James Ewing: The future of “human” resources

HR is one of the most varied areas of business in terms of the tasks it entails. On the one hand, it can include a wide range of meaningful, value-based tasks – such as workplace counselling and talent cultivation and retention. On the other hand, it can include tasks that are mundane, highly repetitive, time-consuming and of little value to the people who execute them, such as maintaining employee records, updating internal databases and managing payroll.

In today’s dynamic workplace, that is marching towards future-proofing its employees and operations, HR’s move from admin to strategy is imminent – and ironically, it would appear that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) might just have a huge part to play. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 professionals found that 72 per cent said that a lack of automation hindered their organisations success. Automation has the potential to take on some of the more mundane, data-heavy and repetitive tasks involved in HR professionals work, freeing them up to focus on the more meaningful, value-based tasks.

In order to reap the rewards of automation in HR, there are a number of considerations businesses need to think of first. This article will look at some of the challenges business face when launching automation initiatives into their HR departments, and how they can be overcome.

Cultural Resistance

One of the most prominent barriers to RPA adoption is cultural resistance. It is often theorised that automation will ultimately replace humans in the workplace and result in mass redundancies – in its survey of European RPA adoption, ISG found that one of the most pertinent barriers to the growth of RPA was ‘organisational resistance to change’ with 33 per cent citing this as the main obstacle to expanding RPA use. However, in actuality the opposite is true.

Implementing an RPA solution takes on the more administrative tasks, allowing HR staff to focus on more meaningful, person-centric work. For example, high volume, repetitive tasks such as payroll, workflow administration and new employee onboarding are tasks can all be easily automated by technology that already exists. This enables businesses to get the most value out of their HR departments by giving them more time to focus on more strategic work, such as the employee wellbeing and experience.

Given that this barrier is one that is deeply rooted in the opinions of RPA that are shared among peers and colleagues it is imperative that IT and management work together to educate employees on the benefits of RPA and clearly define how it fits into their organisation’s overall digital transformation.

The advent of automation will mark a paradigm shift in business management where managers will need to manage digital workers alongside humans. They will therefore need to understand how to best utilise these different resources for different tasks, finding the best fit for each task. Within HR this should enable people to focus on tasks involving emotional intelligence and creative thinking. In order to overcome cultural resistance, HR managers need to communicate this to their wider teams.

Lack of understanding

Lack of understanding about where exactly RPA can be implemented to boost productivity in the HR department can prove to be hindrance to adoption. Research has indicated that one of the leading causes of failed automation initiatives has been due to a poor choice of pilot processes. One report from The Shared Services & Outsourcing Network found that 38 per cent of automation initiatives that did not live up to client expectations were due to the wrong processes being chosen for automation.

Reaching out to a trusted RPA provider is key to ensuring that this is not a problem that arises when undergoing a trial run. The tasks that get automated need to be; a) clearly defined before the start of the process, and b) implementing RPA must be aligned with the company’s overall vision.

HR is a suitable sector to pilot an RPA solution for two reasons; automating mundane tasks would free-up valuable time for employee-relations, and a pilot in this department would then allow HR professionals to develop suitable training programs to onboard staff from other departments as RPA is implemented business-wide.

Digital Skills Gap

Another prime barrier to adoption is the gap in talent and skills required to implement an RPA solution in an organisation. This may seem like a big drawback for businesses but is actually an opportunity to speak to channel partners about their needs as an organisation to gain a better understanding of how automation can be woven into their workflows.

Partners come with a wealth of understanding of the product and are able to offer support and advise to an organization each step of the way. Getting in touch with a trusted partner means organisations gain more insight into the tasks that can and cannot be automated, how HR professionals can be onboarded to boost overall productivity in the department, and the right processes can be chosen to implement a pilot program, all of which comes at a much lower cost than to hire IT staff to pilot and implement an RPA solution.

HR is at the forefront of a revolution. Given the capabilities of RPA to take on tasks and processes that provide little value to the people who execute them, implementation would eventually lead to a paradigm shift in the way HR professionals work. Setting aside valuable time to completing repetitive tasks will be a thing of history, allowing people in human resources to do what they do best, focus on humans.





With three decades of experience in the tech industry, James Ewing, UK and Ireland Regional Director at Finnish automation specialist, Digital Workforce, has had the pleasure of working with HR professionals from a wide range of companies to implement Robotic Process Automation solutions. This experience has pushed him to begin writing about RPA and how organisations can reap the benefits of the technology. James is an advocate for the idea that the key to a successful digital transformation is a clear understanding of the organisation’s goals and values, and the impact that automation can bring that means it aligns with these goals rather changes or disrupts them – a philosophy that he applies with every client he works with.