One in five organisations have no HR automation

Speakers at an HR magazine and Sage People webinar discussed how far HR has come along the automation journey

One in five (21%) organisations have not automated any of their HR processes, according to an audience poll taken during an HR magazine webinar.

During 'HR automation: Getting the transformation right', held in partnership with Sage People, almost half (48%) of viewers said that their HR processes are not very automated, while just 6% described their processes as very automated, and 25% as somewhat automated.

When asked which areas of HR their organisations have introduced some level of automation to currently, respondents to another poll gave a mixed picture. Recruitment was found to be the most common area where automation has been applied, with 16% of viewers citing this, followed by payroll (14%), engagement surveys (12%) and absence management (10%).

The poll results suggested that automation of succession and career planning is not yet on HR professionals' radars, with just 1% reporting having introduced automation to this area.

Speaking on the webinar panel were Sage’s people business partner Emma Ayton, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s director of HR Kessar Kalim, and interim HR director Melanie Steel. The panellists agreed that HR has a huge responsibility to use automation to both enhance the employee experience and make HR processes more efficient.

“If we look at our colleagues’ experiences outside of work; in their personal life, in retail… they’re taking advantage of technology and from an HR point of view we need to take advantage of that too,” said Ayton. “So I feel we have an obligation as a function to move with that and at pace.”

However, there are several obstacles holding HR back, another audience poll found, including lack of investment for systems (32%), lack of technical understanding among the HR team (23%), not knowing where to start (15%), and ethical and security concerns around automating the processing of personal data (13%).

Kalim suggested that HR must use financial information to get buy-in from the business for greater investment in automation.

“To convince the CEO, CFO or CMO, making that financial case is important,” he said. “But to supplement that the cultural journey is important as well.”

On addressing ethical concerns, Steel said HR has always had the complex role of “look[ing] at things from a wider lens”. “In HR it’s always difficult as we need to balance the digital and the business focus and also be the custodians of the ethical perspective,” she said.

However, Steel added that HR has “done this before”. She gave the example of people carrying sensitive information on trains or reading documents in public places.

“What did we learn back then?” she asked the audience to consider, recommending HR draws on this experience as it increasingly moves away from paper and towards digital over the coming years.

The panellists agreed that perhaps the main opportunity automation brings to HR is freeing the workforce up for more strategic value-add tasks.

“It’s the age-old argument around creating efficiencies, streamlining processes… wanting your people to be able to add a sophisticated input not a solely admin input,” said Kalim. Pointing to concerning figures that 70% to 80% of HRBPs' time is spent on admin rather than true business partnering, he added that he would rather his HRBPs were “out there with the business and supporting managers in making intelligent decisions”.

A recording of the webinar is available for those who missed the live event.

A full write-up of this webinar will appear in the July - August 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk. If you missed the live webinar a link to watch it will be available soon