Perspectives

Cognitive computing is a game changer for HR

Robotic process automation and the workforce of the future

Advancements in cognitive technologies are streamlining processes and tasks previously performed manually by humans. But for some organizations, embracing cognitive computing may be a formidable challenge. A good first step? Robotic process automation (RPA), which can be quickly implemented to help HR organizations do more with less.

Are companies taking advantage of cognitive computing technology?

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends Report, only 22 percent of respondents have implemented or are extensively using cognitive technologies in their organizations. Embracing this new way of working may seem daunting. But the benefits can be significant.

Encompassing a range of technologies geared toward amplifying human skills or changing task requirements, cognitive computing can actually lead to a shift in how HR works. Various cognitive computing techniques—such as RPA, machine learning, natural language processing, intelligent automation, and analytics—can give companies access to large amounts of structured and unstructured data (both from within the organization and externally), as well as the ability to process data quickly and inexpensively.

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Identifying the central challenges

Talent: The top trend in this year’s Human Capital Trends Report was the alternative workforce and its shift into the mainstream. The challenge is that organizations are still thinking tactically instead of strategically about alternative workers, using them selectively as needed rather than as long-term solutions for meeting workforce needs

Workplaces: The notion of work as “a place to go” is shifting, as employees don’t need to all be in the same location to get work done. This has implications for team performance and workforce planning as well as facilities management.

Technology: In a workplace context, machines can replace some human jobs, but more often the result is “augmented work”—work that’s actually designed to take advantage of machines and people working together.

The convergence of technology and talent models leads to new opportunities in workforce planning and the composition of work.

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Adapting to “robotic” powers in the workforce

For HR organizations, RPA is a good first step. This robotic technology automates manual, rules-based, and repetitive activities, and it can be implemented via a desktop or in a virtual environment. With RPA, the bots–or software–can gather and collate information, analyze and record data, communicate with users, even anticipate outcomes–interacting with applications just as humans would.

RPA gives HR organizations the capacity to do more with less, and it can help HR move toward an augmented workforce and build capabilities required to manage other "smart" technologies.

Of the 250 “cognitively aware” organizations surveyed in the 2017 Deloitte State of Cognitive Survey, 59 percent are exploring mature cognitive technologies such as RPA.

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Can RPA save the day?

RPA has the potential to transform HR if it's deployed strategically and managed with effective governance processes. By implementing RPA technology, the HR function can reduce some of, if not most, of the repetitive tasks that often consume time from full-time equivalents (FTEs), which can lead to meaningful savings. In fact, we found that almost half of Global Shared Services executives believe RPA will deliver 10 to 20 percent of savings to their respective businesses.

RPA can have a substantial impact on an HR organization. And yes, it can "save the day," freeing hours of HR employees' time and finding a way to rise above the grind to deliver a faster, better service to the business.

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RPA benefits include:

  • Cost reduction
  • Internal control
  • Short payback period
  • Refocuses highly skilled people
  • Capability & scalability
  • 24/7 operations
  • Operational speed
  • Quality

Activating RPA’s full power

Leading organizations that recognize that the workforce is changing and are open to "new talent"–augmented by technologies–may well be ready to activate an RPA mission.

To complement the benefits of RPA, organizations may wish to utilize other smart technologies, such as self-service platforms like Deloitte's ConnectMe™, a digital workplace product that can help the workforce access what they need, when and where they need it. These solutions can create a better experience for employees on the front end, while RPA automates work on the back end. This dual approach will likely create efficiencies for the organization and better prepare it for the future of work.

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Another win-win partnership

Much has been written about “bots taking over,” resulting in massive workforce reductions. We don't think that will be the case. In fact, our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report states that only 38 percent of survey respondents expect technology to eliminate jobs at their organizations within the next three years. Only 13 percent believe automation will eliminate a significant number of positions.

People want cognitive to make business improvements, enhance existing technologies/processes, help humans make better decisions, and reduce tedious tasks—not to replace their human workforce.

At the end of the day, both bots and humans—working hand in hand—can form a partnership that benefits employees and their employers. As the RPA market matures, the interest in other emerging technologies will grow. And the interplay of these technologies will lead to fundamental changes in how businesses operate, enhancing their capacity to deliver exceptional goods and services to customers.

Bots and humans—working hand in hand—can form a partnership that benefits employees and their employers.

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