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Work automation and the future of HR

31st May 2017
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Automation and robotics have become sensitive subjects in business discussions. Robots aren't always mechanical devices, but often take the form of software to promote better workflow. Robotic Process Automation involves deploying these "robots" to take over repetitive, time-consuming digital tasks such as validating data imports or generating daily statistical reports.

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Room for expansion

Many executives and HR directors show little interest in automation, partly because they don't see clearly defined needs or rewards. Among HR managers, there may be an appreciation for technical tools but no long-term vision of what automation could accomplish.

The future of automation and its impact depends largely on the objectives, strategies, and visions that represent the organization's future. There could be any number of forecasts and projections of just how these changes will affect the workforce and profitability. HR's role will be determined by how shifting strategies take shape.

Discouraging outlook

As robotics takes hold, the primary role of HR may be to determine which jobs are eliminated and how to engage the human employees that remain. Many workers may see a discouraging scenario where humans who can't manage machines provide no value.

A 2015 study from Ball State University maintains that 13% of US job losses came from automation. Workers in low-skill, low-wage positions are at higher risk of being replaced. but higher level jobs will be impacted as software and hardware become more sophisticated, user-friendly, and affordable. Here’s an example. When you think work automation, you think big robotic arms welding together cars, and an engineer standing next to it, sipping coffee and checking if everything is working properly, right? Often times, things can creep up much more subtly than that. We mentioned software that promotes better workflow - no one would suspect some lines of code can replace a person, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Let’s take this Praktika as an example: their dental software platform can make automated payments, streamlines patient scheduling and lets you access records from anywhere. Problem? It pretty darn close to making assistants and secretaries obsolete.

As many of the daily tasks in the workplace are actually a sequence of steps, many of those steps will be simple and repetitive. The most efficient alternative would be to delegate these activities to machines. Robots can run 24 hours a day without any need for food or rest, don't require salaries or benefits, and don't make mistakes.

HR responsibility

Becoming familiar with this changing workforce is one of the challenges for HR. Robots must be able to integrate not just with IT infrastructures, but with existing human teams. Affecting this balance in ways that most benefit the company will be a key function of tomorrow's HR.

Organizations should begin planning how these issues will be handled. A new business model must be developed to sustain cohesive and productive teams across the enterprise. Certain jobs will eventually be lost in most industries. HR bears the responsibility of managing anxieties and meeting expectations as this workplace revolution goes on.

Future processes

Robots and humans can make an excellent partnership. Robots can take care of tasks like information processing while humans focus on more creative and decision-oriented tasks. Some futurists envision a day when humans are serving robots, rather than the other way around. But the benefits of either are quite different.

Machines are designed for executing a logical series of steps, no matter how complex the process. Humans are highly adaptive. Robots are efficient tools that can take on the boring, demeaning, or risky tasks that create stress in humans. Humans are necessary for innovation, solving problems, forming strategies, and interacting with other humans.

Robotics job market

The expansion in robotics means expansion of the robotics industry and the creation of more jobs. This more optimistic view presents a different situation to HR. New responsibilities will include recruiting based on technical opportunities. Modern tools can require additional training, but will make jobs easier, more engaging, and provide greater employment security.

Some businesses may be forced to become more specialized, in whole or in part. They may choose to market products or services done primarily by machines, or shift business goals to profit from their human assets such as creativity, design, planning, and interpersonal skills.

To make this work, organizations need to put emphasis on recruiting or training people with technical knowledge or specific talents. Companies and educators need to develop a culture of skills enthusiasts. Businesses may also need to integrate training programs to help staff acquire the knowledge and skills that are needed.

HR and automation

Data is flooding in from many sources, such as online activity and mobile phones. Use of analytics in recruiting and retention of employees is one of the advantages of Robotic Process Automation. Gathering and organizing timely information from varied sources helps to determine rules, which can establish a series of repeated functions.

This is a perfect opportunity for automation. Robots are able to process a large amount of data very quickly, according to the criteria they're given. Robotic software can collect information from a number of electronic sources and validate it against current needs. For HR departments, this can mean efficiently scanning resumes, processing payrolls, and populating forms and messages.

One study indicates that machines are actually better at determining the best hire. Freeing HR staff from monotonous data processing gives them more opportunities to focus on developing human relationships, something that robotics is not useful for. This creates an experience for all employees that's more personalized and gratifying.

Robotic software and the technologies that support it are poised to become an ongoing disruption in the workplace, but could be a major opportunity for HR. Every organization needs to evaluate the impact of automation on their employees and overall efficiency. HR will have to be one of the key players in the daily challenges of integrating robotics. This may require the adoption of new skills by HR workers themselves, but it's essential that they become versed in the technical developments that are transforming the workforce.

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