Automation has had rather an apprehensive press over the last year; the headline-seekers predicted a Thanos-like thinning of the ranks of the employed, and we all started to wonder what we’re going to do with all that spare time and no money to enjoy it.

Well, history teaches us something different. In the 1950s my mother lived in hope of robots doing the housework, and especially the ironing. That never happened, of course as apart from some device crawling around the floor, bumping into things, the drudgery is still there. BUT we do have smart bombs, fast cars, drones, modified vegetables and multi-purpose mobile devices, so maybe our priorities ended right there.

It’s quickly become apparent in the world of payroll that automation is the key to better working, as it can do away with repetitive, error-prone posting and provide a better level of compliance. The spotlight has now turned on HR activities and we can see an even wider vista of opportunities to be seized.

Those of us with HR systems who have harnessed the capabilities of Notification and Work Flow features will see at once how much more they can do with automation; the limitations of those earlier features are blown away by the power of a technology which can potentially run all those processes which underpin the HR function, from Recruitment, through On-boarding, then Performance, Learning & Development, Promotion, and, when appropriate, Off-boarding.

Some of my colleagues in the HR world are getting very excited about the use of Artificial Intelligence. I would add a word of caution. Historically, as a profession we haven’t done very well with selecting, managing and maxing the advantages of what I shall refer to as ‘linear’ systems. AI will only reflect its environment and decisions made within that environment; some Recruitment programming has been found to reflect and promote bias that exists within the organisation, so we can see that there’s a lot more reviewing to be done in this direction.

Automation, meanwhile, is the logical developmental step for any HR department looking to take the grind out of administration as well as suppress the potential for error. There’s no denying that there is a fair amount of preparatory work, especially in mapping all the processes to be automated and this will stretch available resources, but reviews of this type are useful from a validation point of view: are these processes still effective, and are they streamlined in operation?

It is absolutely essential that your automation tools can be configured by your own people and that you don’t have to rely on ongoing and possibly expensive support from either the vendor or consultants. Your choice of automation supplier must have this element factored in.

When embarking on your Automation project, an important question that has to be addressed is: How are we going to communicate this?

The fear factor among employees should not be underestimated, and in an information vacuum the unknown often becomes a baseless invention that undermines everyone. The best course of action is transparency. Make everyone aware of WHAT is planned and WHY, WHEN it will happen, and what the end result is expected to be.

Managing any culture change is a delicate matter, and this one is even more so.

Finally, when the first wave of automation is bedded in, then take stock, and see where else can benefit from the changes. This will extend beyond the walls of HR, and certainly your colleagues in other functions will be keen to learn more. As with so many improvements, Automation is always a work in progress.

Denis Barnard author image

Denis Barnard

Denis Barnard is acknowledged to be a leading expert in the selection of HR & payroll systems, and other HRIS, both inside and outside the UK. He has been instrumental in leading successful selection and implementation projects in a wide range of sectors, including local government, Higher Education, publishing, music industry and manufacturing. His recently-published book “Selecting and implementing HR & payroll software” has been acclaimed by leading HR practitioners.