In the early 2000s, a fast-growing e-commerce company created a centralized compute and storage capability so its new business units would not have to build their own. It was designed for internal use, but the company realized that the extra capacity could be sold to outsiders. The result was a $10 billion business called Amazon Web Services (AWS).
This is an extreme example of how an endless flow of creative ideas from employees can have a major business impact, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has altered daily work rhythms across the world. Ideas arise at times when employees are not totally consumed by the need to finish their day-to-day tasks, whether working remotely or not, that include manual, repetitive processes. With intelligent automation, they can engage in more creative thinking.
Forward-looking HR organizations often invest in training programs that encourage creative thinking, but bringing spontaneity and what amounts to a sense of play into a problem-solving process at work is not easy. Unfortunately, many tasks can be monotonous and repetitive. In one recent study, 62% of employees reported their work involved a significant amount of time-intensive, low-reward administrative labor, such as data entry, in-box management, and file management.
When employees are bored and, at the same time, under pressure to complete an endless string of repetitive tasks, they are unlikely to be engaged, much less come up with creative solutions that will impact the bottom line. Engagement is important, whether working remotely or not, and in fact, remote work calls for new kinds of engagement. Research shows that engaged teams are 22% more profitable and have higher morale.
Technology vs. Drudgery
The implication here is that for HR organizations to be truly effective in building engagement and promoting creativity, they must find ways to eliminate drudgery from work throughout the company. Until recently, the idea that HR could play such a role would have bordered on impossible, but not anymore. Technology now exists that can enable nontechnical employees to automate manual, repetitive tasks on their own, and HR and IT can unite to take a leading role in teaching them how to do it.
This technology is called robotic process automation (RPA), and its importance is growing rapidly. In 2019, the RPA market was valued at $1.1 billion, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33.6% through 2027.
The basic premise is that when employees are faced with a repetitive, rules-based process, they can either deploy or build a software bot to do it for them. Examples include invoice matching, sales order processing, employee onboarding, data entry, e-mail marketing, and inventory management (inter-system communication), but these are only a few out of many. Any repetitive, rules-based process is a candidate.
There are now RPA platforms that enable employees with no coding experience to build software bots that can accomplish these tasks just like a human would.
Typically, these platforms allow employees to diagram a process, after which the appropriate code is generated automatically. Furthermore, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), some of these platforms can actually “record” a process as an employee works, break the workflow into individual parts, identify processes with the highest return on investment, and then recommend bots to solve these processes at the press of a button.
Minimal IT Support Necessary
HR can take the lead in introducing RPA into a company’s culture by offering RPA seminars for interested employees and by making RPA training a part of the onboarding process. While some employees may resist do-it-yourself automation, many will be enthusiastic.
In a recent study of 4,000 office workers, roughly half found digital tasks like data entry and e-mail management boring, a poor use of their skills, and a barrier to doing their main job. Bots can do all these things quickly and effectively so their human counterparts can focus on work that excites them.
One of the most significant aspects of RPA is that it does not impact the IT infrastructure that is already in place or require IT support. The systems in place do not know whether it is a software bot or a human being entering data, and it does not matter. This nonintrusive approach is a great benefit because it alleviates employees or teams to improve their productivity at their own pace without having to wait for IT or risk causing a problem.
The Creativity Bonus
There is little doubt that bots will make employees and teams happier and more productive, especially in this new norm of remote working, but the potential for breakthrough ideas is just as important. The extra hours freed up by bots allow room for a sense of play in the workplace, and playful moments can be a source of important ideas that can affect the bottom line.
|Nancy Hague is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Automation Anywhere, and oversees all “people” functions worldwide, including talent acquisition, communication, total rewards, learning and development, and employee engagement. Hague brings more than 30 years of experience in senior leadership and management consulting roles. Before joining Automation Anywhere, she was the chief people officer at HotChalk, where she was responsible for all people functions, legal, and facilities. Before that, Hauge served as the VP of global Human Resources and facilities at Silicon Image through its acquisition in 2015 and as SVP of Human Resources for K12 Inc. through its 2007 IPO.|
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