Robotics in HR will not only lead to cost reductions, but to increased customer centricity as well. Moreover, robotics does not require the financial investments you might expect. Robotics is the enabler, freeing up your staff to add value to your HR organization.

One of the key trends for 2018 is A Machine's Search for Meaning. Identified by Fjord - part of Accenture Interactive, the trend focuses on the role of machines and people. It's up to us to demonstrate how artificial intelligence (AI) and people are at their best when they collaborate, not compete. We, therefore, examine how robotization can drastically improve the efficiency and productivity of your HR, and how, despite the reservations that might exist, human-machine collaboration will produce the best outcome for your organization. 

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HR Automation: Mistrusted But Vital

In a previous article, we shared our view on customer-centric HR. We argued: ‘The more engaged and productive your workforce is, the higher the likelihood of the business strategy translating into results.’ In order to achieve this level of engagement, we need to bring the H back in HR, based on what Riia O'Donnell suggested on HRDive.com.

We need to bring the H back in HR

How? By enabling HR to be there during the Moments that Matter. Think of an HR officer meeting a new employee on her first day at work, or a manager sending flowers to congratulate his team member on the birth of his child. These are indeed the moments that matter, but in reality, most HR employees lack the time to personally engage with their colleagues, as many HR tasks are notoriously time-consuming while not adding much value.

This is where robotics comes in. As contradictory as it may sound, once you have created your customer-centric strategy, HR automation can make it happen.

Unfortunately, this is also where many strategies falter. Taken aback by the great unknown, companies fail to automate HR tasks beyond standardizing them in cloud Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions. The result: unhappy employees, decreased productivity and continued lack of customer centricity.

But the implementation of robotics in HR is not nearly as big a step as it might seem. We offer four ways in which robotics in HR can make a difference.

Develop Shared Service Centers

But first, we will show which sort of activities to focus on when applying robotics. Typically, HR activities can be divided into three types:

  • Strategic work: the development of the overall HR strategy and the policies and processes supporting that.
  • Tactical work: the value-adding interactions between HR and its customers (employees, line managers, candidates, business executives).
  • Operational work: the administrative activities.

Traditionally, the administrative tasks require the most people. Moreover, these activities are generally the same regardless of where they are carried out. Why not centralize these departments in shared service centers, freeing up personnel in the process?

After all, those people can then be added to the tactical or strategic teams within your HR organization. The work carried out in those teams can generally not be automated, as it requires complex thinking and reasoning. Essentially, the people in these teams are the ones that will put the H back in HR.

Four Ways to Apply Robotics in HR

Now that you have provided your staff with more challenging and satisfactory work, you can apply robotics to further increase operational quality and efficiency. This is where our solutions to robotics in HR come into play. Each requires its own level of automation, making it easy to take small steps in the HR robotics process.

 

01. Integrated Desktops & Scripts

First of all, consolidating data from multiple sources into a single view will speed up many HR processes and assist agents in their day-to-day operations in your HR contact center. After all, writing a letter of recommendation is a lot less time-consuming if the systems actively provide you with the information sources you need to fill your template.

02. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

[related id=4016] A more advanced form of robotics in HR involves the use of process automation. Applied to all rule-based HR processes, RPA can manipulate existing application software to complete a process and replicate human activity. For example, employment contracts could be drawn up automatically, solely requiring human monitoring and control.

Also, light automation tools such as Blue Prism can be used to complete semi-skilled work.

These tools can drive significant improvement in operating costs and efficiency. Furthermore, they can be deployed quickly, leaving more complex cases to higher skilled (human) employees. Accenture currently applies RPA to carry out HR administrative tasks for a number of clients.

03. Digital and Virtual Assistance

Digital or virtual assistants are interactive characters Image: Robotics in HR - Accenture - Sandrijn van Stokkum with human-like traits and communication styles. Apple’s SIRI and IPsoft’s Amelia come to mind. 

The beauty of these assistants is that they are available at the push of a button, at all times of day and regardless of your location. They provide guidance, enable employees to educate themselves and can perform business processes independently.

A digital advisor takes things even further. It will not just answer a question, but will pro-actively suggest additional information as well. It might, for instance, provide requested information about maternity leave, then add suggested reading on child care facilities. It can even go so far as to advise a supervisor to open a temporary position. A good example is Accenture’s DIPA, a ‘Digital People Advisor’ crafted to answer HR questions in 14 key areas.

It is worth mentioning that these bots do not need to be developed from scratch

It is worth mentioning that these bots do not need to be developed from scratch. Siri, Amelia, even Ebay’s ShopBot can easily be adapted to assist in Human Resources, making the application of robotics in HR all the more accessible.

04. Cognitive Computing Solutions

The most advanced example of robotics in HR is the adoption of self-learning systems. Using algorithms, these systems put the knowledge gained through ‘previous experiences’ to use. For instance, one of our clients offers a graduate program for which they receive as many as 20,000 applications at a time for about 50 positions. They have put together a description of their ideal candidate. An algorithm could search for resumes that match this description, thus managing the application procedure in a highly efficient way.

Although this saves valuable time, there are two pitfalls you need to be aware of when applying cognitive computing solutions. First of all, machine learning is as objective as its programming allows. Therefore, a human employee will always have to monitor the algorithm and make adjustments when necessary. Secondly, as the algorithms take over the employee’s objectivity (or rather subjectivity), it is difficult to manage.

Because of these pitfalls, we would recommend the use of machine learning alongside traditional methods.

Image: Accenture Strategy - Future workforce planning - Sandrijn van Stokkum

How to Get Started

For starters, try to realize that robotics in HR is not as intimidating as it might seem at first glance. You don’t have to work on a massive scale to achieve significant success. Simply start by mapping repetitive processes that add little business value. Use design thinking to discover automation opportunities, and identify where the human touch can add value.

Simply start by mapping repetitive processes that add little business value [...] and identify where the human touch can add value 

Next, automate. Or outsource the automation process, if you haven’t got the necessary knowledge in store. There are many start-ups that offer excellent opportunities. We can put you in contact with them. Alternatively, we can automate your entire HR organization, as we have already implemented many robotics processes in our own shared services centers and are well-versed in the skills and expertise required to do so.

Augmenting Workforce Processes to Improve HR

We have shown that applying robotics in HR does not mean you will have to let go of your employees. Nor does it mean that you will lose the human aspect of HR. On the contrary, we have seen that automation will take over the more menial jobs, enabling your employees to focus on the more challenging or customer-centric activities. As we are convinced this leads to a more engaged workforce, we leave you with one final question: how can your business benefit from robotics in HR?