What HR Processes Should You Automate First?

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May 15, 2019

As large, global organizations look to automate business processes their HR departments are becoming a clear priority for any company considering automation.

The consideration for automation comes from the need to create more efficient service delivery including cost reduction, increased employee-focused initiatives, and the use of technology to offer user-friendly delivery, while being more strategic by reducing the involvement in administrative tasks.

The advent of enterprise-wide digital platforms has totally changed how businesses operate, and the next phase of connected cloud technologies is already making waves. Automation is finally living up to its promise, and intelligent solutions built on advanced analytics and machine learning are finally starting to close the loop to make insights actionable. This is especially important for HR with distributed operations where the usual metrics inform the existing situation, but don’t answer the question of why.

With all available combinations of best practices and new technologies on the productivity frontier, it can become even more difficult to prioritize optimization initiatives. But, from working with our customers at Celonis to transform processes, we’ve put together our top three areas of focus to achieve top-tier operational excellence within HR departments.

1. Benchmarking and best practices

Suppose your company operates on a regional Global Business Services (GBS) model, and you have hubs located in Atlanta, Prague, and the Philippines that cater to North America, EMEA, and APAC regions, respectively. It’s likely that each of these hubs is operating with their own set of protocols, and ultimately executing their HR processes differently from one another.

Do you know which of these hubs is operating most effectively, and why? Presumably you’re tracking KPIs around process costs, but with countless processes occurring in parallel, it’s easy to lose insight in the averages. The question goes beyond simple KPI measurement, because knowing that your GBS center in Prague is executing HR process with a lower average process cost than your hub in the Philippines still doesn’t tell you why it’s happening.

With some of the latest intelligent solutions available, like cloud-based process mining technology, you can expect to actually see which processes are executed in a particular manner, in all variations, and zoom in on root causes of inefficiency. By benchmarking and comparing unique processes, it’s possible to learn and apply best practices across regions.

2. Standardizing processes & reducing complexity

Complexity is a productivity killer and it impacts everything from working capital to customer and employee experience. Following process discovery and benchmarking, the best way to accelerate your transactional processes is to reduce complexity by standardizing and streamlining where possible.

Using the regional example above, let’s say you uncover 120 unique sets of HR processes in your APAC hub compared to 30 in your North American hub. If North America is performing effectively with less complexity, wouldn’t it make sense to standardize terms in your APAC hub?

3. Reducing manual effort

At the end of the day, management wants to encourage growth by focusing resources on creative innovation and strategy, which means they’re always eager to reduce operational costs. The challenge is to treat this cost-cutting imperative as an opportunity, and to encourage innovation by proving out opportunities for generating positive ROI. To tackle process costs effectively the top priorities should be to reduce manual effort wherever possible.

There’s a lot of excitement around flexible automation solutions like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but it’s important to remember that automation is a tactic, not a strategy, and you’ll need to see and understand how your processes are operating in reality before embarking on an automation journey. Prioritization is key, because not all process variations are created equal – it might not make sense to focus on automating a process step in a variant that occurs only 5% of the time, as opposed to a variant that occurs 50% of the time. Similarly, automating an overly complex process just makes a bad process faster.

Beyond cost-cutting

Although cost-cutting initiatives are a top priority of the C-suite, the need for extreme operational effectiveness goes beyond simple denominator management. By centralizing, standardizing, and optimizing common processes within HR, such as onboarding and engagement tracking, some large organizations have become excellent at minimizing costs and maximizing efficiency, but most organizations still have a long way to go before they’re 100% operationally efficient. Fortunately for everyone in an operational role, modern technology is making that objective much more attainable.