UK: Robotics – I Need Your Clothes, Your Boots And Your HR Processes

Last Updated: 6 August 2015
Article by Mark Bowden and Laurence Collins

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

This summer we have seen our favourite gun-toting, German speaking cyborg return to movie screens in a fight to save the world from an evil terminator. There are two things that are striking about the return of Arnie to our screens: One, he still has the same dubious haircut and regenerating exoskeleton he was sporting back in the 80s; and two, although older, he has needed to develop into a sharper, quicker and more intelligent being in order to be able to deal with his evil nemeses in this 5th generation.

Following on from our original blog " Extreme Makeover – How the new look HR is turning heads and driving value" and as we look back over the past 20 years, there are many similarities we draw between the development of the Terminator and the HR function. The majority of HR organisations have developed some sort of 'Ulrich exoskeleton' for their HR Delivery model, with the Shared Service Centre acting as the heartbeat of the operation. But, just like the Terminator, HR will rework, improve, and introduce new concepts that offer real value to our customers.

Firstly, take the introduction of cloud computing for example. This has left IT in cold sweats about their own capability gaps and raised the eyebrow of many CFOs, as HRIS implementation timelines and costs tumble compared to traditional ERP solutions. This would explain why 36% of businesses will be turning to cloud in the next 12 months  to further simplify and automate processes, and enable a SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud) customer interface that can be accessed anytime and anywhere. 

Secondly, with HR processes simplified, customer service improving and HR adding more  value to the business, one would think it's time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the popcorn. However, if you are in the 70% of HR Leaders that have limited to no understanding of machines as another element to their talent arsenal, it's time to head for the exit and leave your competitors sitting in the prime, middle-of-the-cinema seats, as you begin the journey towards the next phase of HR transformation – Robotic Process Automation (RPA). 

The digital revolution is here and the robots have arrived. These 'software robots' can sit across any number of applications, capturing, checking, validating and entering data inputted by your employees. A prime example of their use would be their ability to link up all of the elements involved in your employee on-boarding process (e.g. automatically linking an on-boarding portal with benefits providers, pension, payroll, Core HCM, LMS etc.), or perhaps multiple local payroll connections, to a global Cloud HCM system. Send the robots into the trenches to fight the administration battle, enable HR to steward the flag of corporate vision victoriously into the board room.

RPA will fundamentally change the operating model and capabilities of HR – tomorrow, if you are still performing repeatable, transactional, rule-based activities within your shared service centre you have failed. RPA Robots operate at 1,000 times the speed of an SSC FTE, at a tenth of the cost (of an onshore FTE), have a near 0% error rate and can be turned off and on at any time (making them infinitely scaleable).  

Opex Cost and productivity are not the only benefits - RPA could remove the day to day administration work from HR, leaving our shared service centre HR professionals to move up the value chain to deliver more meaningful HR work (which will reduce attrition) focused on ensuring our complex ecosystem of human capital is given an environment to grow and innovate. This value shift is critical for the new breed of leadership, who believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast and knows that their personal and organisational performance is increasingly dependent on HR to drive the cultural and employee engagement we are all striving for. 78% of leaders[1] see Organisational Culture as the most important people related issue for 2015, but also the biggest HR capability gap – so, upping the table stakes (making High Impact HR the business a norm) is a huge win for our HR hero.

For most, Robotic Process Automation reads like a no brainer. So, what's the catch? Much like the development our favourite German speaking actor, intelligence, speed and a polished act only comes with practice, repetition of lines and maturity. RPA currently requires mature, stable, consistent, rule-based processes. 20 years on from Ulrich, many organisations are still striving for truly global, simplified processes. The Deloitte 2015 Human Capital Trends Report highlights that only 5% of organisations have 'simple' work processes, which leaves 95% of us with a lot of work to do. 

The good news is that 75% of organisations are ditching the popcorn and have programmes underway to stabilise and simplify processes, which is a step in the right direction to enable them to reap the benefits of RPA.

So, what does this mean for Robots in HR pre-apocalyptic evil robot takeover? For the 5% of organisations with stable and simplified processes, go forth and conquer the universe; but for the majority –simplify and standardise, the robots are ready for us, and when that time comes... They'll be back...

Thanks to our colleagues Ed Walker and Lewis Curley who researched and supported this blog.


1. Deloitte ‘The Robots are coming’ Insight Report

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