HR in an RPA vendor – how bots are transforming the function
A lot of CHRO interviews are pretty pedestrian. Most of them are managers who tell me about their new HRMS solution and the associated implementation effort. Some particularly painful ones occur when a hiring manager wants to chat about a small point (for example, “Brian, did you hear we changed the color of our logo? It really increases our engagement scores!”). You can’t imagine how relieved it is to talk to a great, business-minded recruiter who is really doing something value-adding, innovative, and newsworthy.
I recently had the chance to speak to Nancy Hauge, CHRO of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) provider Automation Anywhere. One of the headlines in this interview was that it highlighted a number of interesting ways that HR and businesses can use bots. Lots of bots.
How many people work here?
This problem still frustrates leadership teams everywhere. Why? Regardless of the number of employees the HR department can produce, the chances are good it doesn’t match the numbers from Finance (from payroll or budgeting) or the employees from Operation. The HR system only contains active employees, but may not be able to calculate full-time equivalent when part-time workers enter the equation. A client of mine has a number of “alumni” (ie former employees) who they reactivate for short-term needs (e.g. they can reactivate a nurse in a specific location when the regular one is on maternity leave). Are these people employees, part-time workers, contractors, or some other status? How do you explain it? The same goes for interns, some contractors, sabbatical workers, those with extended absences, and other types of workers.
It’s fascinating to see employers doing one of these census exercises. The usual method involves lots of emails, faxes, and spreadsheets. Some work may be required to normalize and clean up the data as some employees may work in two different locations and be counted twice (this is incredibly common in the world of restaurants and convenience stores). The quality of results is often compromised because front-line managers may not count employees consistently or correctly.
A bot was a better way for Automation Anywhere than:
- The bot could integrate into the various HR systems
- The bot could consistently apply the categorization and counting rules across the company
- The automated bot could read data from spreadsheets, payrolls, and HRMS systems, and automatically matched the correct data each time the census was needed
- The bot was able to do the job in minutes, while the manual process took days or weeks
- People believed the bot’s results while the manual process still had naysayers
Who is entitled to benefits?
For many employers in the United States, employees who work 30 hours or more per week are eligible for benefits, such as health insurance. For many employers, they want scheduling tools to limit work hours to just 29 a week (a bot could help with that). Whether or not the company can control it, there is still a business need to determine who is entitled to benefits. And this determination usually has to be made after each accounting run.
The eligibility problem is compounded by a part-time worker who is insured through his spouse’s employer. For the HR department, the question of authorization is twofold:
- Has the employee worked enough hours to be eligible for benefits?
- Does the employee want to register for services if they are entitled to do so?
Bots as part of HR implementation
Another interesting use case for bots in HR was using them in implementing the HRMS itself. Automation Anywhere used bots to move data from their old systems to their new Workday HR applications. That was not insignificant as several local solutions are being converted into one global cloud product. Bots fetched data from various systems and formatted it into specific file formats for the Workday application.
Even more interesting, however, was that the bots were also used to convert unstructured data. Elements such as employee photos, proof of identity documents, tax exemption applications, court orders (e.g. for seizures), etc. were captured and uploaded.
New versions of the 9-box – HR for individuals
In HR country there is a 3×3 matrix (also known as a 9 box) that HR / management can use to see how well the employees (in one dimension) compared to what they are paid (in the other dimension) ), Provide services. This is a standard for many performance management modules. There are also alternatives to compare performance over time.
Nancy mentioned that they use bots to collect data and present it in other 9-box formats. She mentioned how she can:
- Examine whether the company is over- or underinvested in certain roles (ie, via experience or salary) and compare this to the strategic value a role creates for the company. Would you like to know if your company has a lot of very high-level, very expensive employees in a role with little added value?
- See how people and functions are aligned in terms of culture, retention risk and other attributes and how satisfied the employees are.
Personalized HR department – right down to each individual
What’s so great is that Automation Anywhere sees employees as individuals, not just components within a herd of people. They use these tools / bots to create a person’s “map of hopes and dreams”. This concept is actually huge as most HR groups don’t have the time to develop a customized career and training plan for each and every employee. And even if they did, it would likely be a one-off event in the blue moon. Bots can work quietly in the background and continuously adjust and update this map as new data points become available.
This is a BIG idea. When the average company has just under 2½ HR employees per 100 employees, there is almost no way for HR employees to develop personalized training, career development, succession plan, and more for each and every employee (on top of the dozen other HR employees ) are responsible for). To do this well, a lot of data would have to be collected and analyzed – data that often does not fit into a traditional HR application. This data collection is done with the help of bots. A bit of machine learning can develop the personalized plans once the data is available.
This is important because different people have different professional needs that change frequently. Employers are not necessarily mind readers and cannot always know where a person would like to start their career, how they would like to find their way around it, what skills they will need, and what their schedule for change is.
Tools that make HR relevant in real time AND for every employee are urgently needed in the market. You can’t be serious about engagement, great employee experiences, and owning a top employment brand if you treat all employees equally and in rarely changing ways. It’s time to redefine what real-time means in HR.
How HR builds bots
Automation Anywhere sent 30 of its HR experts to their own school, Automation Anywhere University, to learn how to build bots. Some participants built personal bots, while others built more business-like enterprise bots. According to a recent blog of theirs:
Other bots were created for more complex tasks. According to the creator of an HR application bot, it is a compensation and internal equity check bot that recruiters can use before posting a job offer. “Compa-Bot” (as it is called) can help ensure equal pay throughout the company. Currently this is done manually by a recruiter and an HR business partner, which requires back and forth communication. Ultimately, “Compa-Bot” saves a lot of time and increases accuracy and compliance. “
This is the first time I’ve heard of an HR organization learning about and implementing advanced bot technology. It is time for other HR managers to seriously consider doing the same.
Read this article from Nancy on the use of advanced technology in HR.
I was frustrated with how long it takes for a large HR or ERP provider to develop a new analytics offering and make it commercially available. Most take 18 months or more to complete each new role. These long periods of time make me seriously question the “power” they claim to have on their platforms. If the provider needs more than a year and a half for a simple data point, what chance does an HR expert have to do as well?
The amount, functionality and speed of development of the bots developed by Automation Anywhere are impressive and should lead HR managers elsewhere to either create many of their own or put pressure on their HRMS solution provider to quickly create equivalent solutions NOW!
Workday and automation everywhere are pretty tight. From a press release from February 2019 we read:
Automation Anywhere®, a global leader in Robotic Process Automation (RPA), announced that Workday Ventures has received a strategic investment cementing a partnership that will help provide Workday customers with the world’s leading intelligent RPA platform Connect Automation Anywhere. In addition to the investment, Automation Anywhere has joined the Workday Software Partner Program.
Let’s hope these two companies will soon be adding more of these bots to Workday’s HRMS solutions.
After all, the focus on advanced technologies in the human resources department was mostly on the use (and abuse) of machine learning, artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. The bot focus has mostly focused on a few niche use cases (e.g. when a bot is helping a job seeker schedule an interview or helping an employee get an answer to a performance question). I suspect we have all been too focused on cutting edge technology that may not be prime time ready right now or constitute too much litigation if deployed now. Instead, let’s look at the bots and their ability to add value quickly now.