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Essential guide: How Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is shaking up HR

Gavin Mee, Area Vice President Sales - UiPath UK and Ireland

There’s no doubt about it, the world is in the middle of a major revolution – and the ways in which we work are changing at break-neck speed.

However, unlike previous changes to labour patterns, which were driven by the introduction of physical machinery, this latest revolution to reach the workplace is being driven solely by digital machinery.

Emerging technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are opening up a wealth of new opportunities for organisations and their employees – taking on unrewarding and process-heavy activity, and freeing people to focus on more strategic, creative and valuable tasks.

As automation continues to present us with new and more efficient ways to work, HR functions have an opportunity to introduce these technologies into organisations and demonstrate how they can help to bolster the productivity, success and satisfaction of employees.

Effective HR functions should demonstrate what best-practice looks like within an organisation and drive new processes and systems forwards, so naturally, it’s the best place to test out the implementation of emerging technology. But this can be daunting at the best of times, particularly when the word ‘robot’ is involved. This begs the question of what HR professionals need to know about RPA – and how can they effectively implement it? Let’s find out.

What is RPA?
RPA is an increasingly useful tool that works alongside employees and streamlines their workflow. Put simply, this software-based technology enables organisations to build virtual robots that can carry out routine, rules-based computer tasks in the same way a human would.

These robots, which exist exclusively within computers, can virtually take control of the mouse and keyboard and be used to fill out documents, read and send emails, enter data into business applications, and much more.

RPA will prove to be a critical ally for organisations in the years to come, but at present, there’s still a lot of scepticism about the technology and confusion around how it can be used. For example, many still believe that robots are here to ‘steal their jobs’, but this simply isn’t true.

Software robots are essentially digital assistants that can do simple tasks and enable us to accomplish much more than we would without them. Think of it as working alongside you, rather than instead of you.

HR: A natural fit for RPA
The HR department is the perfect place to kick-start an organisation’s RPA journey, not least because the technology can offer significant value to HR professionals.

After all, many HR departments are saddled with an excessive amount of work that, while invaluable to the functioning of an organisation, is essentially process-led and repetitive. Such work is perfectly suited to RPA, and when it’s automated, HR staff can be freed up to focus on tasks that require more strategic or interpersonal skills.

While the benefits of implementing RPA can be far-reaching for organisations, it can be difficult to know where to start. So the question is, how can HR teams identify processes that should be automated?

Well, like any long-term project, automation should be approached with the end goal, or goals, in mind. Once HR has determined what the business leadership team would like to achieve through automation, whether that be creating business value, lowering operational costs or increasing competitive standing, the HR team should work with the organisation’s IT teams to ensure that any robots created are fit for purpose and capable of completing tasks to a high standard.

From there, HR can work to identify specific processes that are ripe for automation – such as simplifying payroll, reducing on-boarding process time, and increasing the pace of talent acquisition efforts.

Building a culture of automation innovation from within
It might sound futuristic, but RPA is demonstrating the value it can bring to organisations, and it’s already spreading across a wide variety of industries and departments. What’s more, business leaders are starting to realise that the workforce of the future isn’t as simple as robots or humans, but much rather, robots and humans working side by side.

As these robots start to release workers from less rewarding and valuable tasks and provide them with additional capacity, it will be the responsibility of HR and other leaders from across the business to decide how best to redeploy their time.

The successful implementation of RPA will not only help HR professionals to be more productive, more successful, and more fulfilled in their own roles, but it can help them to catalyse adoption across the entire organisation too. With that being said, if HR is to ever get automation off the ground and into the computers of employees across the organisation, they’ll ultimately need to combat reticence and use their experience to build a culture of automation innovation that carries across the rest of the workforce.

Building a new culture within a business is no overnight task, but it’s important for HR to take an employee-centric approach to the changes, and help employees feel that they have some control of the upcoming changes. If you can dispel the myth that automation implementation results in job losses, you’ll help even the most technophobic of employees to realise that automation is here to help, not hinder.

Then, once employees are sold into the idea of using automation, why not introduce an educational curriculum that enables employees to feel empowered using RPA? If you make it compulsory, you’ll not only ensure that the workforce is comfortable with and proficient in RPA – but you’ll know that they’re ready for the future too.

Getting started
In a matter of years, the RPA market has grown tremendously – and it only shows signs of accelerating further. Some of the world’s largest businesses are using RPA to support their staff, and if your organisation is of a reasonable size, there’s a good chance that you already have an RPA programme too.

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, businesses from across the globe are facing pressures like never before – and there’s simply never been a more critical moment for organisations to automate. With a unique range of applications and the ability to scale up or down as necessary, RPA can quickly serve organisations’ new, unique, and evolving needs when it matters the most.

With HR teams put firmly in the driving seat for their business’ automation journey, they have a unique opportunity to accelerate the implementation of a tool that could not only make the business more productive in the short-term, but more profitable – and viable – in the long-term too. At a time when businesses need all the help they can get, surely the time to automate is now?

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