How to Make Automation Work for You

Forecasts about the future of human resources suggest that the impact of intelligent automation on HR is significant. Automated processes will no doubt reshape workforces, and enable HR professionals to redirect their efforts away from the mundane and towards the meaningful to manage those shifts.

But what is the best way to make that transition successful?

A new study out today from KPMG found that businesses are eager to embrace automation–but aren’t yet sure how to do so.

“The surprising part of the survey is not that managers’ expectations are high for IA but rather that their organizations’ readiness to implement it is low,” said Don Ryan, KPMG director of advisory and market research, and the architect of the survey

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The report looked at three areas under the umbrella of IA: basic (or robotic) automatic, such as workflow automation and process mapping; enhanced automation, in which tech has a capacity to learn; and cognitive automation, commonly defined as artificial intelligence. For the latter category, 37 percent of companies that participated in the study are examining the potential use of AI, while nearly half said they plan to use AI at scale within three years. Nearly 40 percent intend to spend at least 20 percent more on cognitive computing in the next three years, while about 32 percent will increase investment in robotics automation by at least 20 percent in the same timeframe.

Among the other findings of Ready, Set, Fail? are:

  • Two-thirds of businesses surveyed reported a lack of in-house talent to enable IA deployment.
  • Half said their company has struggled to define its goals and objectives for IA projects.
  • One-third said management is concerned about how IA would affect employees; respondents predicted that one-third of the jobs at their companies will be impacted by the adoption of IA software.

The impact of intelligent automation on HR was a particular focus, with study authors predicting “considerable change” for talent management. “IA should allow companies to become less reliant on offshoring labor for repetitive or rules-based tasks,” the report stated, while “smaller teams will manage IA platforms and business initiatives with much more impact.” That transition will produce “happier employees, who would be freed from routine tasks and encouraged to take on more strategic, significant work.” The report suggested that these role changes “can drive much higher performance expectations and outcome-oriented [key performance indicators] to measure success.”

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Actually realizing that aim, however, requires both an investment in new technologies, and the transformation of the operating model–from one in which people are supported by technology to a model where technology is supported by people.

KPMG outlined four stages of IA implementation–static, incremental, disruptive and transformative–estimating that most survey respondents are in the first two phases. To progress through that transformation, study authors say, organizations need to be ready to “disrupt themselves” from within.

“A lot of change has to happen that’s really uncomfortable and sometimes political, and most companies are not prepared for that,” said Cliff Justice, KPMG partner in innovation and enterprise solutions and leader of cognitive automation initiatives. “Projects implemented from the bottom up are not going to scale because they haven’t been designed to scale.  If this isn’t a C-level initiative, then it’s not going to be successful at scale.”


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].