Getting on Board with Robotic Process Automation

By Jim Romeo June 18, 2019
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​The Results Companies, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based firm that provides call-center services, ran into a challenge recently: Onboarding and offboarding employees in its Mexico office had become too great a burden for its 12-person staff. At the time, the processes were manual—and laborious.

The company turned to automation to accomplish the necessary administrative tasks when bringing on new agents. It worked with Hoboken, N.J., company NICE to design virtual robots to facilitate the process of adding agents to or removing them from the company. There's no physical robot—instead artificial intelligence (AI) performs the repetitive tasks. The onboarding process, which previously took about an hour, was reduced significantly, saving the company about a month of processing time in total.

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An Increasingly Popular Solution

Robotic process automation (RPA) is becoming a popular solution for HR functions—not just onboarding and offboarding. The application, which may be implemented from the cloud or on-premise, is gaining acceptance as companies realize the efficiency such automation brings. Another benefit: It frees employees to perform other tasks within the HR department.

In the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, researchers wrote, "While cloud systems have gone a long way toward integrating the messy back office of HR, they aren't all that's needed to better support innovation, raise employee productivity, and lower cost. In 2019, organizations must rethink their HR technology strategy, considering cloud as a foundation and exploring innovative new platforms, automation, and AI-based tools to complement their core systems."

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that 22 percent of HR functions can be accomplished with available technology, while 55 percent of tasks may be automated but are "difficult to capture." In the near term, we can expect to see human resource departments work with technology companies to automate more tasks.

Relieving Administrative Burden

"Onboarding a new employee requires granting access to many systems," NICE vice president and head of automation Oded Karev said. "A username and password authorize the person to utilize the software. [Providing this authorization] is classic for a robot to perform. The hiring manager fills out a form, sends it to a robot, and the robot administers and grants access." Revoking authorization can also be accomplished when employees leave the organization.

Omar Saldana is a vice president with Keystone Partners, a human capital consulting firm in Boston. He said that RPA is effective when used for setting up new employees with benefits plans and programs, establishing business and performance goals, and formulating a development plan.

RPA is effective for offboarding, as well. "The steps common to all departures can be improved by partnering with an RPA solution," Saldana said. "The difference with offboarding is that it is the last impression an employee will have of the company. Ensure that offboarding provides a personal touch, as former employees are often an excellent referral source for new hires and future business."

In the future, Saldana said, we will continue to see RPA increasingly used for onboarding and offboarding employees, as well as for employee development. "Companies can have [an open] position listed in a system and educate employees on what skills are required to succeed in the role," he explained. "[RPA] can offer ways to gain those skills, including experiences, assignments, programs and reading. It can give tips on how to have conversations with your manager on development and advancement, what success looks like in a position and examples of different levels of performance."

Enhancing Human Functionality

Saldana is quick to point out that RPA is not intended to replace human interaction, but rather to supplement it. "RPA should not and cannot replace human interaction and conversation," he said, "but it can raise the quality of conversation by providing information prior to the conversations."

Richard French is the chief revenue officer at Kryon, a firm that develops RPA solutions. He said that there are many use cases in which human resource management can reap the benefits of RPA technology, especially with the flexibility RPA provides.

Increasing Workflow Efficiency

"The benefits of using RPA include cost savings, faster flow of information, less human data entry and data-entry errors, improved compliance with process, and greater efficiencies in workflows," said Mark Davison, a partner at ISG, a leading global technology research and advisory firm. With the right mix of RPA implemented, staff can be free to perform other tasks that bring more value to their role.

French added, "No matter the case, RPA can easily sit within your company's software provider and automate a process that an HR professional would carry out in every situation—instantly. The virtual robot can ensure that all necessary steps are taken, allowing the HR team to focus on higher-level tasks."

Jim Romeo is a technology writer in Chesapeake, Va., focused on business and technology topics.

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