a personal level than just on a work level is much, I feel that it's much easier when people are in the office. It sort of happens more spontaneously than it does over video call because I need to ask you, “Do you have 10 minutes for a video call?” And then I'm going to interrupt you, and then I'm going to call you and just talk about your weekend. I think it happens a bit more naturally, I guess, in the co-located environment than in a remote environment. Not that it cannot be done in a remote team. But I think it maybe takes a little bit more time or different practices. I know that there are companies who are doing introductions, when a new employee comes in, the whole team has a Zoom meeting so they can introduce themselves and talk a little bit about themselves, their culture, some of the specifics, so everybody can get to know them, which is definitely something you don't have to do when you work in the same room.
Kyle Kim-Hays: Right. It's interesting, though. In some ways, you get a little more personal because you see into the background what people's homes look like. For me, I have three year old twins, and last week during a meeting, one of them was having a complete meltdown. And even though they were on a completely different floor, and on the other side of the house, you could hear them very clearly, and my co-workers, so they know my colleagues know, “Oh, which one of your kids is that?” And so there's that kind of personal connection. Again, having that communicating on several different levels helps your overall communication.
Workpuls: Okay. Do you use maybe, in your team or for yourself, any of those time management or productivity techniques like Time Boxing or Pomodoro or anything like it – and how did it work for you?
Kyle Kim-Hays: Well, we actually are pretty agile because we're on a very, we're very much in a startup mode. And so people understand that even though a lot of companies joke about it, when we talk about when something is due, it's usually yesterday or as soon as possible. So we found using next generation project management tools, and just because there's so many different hands offs, particularly in marketing. Then when you look at coordinating campaigns, between content development and product content, and your PR, and social, and your paid media, there's so many different moving pieces. For us, it's more critical to make sure that we stay up to date with each other on what the exact status of any particular task is or project is, in order to keep things moving. And so we find doing what helps us in our time management and prioritizing because I'm able to go through and check it and see exactly what the status is. It also helps that every week when in our weekly team meetings, I'm very clear on, in this time in particular: “Okay, for this week, our top priorities are a A,B and C. And yes, we have two dozen other things that are going on as well but these are the things that should take top priority, and working through like that.” And so, working in that kind of startup environment, this is what's working best for us.
Workpuls: Okay. Sounds good. And do you have any other productivity tips before we wrap this up?
Workpuls: I think that being very clear, there's the… I always say that I have a job because people find it; we all find it easy to forget the basics and going back to our ABCs. So constructs like smart goals in a specific, measurable, achievable, etcetera, and things like that are really important in laying out and communicating. And I think that constantly exploring new solutions is an extremely, a really important part. It's really about remaining productive, it's really easy to get lost in the, “I have so much to do. Here are all the things I'm going to lay out today,” but carving out time to explore new ways of doing things. And since I'm a technologist, of course, I'd lean towards new technologies and new offerings on that front but whatever it is making sure that you spend time to think about not just the here and now but new ways to think, what if kind of we all is really key.
Workpuls: Okay. It sounds good. Well, I'd like to thank you, Kyle, for joining us today and for taking the time to participate in our podcast and share the knowledge on RPA. And I'm definitely hoping, as well, that we're gonna see an increase of RPA in our everyday jobs and work positions and more and more smaller companies as well.
Kyle Kim-Hays: I'm sure we will and thank you so much for this chance to talk. I've really enjoyed our conversation.
Workpuls Productivity Talks is a podcast about productivity brought to you by everyone’s favorite productivity tracking software - Workpuls. With every interview we’re bringing you new tips from people who are experts on productivity, but also from managers and founders who have found a way to really master productivity in their teams.