Considering that first impressions are critical, we shouldn't be surprised at the vital role that HR departments play in each business. After all, we might see HR managers (particularly those engaged in recruiting) as their company's ambassadors, representing the first point of contact between the enterprise and potential talents.
But it is not just a matter of image and prestige. HR managers take care of every phase of an employee's life cycle, from headhunting and hiring to onboarding, from payroll to reporting and expense management.
Unfortunately, most of these processes require a huge amount of repetitive and time-consuming paperwork, which ends up taking valuable resources away from other strategic and far more motivating activities.
What if we could delegate such tedious tasks to machines and let humans focus on data-driven decision-making, interpersonal relations, and employee well-being? The solution to this dilemma already exists and implies the massive implementation of robotic process automation (RPA) in HR.
RPA involves the deployment of software robots that excel at performing standardized and monotonous tasks. These virtual assistants can carry out high-volume mundane activities with greater speed and accuracy than human workers while helping to reduce labor costs.
Among their typical duties, we may count filling out forms and documents, sending multiple emails, extracting and collecting data from different business applications, and so on. This makes robots the perfect candidates to enhance a highly bureaucratized sector such as human resources management.
RPA in HR has already proved highly effective. According to our partner UiPath, software robots can easily lead to 40% time savings for HR departments, 85% faster processing, and a near-zero error rate.
However, we are still a long way from implementing RPA and other automation technologies to their full potential, and many solutions remain largely unexplored. Looking at McKinsey’s estimates, for example, we can already spot a positive trend in the deployment of RPA, machine learning, and natural language processing for benefits administration, payroll, and report keeping:
On the other hand, all those HR tasks that typically require human intervention, such as strategy, planning, organizational development, and labor relations, are relatively backward.
This implies at least two positive facts. The first is that there is still room for improvement. The second is that, contrary to the widespread fears regarding massive job displacement, the human element is still absolutely fundamental and cannot be replaced by machines. Rather, it should be improved with proper retraining, which is one of the key elements to take into account when investing in RPA solution development.
Nowadays, the range of RPA use cases is truly vast and encompasses almost every industry. HR management is no exception and can take advantage of automation to streamline many different business processes. Let's give a brief overview of some of the most relevant ways to leverage RPA in HR.
One of the most challenging tasks for any HR department during the recruiting phase is candidate screening. For a single vacancy, recruiters must go through hundreds of CVs and make sure the information matches the requirements of the job position.
By adopting RPA tools, this task can be largely automated. Once the selection criteria have been defined (years of experience, academic qualifications, technical skills, etc.), the software robot will search through the resumes in search of the most suitable candidates and filter out potentially interesting profiles.
As shown in our HR pilot project, CV processing can be performed 4 times faster via robots:
RPA can also be combined with candidate tracking systems (ATS) to keep track of rejected applicants, who may instead be ideal for future job positions. Or it can work in synergy with OCR tools to verify that digital copies of the required documents are attached to the application letters.
Once all the required information has been extracted and the right candidates selected, robots can even draft custom messages for both successful and rejected applicants by entering their data in pre-written forms. Finally, they may check HR managers' work schedules to choose a proper time slot and trigger the sending of job interview invitations.
Of course, a similar process can be repeated later to draw up a personalized offer letter indicating the proposed position and its terms.
The next step after hiring a candidate is to set up onboarding, which requires merging a lot of data from different systems and can be just as time-consuming and frustrating when done manually. RPA is ready to lend a hand in this phase, too.
Many onboarding procedures are simply rule-based and can therefore be automated via robots, including the assignment of equipment, corporate credentials, and access rights for business applications. All you have to do is tell the machine which parameters to follow for the task, such as the name, job position, and hierarchical status.
Thanks to the implementation of RPA tools, it is possible to obtain a 100% accuracy and a considerable speed-up of HR workflows, as in the case of First Bank that has reduced the time required for its onboarding procedures by 120 total hours per month, according to Aggranda.
Another way to help both new hires and HR managers right after recruitment is through the automation of training session planning. Robots can independently provide the recruits with the most suitable training materials based on their role, or match their work schedule with that of human trainers to set a proper timetable of the training sessions.
Similar advantages can also be achieved for the opposite (and definitely less cheerful) procedure, namely offboarding, by speeding up the collection of dismissal documents, triggering the termination of benefits and payments, and so on.
The third tedious and error-prone HR process that can be greatly improved with RPA is about payroll management, especially in the case of large companies with thousands of employees. Payroll involves huge and regular data entry work, which has to take into account working hours, potentially variable tax regulations, and other factors.
Software robots streamline these tasks by drawing and aggregating information from various sources, including accounting reports and time-tracking applications. They may also take care of calculating the gross and net salary and triggering payments.
Thanks to this mechanism, UiPath claims that it is possible to reduce the manual effort for processing payrolls by 25% and achieve a zero error rate. Here, we're talking about an easily scalable solution: the more employees, the more time can be saved on processing.
That's exactly what happened with a Swiss HR service provider after implementing RPA within 7 weeks. Previously, manual payroll handling took 60 hours a month and involved 6 full-time employees. The entire workflow has been 90% automated with a software robot processing customers' payroll change requests and inserting such data into corporate systems. For the company, RPA proved to be a good investment, guaranteeing ROI in 4 months.
Taking care of paperwork is boring and not exactly motivating for HR managers, who are paid to do it. How can we expect it to be different for all other employees? Remembering to access the corporate software, register their attendance, or record absences and holidays is a nightmare for everyone, especially if this requires the completion of many different forms.
This can be solved with RPA. For example, a bot may compare absence reports and the time slots that employees have logged into the corporate network, notify them if some information does not match, and remind them to fill out the necessary forms.
When it comes to absence management, another interesting way to leverage RPA is the ability to automate sick leave certificate processing. UiPath has developed a software robot for a German HR service provider that previously handled 2,500 certificates per month manually, taking around 4 minutes for each. By adopting a data-extracting bot, processing time decreased by 80%, and manual efforts plummeted to 5% compared to previous requirements.
An additional step is to combine RPA with other tools such as image recognition and machine learning-based biometric analysis. In this way, the presence of employees is detected by machine vision-powered cameras and automatically recorded when they enter their office without wasting time for manual registration. Then, the check-in and check-out times are saved in the company systems, which can also be very useful for the payroll calculations mentioned above.
Obviously, in the era of COVID-19 and digital workplaces, such a solution may sound as useful as a refrigerator at the North Pole and should therefore be replaced with other verification mechanisms. For example, HRMS could be integrated with GPS capabilities to track employees working remotely.
To keep track of travel and business expenses and receive reimbursements from the company, employees usually have to hand over all the relevant payment receipts. From these documents, HR managers will need to extract numerous details such as amount, date, time, and location. But considering lost invoices, errors in data entry procedures, and other inconveniences, manual expense management can often end up being a mess.
This is where RPA comes into play once again, possibly combined with optical recognition tools such as OCR. Thanks to this teamwork, the necessary data is extracted from the receipts, reorganized, and automatically entered into the expense forms.
Robots can also distinguish actually valid expenses from those that do not meet the established requirements by following a rule-based approach. For example, they will consider the receipt for a business lunch but reject the one for your latest Netflix monthly subscription.
The last use case in our brief roundup involves report generation. This activity is strictly required by labor legislation and therefore must be carried out with particular caution, especially when HR managers need to comply with complex and ever-changing regulations.
That's why RPA software can prove particularly useful, minimizing the error rate and speeding up the collection of data including employee benefits, expenses, and performances. This information will be gathered by RPA robots from a wide range of business sources, fed into standard templates, and turned into custom reports.
A similar solution has been adopted by Coca-Cola, which has introduced RPA software in over 50 processes on a multitude of their SAP-based systems. This enabled 3x faster data processing and reporting while maintaining the ability to manually review any exceptions.
RPA is a powerful tool when it comes to handling repetitive high-volume processes with low exception rates. This has made it an ideal partner for HR management, which traditionally requires huge amounts of paperwork.
As you may have noticed from the previously mentioned case studies, RPA in HR may become even more effective when combined with other technologies such as computer vision software.
Based on these findings, it's easy to explain the growing adoption of software robots to streamline HR workflows. According to Sierra-Cedar's 2019-2020 HR Systems Survey, RPA was the technology that experienced the largest increase in implementation during the previous year (+50%), although it’s not the most widespread in absolute terms:
On the other hand, RPA is unable to replicate human actions for activities that require a strong strategic, analytical and social component, or when the rules are violated by unforeseen exceptions. Such situations require a deeper sensitivity and level of analysis that only humans can master.
After all, HR remains a human-centered business that focuses on interpersonal relationships and employee well-being. The ultimate goal of RPA implementation should be to further emphasize these aspects, allowing HR staff to take care of people while delegating unnerving and dehumanizing tasks to the machines.