HR without humans? Wow!

HR without humans? Wow!


Friday, February 28, 2020

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To transition from working in an environment with manual and repetitive processes to a digital and robotics-driven one, can be daunting and may be even uncomfortable for some human resource practitioners. Yet this shift may be unavoidable for those who drive this function in organisations.

With the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technologies, such as robotics process automation (RPA), trying to figure out the future of work has been a source of anxiety for many.

The truth is we can't know for sure what will happen. However, as Australian futurist, Ross Dawson advises, we should focus less on whether the predicted future will happen as imagined and instead plan for what is predicted.

We can apply that thinking to the HR function in the future of work.

Digitalisation, AI and robotics, and RPA are three technologies that are having a tremendous effect on how businesses run and are, in fact, signals of what the future of work could look like.

Digitalisation, as distinct from digitisation, which is the conversion of information from a physical format into a digital one, is about using digital technologies and information to change business processes. Digitisation can enable digitalisation.

To illustrate, consider the following examples, scanning a physical application form that a prospective employee completed and handed in would be an example of digitisation; however, having the application process exclusively online, including an option to upload degrees and other forms of certifications, would be an example of digitalisation.

AI is the science of making intelligent machines. It involves the development of computer systems that are able to mimic human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation.

AI in HR includes chatbots, computer programmes designed to stimulate human conversations that help with prescreening or preselecting applicants, or reaching out to a new recruit, as soon as an offer is made.

Robotics is the discipline of designing, constructing, and using robots, while robotic process automation is a platform service, which includes software robots that mimic a human worker in performing, especially high-volume, repeatable business tasks.

American behemoth, Walgreens increased its HR shared service efficiency by 73 per cent through RPA. The company automated many labour intensive, transactional tasks that were being performed by team members, which freed up employees' time and bandwidth to offer more value-added services.

Locally, Guardian Group has partnered with Sutherland Global Services on a RPA initiative that facilitates the interaction between both companies. The RPA platform can access, calculate, copy, paste, and use embedded business rules to interpret, validate, and transfer data between the core enterprise applications.

It is true that the future of work will have technology at its core. However, the future of HR is less about technology and more about a change in current thinking, so that organisations are prepared for what the future will ask of them.

Many thought leaders on the subject posit that right now HR leaders are being asked to think like a data analyst, for example, using payroll data, such as overtime payments, to help business leaders figure out how to staff a particular department or reassess the productivity tools and conditions that may be impacting overtime payments in the organisation.

They are also being asked to think like marketers and brand builders and come up with different ways to describe the job function, so that the job posting that goes out can attract the right talent, because the talent expectations have changed. Companies are no longer just hiring an accounting clerk, they are also hiring a brand ambassador.

HR practitioners are also being asked to leverage some psychology skills in being a motivator and an expert communicator in order to create an environment that especially the millennials can thrive in.

Technology will help to deliver the solutions that will come from the new thinking. But it is the new thinking that will lead to the change. This is one of the reasons we will still need humans in HR.

There is machine learning and, yes, the AI can learn to operate outside of what it is commanded to do. However, with the human condition, there are always outliers that only another human can do.

In the future, HR managers and machines may be engaged in co-botting, that is, humans working alongside collaborative robots. This is already happening in the automotive industry. In such scenarios there are some parts of the work that a machine/robot will do, and some parts the human will do.

Some experts have said that this scenario is paving the way for Industry 5.0. Yet, the irony of Industry 5.0, which is fuelled by automation, is that they are intended to put the “human touch” into work.

According to Esben Ostegaard of Danish Robotics firm, Universal Robots, “By putting human beings back at the centre of industrial production, aided by tools, such as collaborative robots, Industry 5.0 not only gives consumers the products they want today, but gives workers jobs that are more meaningful than factory jobs have been in well over a century.”

It is not a case of technology vs HR professionals, but rather a case of exploring and defining how HR professionals can work with and leverage technology to their advantage in preparation for the future of work.

The future of work starts with a change in thinking. Perhaps when the technology has taken care of all the non-human stuff we do, we may really get to be more compassionate, more creative, more communicative, better critical thinkers, and more collaborative.

The continued existence of life as we know it could depend on it.

Humans in HR, forever!


Tamique Hines is the software development manager at MC Systems

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