Human Resources (HR) requires a lot of human input. Therefore, it’s not surprising that HR has embraced robotic process automation (RPA) tools, which are designed to save businesses and employees time by automating repetitive clerical tasks using software robots.
The RPA market is growing by 50% annually, with more than 70% of businesses considering it, and much of that growth is being driven by the needs of HR because it relies on a high volume and velocity of data. For many of the most time- and labor-intensive workflows, it makes sense to rely on automation.
As more companies are relying on RPA in HR processes to become efficient, productive, and cost-effective, those companies still operating without this technology will be at a competitive disadvantage. More broadly, companies with HR automation tools will excel at training, engaging, and retaining their workforce because the more mundane HR jobs will be handled by RPA. Whether companies elect to embrace this technology now says a lot about their success a decade from now.
Consider just one RPA application that companies are already leveraging. Automation is used to analyze applications and résumés and identify the jobseekers who have the necessary credentials. Then, the technology can contact the qualified candidates and get answers to initial screener questions. Human HR professionals only become involved once the candidate pool has been thoroughly filtered, saving substantial resources.
RPA is an asset to HR, but the advantages aren’t necessarily automatic. Any large-scale tech implementation is challenging, and replacing humans with technology always invites some uncertainty. The best way to leverage RPA is to be aware of potential HR automation challenges and plan for them in advance. Focus on these steps:
Get Buy-In from Company Leadership
Key stakeholders need to understand what RPA is and how it helps if they’re going to support the initiative adequately. Without this buy-in, HR technology might end up underfunded or abandoned early. Advocates need to show HR leadership and everyone in the C-suite how the benefits of HR automation can improve things broadly while also being honest about the costs and challenges. Pointing out that over three-quarters of company leaders think employees could save up to 3 hours per day with automation can bolster arguments for RPA. The stakeholders involved need to include representatives from accounting, payroll, benefits, facilities, and IT at a minimum.
Seek Help from Experts Early and Throughout Implementation
RPA is not as expensive or complex as many people expect. That being said, implementation still takes a significant amount of time, input, expertise, and documentation. Consultants often have to get involved, but starting a partnership doesn’t happen quickly. Companies should begin looking for process improvement consultants, who can take businesses step by step through complex processes, and any other necessary resources as early as possible. No matter how advantageous RPA might be, it requires an efficient implementation process to pay off. Planning early and extensively is the best approach.
Improve and Streamline HR Processes
The purpose of RPA is to optimize HR, not to make all processes automatic. Too often, companies use technology to simply replicate the tasks that humans do without considering how the whole process could be improved. Consequently, when automation is introduced, it leads to modest improvements but not transformational changes. Instead of thinking about what can be automated, think about what is possible with automation. That mind-set helps companies set their sights appropriately high.
Educate Staff on RPA’s Benefits
Some people understandably worry that automation will put their jobs in jeopardy. That anxiety can cause them to resist RPA before, during, and after implementation. HR can address these fears by showing people how RPA eliminates tedious tasks so they can work on more creative and constructive projects instead. In general, RPA advocates need to anticipate obvious roadblocks early to plan a solution.
Fully Train Users on the New Technology
If users can’t or won’t take advantage of RPA for any reason, the whole initiative fails. This scenario typically only arises when users haven’t been trained and educated properly. They don’t understand how RPA helps them or how to use the tools to help themselves, which naturally causes them to resist it. One survey found that 83% of workers are open to being reskilled—a major reason to show users how to leverage RPA to the fullest.
As HR leaders prepare to roll out RPA in their organizations, they should start with a straightforward process, one that doesn’t require consultants to define it ahead of time. Ask stakeholders to collaborate on the best process. After documenting that process, see how RPA can automate all of it or pieces of it. Include the team in each major decision along the way. When the process is ready to test, ask your team members to do the legwork and report any issues. During this exercise, they might think of new ways to make it even more efficient. By the time it’s fully implemented, they will be trained and excited to see the benefits of their hard work.
HR automation challenges don’t end once RPA is up and running. To ensure that the system is working correctly and meeting performance metrics, it needs to be reviewed regularly. Notifications should also be sent to system administrators if something breaks down. Minor changes to something as simple as a URL or password protocol can throw off carefully defined automated processes if they’re not updated systematically.
Seamlessly adopting RPA multiplies the competitive advantage it provides, and there are myriad incentives for HR innovators to start planning for automation immediately and ambitiously.
Tania Fiero is vice president of Human Resources at Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a leading nationwide employer of record that specializes in payrolling and contractor management services for today’s contingent workforce. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row.