Just as many job roles are shifting away from manual processes and towards higher-value work, the tools for those jobs are evolving. HR technology in particular is moving, in line with the evolution of the HR function's role, towards increasingly strategic applications that are less focused on HR work per se, and more about building towards broader business goals.
For a look at this shift from the other side of the table, People Matters asked Matt Jones, Senior Vice President Operations at global RPO firm Cielo, what he's observed in the space. Here's what he shared.
What does the ongoing shift from tools purely supporting HR processes, to tools that have broader workplace applications, look like from your perspective?
As the technology landscape matures, the tools available to the enterprise focus more on driving performance and user experience. Rather than just completing a task or function, the route is opening up for a shift to workplace tools and platforms that connect multiple departments' needs.
More importantly, the tools also allow users to interact and consume them in a more consistent way. A great example of this is the rise of conversational AI, virtual assistants, and chatbots in the enterprise technology stack. These tech tools can support most types of business processes and will be able to answer any questions and manage any process as long as it is well-trained. Therefore, organisations have the opportunity to use a single entity for different business processes.
The other trend is the rise of enterprise-wide communication channels that have applications in HR and TA – programmes like Slack and Microsoft Teams offer an informal way to exchange information, provide resources, and answer questions quickly if needed.
Which HR processes do companies most look to automate? What trends have you been seeing in the last few years?
Over the last 5-10 years, HR teams have invested in trying to automate the ‘non-value add’ tasks – some of which are critical activities and others are administrative, but both of the activities share a repetitive transactional nature, and they typically produce binary outcomes. For example, a spreadsheet can either be completed, or not.
The focus for robotic process automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation (IA) has been to allow users to achieve task completion with fewer or no manual processes. Technology in this space has been present for 15 to 20 years and following Moore's Law has become orders of magnitude cheaper and more effective in the last five years.
HR teams are now able to use RPA for large portions of their tasks that include data entry, data replication, and repetitive queries, such as checking statuses on candidates or background checks.
More recently, we have seen more automation of stakeholder-facing tasks, as the consumer experience starts to become the expectation for organisations that HR services.
The rise of the aforementioned conversational AI and virtual assistants that actually manage these multi-step processes is an example that demonstrates this.
Have you seen any regional or country-based differences in what companies want to automate?
Regional differences are mainly driven by the availability of technology and its maturity. For example, many tech firms start with a focus on larger markets like the U.S. and develop capabilities applicable to smaller emerging markets later, thus creating an availability lag. Other factors include workplace type and demographics – for example, a geography where business process outsourcing (BPO) and service centers are major employers would mean that there is a demand for more penetration of technology and automation. Areas where retail and leisure are dominant market forces do not have the same demands.
What are some common requests you get from customers?
As a service provider, the requests really fall into 2 categories:
Improving performance and outcomes with automation. Examples are completing tasks with more speed, making better decisions.
Improving stakeholder experiences. This could be a product of the first category, but could also be about the actual interaction or user interface a stakeholder engages with.
Whether the request is complex or simple in nature, they can almost always be boiled down to these two approaches.
HR leaders cite the technology adoption curve as a challenge, and they have developed their own approaches to it. Could you share some tips for them?
The first thing to do is to start with your problem statements and goals in mind, not the features of the technology.
When Cielo moved our scheduling to Cora, our conversational AI, it was because we wanted to help candidates schedule interviews more efficiently in their own time, with a single interaction using the channel of their choice, whether it be SMS, WhatsApp, or email.
While technologists do get excited about the features, most people who interact with the technology are more interested in how it actually benefits them.
The other thing to consider is the other two legs of the stool – people and process. Technology alone will not solve anything, so as we implement it, we must consider how the three prongs work together and produce the most desirable outcomes.