As more HR leaders have begun implementing robotic process automation (RPA) in functions like payroll and benefits to create new process efficiencies and free up HR staff for higher-impact work, many are discovering the technology has applications in broader areas of HR.
RPA is increasingly being used in onboarding, recruiting, and learning and development to automate high-volume, rules-based tasks using software bots. RPA bots can mimic human actions if the steps are standard and linear, allowing HR teams to add administrative capacity and reduce errors in processing or auditing data by bringing new consistency to those processes.
Experts say RPA also can deliver another important but oft-overlooked benefit to human resource functions: increased job satisfaction for the HR staff due to the reduction of routine data-processing tasks.
Some organizations have begun using RPA for new-hire onboarding, said Daniel Priest, a partner and technology strategy consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles. "When creating employee records for onboarding, the data from new-hire forms must be loaded into HR systems, and it's typically done the same way every time," he said. "RPA can assist HR staff in pulling and loading that data from one form or system to another, often with a high degree of accuracy and consistency."
Greg Vert, a senior manager with Deloitte Consulting LLP, said RPA can be used to trigger manual tasks within an onboarding process, such as initiating the provisioning of a laptop based on the completion of a new-hire transaction. "RPA also could trigger a background check once a job offer is accepted," he said.
One step in the hiring process at Ernst and Young (EY), the tax and advisory services company based in London, is to verify that a new hire has worked at the company before, said Larry Nash, head of U.S. recruiting for the company. If the person has been previously employed there, they are reassigned their original unique identifier; if they haven't worked at EY in the past, they are assigned a new identifier.
"An RPA bot we developed for our new hires checks more data points than a human could, and makes the assignment if the rules are met or alerts a human if the check is inconclusive," Nash said. He estimates that automating the process will save the company $150,000 over two years.
Bots also can save electronic offer letters as PDFs and export the letters for secure storage in personnel files with offsite vendors, Nash said.
Talent acquisition leaders and recruitment process outsourcing providers (RPOs) also are beginning to find uses for RPA. For example, Deloitte recently helped one of its clients in the health care industry deploy a bot to create new efficiencies in the client's recruiting process.
At both the initial screening of candidates and again after a job offer is accepted, the bot references online databases for the health care company—with no need for human help—to verify that the candidate has an active license to practice based on the job location.
"The bot also downloads an electronic copy of the license and stores it as part of the candidate record in the recruiting application," Vert said. The ability to automate these verification and storage steps improves the speed and compliance aspects of the process, he added, while also reducing the risk of errors and freeing up recruiters to focus more time on candidate sourcing.
One familiar form of bot—the chatbot—continues to make inroads in recruiting and onboarding. Chatbots answer frequently asked questions from job candidates or employees with no need for human input. EY recently tested a pilot program featuring "Buddy," a chatbot designed for use with newly hired college graduates, Nash said.
The chatbot is available for four to six weeks after a new hire's start date to respond to any inquiries they might have. EY also used a chatbot at its 2017 International Intern Leadership Conference to answer frequently asked questions from 3,000 interns attending the conference.
A Hidden Benefit: Employee Satisfaction
Priest believes organizations should consider another factor when they calculate the return on investment from RPA technology: an improvement in employee satisfaction in the HR staff. "That is an important qualitative benefit of RPA," Priest said. "Many of the employees asked to do the kind of pulling and loading of data that RPA bots can replace didn't go to college for those kinds of tasks. We have seen employee satisfaction rise significantly in our research because these employees are now able to focus on the higher-value portions of their jobs."
Vert said many respondents to Deloitte's 2017 Global Human Capital Trends study reported being more interested in creating capacity than reducing head count with their use of RPA. About 77 percent of organizations in the survey expect to retrain or redeploy the human talent displaced by new forms of automation like RPA.
"Part of the goal of automation should be to take the grind out of the workplace and allow humans to focus on the capabilities they are uniquely suited for, such as strategy, innovation and empathy," Vert said.
This article originally appeared in SHRM.org. To view the original article, please click here.