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The intelligent way for HR to use robotics

Tony Steadman, EY Americas People Advisory ServicesTransformation Leader, EY
Tony Steadman, EY Americas People Advisory ServicesTransformation Leader, EY

Tony Steadman, EY Americas People Advisory ServicesTransformation Leader, EY

No, Rosie the Robot is not coming to clean your office. And Hal is not going to talk to you from a wall full of computers. But automation is an intelligent HR choice.

Discussions of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) inspire visuals of semi-human and super-human machines. In today’s business, and specifically the HR function, both are misconceptions.

AI is not one thing, but a suite of applications or tools that represent the latest enabling technology for HR.It is true that combined capabilities—likecognitive automation, machine learning and intentional algorithm mutation —can analyze and adjust. But in today’s HR function, the intelligence is still human and the automation is usually in the form of specific tools, primarily “bots” or robotic process automation (RPA).

RPA conducts preset activity by integrating unrelated software systems.Essentially, RPA is all about moving and using pre-established information. By taking over the duties of predictive, repetitive activity, it is the most prevalent tool of intelligent automation in use and can eventually contribute to the design of broader AI. When we combine and repackagesoftware systems, bots can support the tedious chores of processing, moving information from one application to another, or information from a spreadsheet to an application. Though true AI is not readily accessible for most businesses today, the ease of bot implementation and maintenance has already allowed RPA to change the inputting and processing of business information to support how many businesses operate.

RPA and HR

Most RPA adoption in HR functions today is around processing activities, such as payroll. Many companies usebots to identify processing errors, sopayroll becomes more accurate. In talent acquisition, a single bot can be programmed to move information from a customer-relationship management (CRM) application to applicant tracking, and then to an onboarding module.The automation allows HR professionals to focus on the quality of the applicants and their experience with the company.

In the future, there will be more robust uses of RPA in other areas. In learning and development, there would be a strong case for designing and implementing a bot to shift from a performance management processto drawing up a learning plan.HR professionals might determine priorities, key competencies and an approach for managers to communicate with employees. The bot would evaluate the combined characteristics of the evaluation and match employee needs to specific action steps, trainingor other HR tools to drive better business results.

The pace of adopting bots is moving quickly. Five years ago, we only heard a handful of companies talking about RPA.Today, every one of the hundreds of clients we work with as a firm are testing ideas with proof of concept or already have bots in production.

Lessons learned

The biggest mistake we have seen companies make when turning to automated intelligence is thinking of AI or RPA as a matter for IT. Both represent a business capability that affects many aspects of the organization, and often the customer experience. It is important for a sponsor at the leadership level to consider the potential for each bot to connect disparate data and serve multiple functions.

The next significant mistake is using RPA before considering platform-based automation and “leaning out” processes by methodically comparing and integrating the applications that are currently in use and focusing on reducing waste in all business processes. The application of any new tool must be done in the context of the overall business process in order to realize the full benefits.

Finally, it is important to understand and address the implications of implementing RPA on the organizational structure. What capabilities are needed in each function to adapt the technology effectively? How can it be introduced so that all users are trained in ways that help them see value and become adept at using RPA? What is the role of management in successful change management?

Three keys to better RPA

Add education to assessment

The first phase, or assessment of RPA implementation, is usually focused on the specific process, repetition, predictability, structured input and cross-function impact to determine feasibility. The assessment phase, however, should also include due diligence around education, making sure the organization understands the RPA, the use cases and the assessment of where the use cases can be optimized. If this is ignored, the project might never get past the approval phase, or worse, might be approved with unrealistic expectations.

Prepare and work the process

It does no good to implement RPA on a bad process.Prepare and execute the selected RPA solution by supporting and testing the IT environment. Track the end-to-end automation of each selected use case to showcase the full extent of the RPA technology. Check readiness for the pilot implementation and, if any errors occur, now is the time for refinement and final modifications.

Follow proper program management

Most companies tend to follow at least one program management methodology or another, such as Lean, Six Sigma or Project Management Institute (PMI) techniques, or a combination, like Lean Six Sigma. The value of using a structured system to design, select, install, implement, launch and maintain a new bot will be evident in the bottom line.

Next time a conversation about HR needs and efficiency arise, it may be worthwhile to consider bots for process automation. But instead of allowing people to invoke Robbie the Robot taking their jobs, make sure to instill images of each professional with superpowers that come from the creation and mastery of a piece of software.

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