How RPA Creates a More Human-Centric HR Profession and Workplace

By: Diego Lomanto, Vice President of Product Marketing for UiPath

The world is in the middle of a major revolution in the way that work is done, much like it experienced with the transition from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age. Unlike these previous labor shifts – which were driven by physical machinery – this latest revolution is being driven by digital machinery. Technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are opening new horizons for organizations and their employees across the globe — taking on mundane and repetitive work and freeing people up to focus on more strategic, creative, value-added activities. In other words, activities humans actually want to be doing.

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As the rise of automation and AI present new and better options for how we work, human resources (HR) functions have an opportunity, and even a responsibility, to introduce these technologies and demonstrate how they can bolster employee productivity, success, and satisfaction. HR is a natural place to test these new technology implementations because it sets the model for how employees should work. So, what do HR organizations need to know about RPA, how to effectively apply it, and how to best roll it out to employees? Let’s explore.

So, What Is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA has emerged as a key digital technology driving the new way work is being done. Nearly all the Fortune 10 companies are using RPA today in some capacity. RPA allows organizations to configure software robots to carry out routine, rules-based computer tasks in the same way a human would. Software robots can fill out documents, read and send emails, enter data into business applications, and much more.

While RPA is a critical tool, there is still a lot of confusion and skepticism about the technology itself and how it’s used. For instance, many employees fall victim to common misconceptions such as: We are discussing physical robots: False. RPA is software, not humanoid robots that are going to staff an organization. It’s equipped with a variety of components that enable human activities, like sending an email, but it runs on a computer, with no physical form. The software is programmed to mimic how humans work with applications on a computer desktop, but this is done digitally.

  • RPA automates processes: True, but that’s not all. While RPA does address process-related work, it focuses on the task and activity-level of work more than on a process or even on the sub-process level. An end-to-end process still takes human intervention and decision-making, even on an elementary exceptions basis that RPA cannot perform independently. Robots facilitate the processes that humans carry out.
  • RPA automates jobs: Here, too, there is a more nuanced answer. RPA does not automate jobs; it automates tasks. Most jobs are a set of responsibilities, accomplished through projects, initiatives, and programs. They contain repetitive and rule-based tasks. The work that an HR professional is educated and prepared to do only occurs after the compliance and operationally required work is done in a precise way. RPA can take on some of these tasks, but not the larger job.

HR as a Guinea Pig for RPA Adoption

HR can serve as a model for the rest of the organization — a guinea pig to kick off an organization’s broader RPA journey. RPA can offer significant value to HR professionals. By and large, HR departments remain saddled with an excessive amount of routine and repetitive work that is invaluable to an organization’ss functioning. This kind of work is perfectly suited to RPA, and when automated, can free up HR staff to focus on tasks requiring more strategic, interpersonal skills. For example, one major HR service provider partnered with UiPath to deploy a fleet of software robots to automate a series of employee verification processes. Employees performed a number of background checks on a potential employee for its clients.

While each process had different sub-processes, they required intensive manual work to set up appointments, verify and scan documents, and enter data into the company’s system. Automation led to higher process standardization, and it gave employees more time to spend on valuable analytical work.

So, how can HR teams identify processes that are fit to be automated? HR should partner with business leadership to set goals for the automation journey. For example, creating business value, lowering operational costs, increasing competitive standing, engaging with IT to act upon future-proof extensibility, high deployment velocity, and meeting enterprise architecture and compliance standards. From there, HR can work with IT to identify specific processes ripe for automation.

For example, HR departments take advantage of RPA to:

  • Simplify payroll: One HR service provider automated 90% of the effort previously required for
    the payroll process. A robot now handles all payroll changes received via email from customers
    and automatically enters them into the SAP system.
  • Reduce onboarding process time: One company used RPA to reduce employee onboarding
    process time from 30 minutes to 3-4 minutes per employee, ultimately also eliminating time
    previously necessary for reviewing and correcting errors.
  • Increase the pace of talent acquisition efforts: RPA is often used among talent acquisition
    professionals to spend less time sourcing and assessing candidates and more time meeting
    qualified candidates.

How HR Can Build a Culture of Automation Innovation Within Their Organization

Because of its rapid and demonstrable time-to-value, RPA is growing in scope and spreading worldwide in a variety of industries and departments. Leaders across all industries and functions are beginning to realize that robots and humans should be working side by side. Ultimately, all employees could benefit from having their own robot. The aspiration to provide each employee with a robot resembles. Microsoft’s early vision of putting a computer in every home. Robots should continuously learn and adjust to new business needs, just like their humans do. And, as robots free up people from these repetitive tasks, HR and other business leaders will have to reconsider how to help their people spend their newfound time wisely.

HR pros that lead with RPA will not only be more productive and successful in their own roles, but can catalyze adoption across the enterprise — making for a more efficient, innovative, and satisfied employee base. With HR’s automation initiatives underway, they can lend their experience to build a culture of automation innovation across the rest of the organization. To that end, HR should:

  • Bust myths that automation replaces humans to quell employee fear and anxiety: Despite automation’s value, fear still exists among some people that it can make their jobs obsolete. The reality is that instead of pushing employees out, automation functions best as a business tool for helping employees do even better work in their current positions. Remember: automation augments tasks, not jobs.
  • To break down employees’ misconceptions and concerns, HR departments must educate their organization on the enormous potential of automation technology—and they should speak by example. HR should not just tell but show the organization how they used RPA to enhance, not take over, their role.
  • Take an employee-centric approach: Successful automation deployment necessitates an employee-centric approach, with the HR team holding conversations with colleagues to determine which parts of their jobs they’d benefit from having automated so that they feel engaged with and in control of the change.
  • Implement educational curriculums so that employees feel empowered to use RPA: Once employees are sold into the idea of using automation, HR departments must ensure they’re trained to use it.

According to a recent UiPath survey of more than 4,500 employees from varying organizations and departments worldwide, nearly half of workers are worried they’ll be out of a job within the next five years because their skills will be outdated. The same survey uncovered that 86% of employees wish their employer offered opportunities to acquire new skills, with 68% citing that automation could increase their productivity. There is a tremendous appetite among workers worldwide for up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities, and it is HR’s responsibility to offer those opportunities. In the coming years, organizations’ ability to maintain their employee roster may determine whether they provide training opportunities to staff.

In addition to making RPA education a standard part of the onboarding process, HR departments should coordinate RPA training for existing employees. There are a number of automation training and certification programs available online—some even free. An even more convenient option is to determine if the automation vendor the organization selected offers training courses specific to their technology.

Through these initiatives, companies can provide their teams with the confidence and skills needed to successfully use automation—and ultimately grow in their careers.

Getting Started

The RPA market has grown tremendously over the last few years, so there is a good chance that your organization already has an RPA program. The first step would be to look for an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) within your organization. Many companies have established CoEs to centralize the governance and management of their automation programs. By engaging with your CoE, you can ensure that your automation initiative will be successful.

If your organization has not yet established a CoE, the most practical first step is to pilot RPA by selecting a few of the processes we described earlier and engaging with a developer to build those first automations. This is easier than it sounds. RPA is a relatively straightforward technology that your internal developers can work with. If you prefer, there are many RPA developers that can assist you as a third-party. There has never been a more critical moment for organizations to automate.

With new business and market pressures due to the global pandemic, today’s world presents ever-increasing opportunities to automate. While most companies likely never anticipated a disruption as significant as COVID-19, RPA’s range of applications and scalability allows for it to quickly serve organizations’ new, unique, and evolving needs. With HR teams at the helm of organizations’ automation journeys and serving as the guinea pig to test new automations, their experience lends itself seamlessly to the rest of the organization. The time to automate is now.

The above article serves as only an excerpt of the TTL Trends Report on Robotic Process Automation. To access the entire Trends Report, click here.