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Elena Christopher: Mitigating RPA hype and working smarter while keeping your sense of humor

Posted by Julie Shafiki on Mar 29, 2020 8:26:51 AM

Welcome to our inaugural international Women in RPA profile!  We're proud to feature Elena Christoper as our very first Women in RPA honoree!

Elena Christopher is Senior Vice President of Research at HFS Research, which provides companies/enterprises with insights into innovations such as automation, AI and blockchain and how they impact business operations. Elena exemplifies what we had in mind when we launched this initiative – a smart, accomplished woman and out-of-the-box thinker making a difference in Robotic Process Automation (RPA). She’s also a busy mother, avid runner, and sometime-chef who loves to travel (and is confident we all will again soon). Like so many professional women today, she excels in many areas, a talented multitasker who seems to do it all with ease. 

Why did you choose RPA/Intelligent Automation as your career path?

I started my career as an analyst in the early 90s, tracking IT and business process services. After a decade I went into industry to get my hands dirty building and running many of the businesses and opportunities I had been tracking. During stints of high-growth tenure with great companies like OfficeTiger (now RRD), Mobius, DTI (now Epiq) and Xerox Services/Conduent, it was clear that delivering meaningful and useful services to clients must always include technology enablement and continuous improvement. 

RPA became part of the enablement mix for me and my teams beginning in 2012 and eventually expanded to smart analytics and cognitive capabilities. I rejoined the analyst ranks in 2017 with HFS and proudly lead our research on the growing intersection of automation, smart analytics, and AI (the HFS Triple-A Trifecta) and the critical need for people and process change. 

What enabled your success in this field?

Any semblance of success I’ve had in any field stems from a careful balance of constantly evolving subject matter expertise, a willingness to listen, and a hefty dose of proactivity. As a research leader covering the evolving automation market, it’s all about being future-looking while mitigating hype and succinctly explaining trends and directions. Honesty and humor don’t hurt either. 

How do you see the market developing in the next few years?

We’re the firm that has been saying RPA is dead for almost a year. Beneath the provocative statement is the strong perspective that no singular tool can drive business transformation. Enterprises need a toolbox approach such as our Triple-A Trifecta framework and an intentional approach to addressing people and process change. Applied technology does not live in a vacuum. Successfully scaling automation programs is 90% people and process change and 10% technology. 

What do you love about your job?

Perpetual learning, the ability to share my outside-in perspective with clients by providing them with context tailored to making their businesses successful, being part of a great company that values research, and telling it like it is.

What is your biggest professional challenge?

Getting the most out of the time committed. 

How has being a woman impacted your professional journey?

While I’ve been in technology, which remains notoriously lacking in ladies, my entire career, I’ve been fortunate to have strong women colleagues – mentors, peers, and direct reports throughout. This has helped create a core of professional support that advocated for success but also allowed for comfortable discourse on topics from fashion to breastfeeding. Coming back to the workforce after having kids was challenging but empowering as it enhanced my powers of organization and refined my ability to prioritize. No one is more productive than a working mother. 

What is your advice for young women who are interested in or entering the RPA space?

RPA and intelligent automation are so closely tied to process optimization that I encourage young people, men and women alike, who love problem-solving and finding better ways to get work done to consider RPA and low-code/no-code technologies as part of their career path. I see lots of RPA practitioners learn their craft from inside businesses where their jobs consisted of way too many manual, soul-crushing tasks. If your company is implementing or has an automation program, it’s a great opportunity to investigate training options. At a minimum, you can learn how to recognize automation opportunities and perhaps learn a new technology skill in the process. 

How can we inspire women to pursue tech careers and in RPA specifically?

RPA and automation are all about enabling solutions to problems and empowering humans to work smarter. It’s a unique facet of the tech sector where your tech knowledge and ability can truly improve work, working conditions, quality of employee experience, quality of customer experience, etc. 

Technology is still male-dominated. Since RPA is fairly new, do you see it differently or evolving more quickly to include more women?

As learning RPA does not require coding knowledge, it has attracted a broad range of students from many demographics. This coupled with the development of many RPA practitioners from within businesses may lend itself to a more diverse base of talent.  

Only 5% of today’s tech leadership positions are held by women. How do you think more women in leadership roles will change the tech landscape?  

What’s not tech these days? Seeing more women leaders in general, not just in defined tech categories, drives inspiration and encourages change. Additionally, we see technology-enabled change moving from being the sole purview of CIOs to increasingly involving the broader C-suite and other functional business leaders. This presents opportunities for a broader swath of leadership to impact tech-enabled business transformation. 

In these challenging times, a little inspiration goes a long way. We hope you’ll share your thoughts with us and Elena’s story with other women. 

Follow the hashtag #womeninrpa on LinkedIn and Twitter 
Follow Kryon on LinkedIn for more #womeninrpa updates. 

Topics: RPA, Women In Tech, Women in RPA

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