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What is the future for HR in an age of automation, and how do we derive great value from it?

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When I read through the posts in my LinkedIn timeline or Twitter feeds, there is one ubiquitous theme – that is automation or AI and how it could be all encompassing in its embrace! As practicing managers, we often struggle to collate basic data regarding our employees and their performance, analyze it objectively and gain valuable insights from it. Using automation in a purposeful way is a step forward in the pursuit of reimagining the future of work.

Workforce intelligence has been increasingly gaining relevance in today’s day and age – gathering information that is relevant to HR, aligning this data with decision-making and being a strategic partner in driving business is imperative. However, leveraging human capital and the enormous data they come with, along with ensuring that this data is seamlessly collected, constantly studied and approached advantageously is a constant endeavor. While this can be challenging, we have found the key to unlock the massive potential of data-driven HR – Yes, through the confluence of analytics, automation, AI and other technologies like VR, virtualization, cloud.  These disruptive technologies coupled with being mobile – the scope for momentous change in HR is huge!

In parallel, there are several questions that we need to answer as we look at harnessing automation in HR, as it deals with people and their emotions, and we have to be very thoughtful about it. What is going to bring us the biggest benefits? And how do we sensitively handle the human element so that we amplify the human potential and not disenfranchise people? What I will attempt to do in this post is to outline the issues and suggest a way to look at how we could prioritize automation in HR.

Let’s start with understanding the need of the business and the various stakeholders, the foremost among them being employees – people like you and me. So what do the employees want – frankly, we want systems to be simple, intuitive, and reduce the time taken to do mundane work to basically zero. We also want fairness, to be aware of what is happening around us, and our privacy is important too.

At the managerial level, we want to know how our teams are progressing, and wherever appropriate we want to be able to control the levers to manage the team efficiently by spend minimal time on systems and processes.  Then we have the HR function – their typical outlook has been to get the employees and managers to follow myriad processes and systems that they think are important (and thankfully, this is changing). From a top management perspective – compliance and governance is key while ensuring that we track the pay and bonuses of our people and its association to drive performance.

Most often, the first phase of automation is led by the HR function. Therefore, the focus is on ensuring that processes are mapped to systems and routine tasks are automated. All this does is to get the manual processes on a system – but with most processes being clunky, it tends to demand a lot more time from people than they can afford.

That’s where the adoption and implementation of new technologies come in – analytics and AI and so on. But the challenge for us is to determine how to make the best use of it, specific to the company. The reality on the ground is that HR systems are the most unloved (except by the HR folks), and we have to build something on top of that. That’s where I consider the new technologies as a great boon to see how we can kick-start real and purposeful automation in HR. AI can bring in a huge amount of personalization or customization, which will enable us to take faster and more accurate decisions. Moreover, these decisions can be empowered to levels much lower than where they are being taken now, thus promising a huge change in the quality of jobs and decisions people take.

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