HR and the Digital Workforce

During a recent webinar, Ernst & Young’s Sunil Mehta and Deepak Swaroop, Automation Anywhere’s Rob Hughes, and the orchestrator of the world’s largest Robotic Process Automation (RPA) installation, Viji Varghese of ANZ Bank, talked to human resources professionals about the tremendous opportunities for automation, using Viji’s experience at ANZ as a case in point.

The message for anyone in HR was very clear: “Take it from someone who’s been there. Your business is ready for automation.”

Yet, results from the webinar’s in-session polls suggested the audience wasn’t.

  • Nearly two-thirds didn’t think they were ready or didn’t know where to start if they were.
  • Just over half didn’t know who was looking at an automation strategy for HR.

Varghese's talk about ANZ’s well-governed approach — deploying 40 bots a week — reminded us that RPA can be applied broadly throughout the enterprise. His RPA program touches 85% of ANZ’s processes, and ANZ really does redeploy staff freed by automation to work on more interesting and strategic work. 

But one question asked during the webinar (“Is there any risk in removing [through automation] those early career development opportunities that repetitive tasks can represent?”) illustrated that many HR professionals have a “right-but-wrong” mindset about the deployment of a Digital Workforce and what that means for employees. Right, in the duty of care for employees that HR departments are tasked with. Wrong, in the sense of not really understanding the impact the technology can have on the human workforce (much of which, I fear, is being driven by sensational journalism with little to no research).

The nature of work is changing. That’s a fact. Businesses are not going to maintain operational inertia just to give kids somewhere to start their careers. Tomorrow’s accounts payable clerks will not be processing invoices; they will be managing robots that do and analyzing the findings.

The implications and challenges for HR lie in the breathtaking rate of this change. Our deployment of the Digital Workforce to execute lower-value, repetitive work is happening faster than we can evolve the education system to meet emerging skills gaps. Because of this, it is critical for talent acquisition professionals in HR to get down to the task of finding the right people to meet fast developing needs and plan for a near a future where digital operations allows employees to utilize their brains rather than punch more buttons.

What better way to position your brand to the next generation of employees — digital natives one and all — and to have human professionals look them in the eyes and get to know them because they have time to. And let the bots do the rest.

To repeat Varghese's simple message: Your business is ready.

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