· 1 min read · News

Automation must not lead to ‘facelessness’


A human touch must be retained when automating transactional HR processes, University of Bradford head of operational HR Gary McFarlane told HR magazine.

Speaking about the department’s recent creation of a multi-tiered operating model, and automation of certain functions through a 24/7 online portal, McFarlane said that organisations must think carefully about which processes are automated.

“When we first started to pilot process automation we held focus groups. The feedback was that we were in danger of becoming faceless,” said McFarlane. 

As a result the university developed a system whereby routine transactions such as updating bank details and annual leave entitlement enquiries can be completed using a searchable portal, while employees are encouraged via this portal to contact its HR call centre with more complex discipline and grievance enquiries for example.

“You could use this service to cut costs, so you could automate as much as possible and cut down on one HR co-ordinator. But that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We wanted to offer a better quality HR service,” explained McFarlane.

The University of Bradford aimed to free up senior HR staff for strategic initiatives, while more quickly answering everyday enquiries, he added.

“When I joined in February last year the department had a very flat structure. Now tier three-level HR professionals are freed up to concentrate on value-add functions,” said McFarlane.

He added: “Before, people were waiting two or three days for a response to simple enquiries but now they can find that information immediately. Or for employees making a tier one enquiry to our call centre, we have a maximum turnaround policy of one working day.” 900 of the 1,800 enquiries made in February – the system’s first month – were processed through its new self-service portal. The platform was supplied by ServiceNow.

The result has been 82% of employees rating their tier one experience as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘very satisfactory’.