When done right, automation has proven to deliver real benefits. We’ve distilled insights you may need to know before or in the midst of your HR automation journey from 12 HR leaders who’ve piloted, adapted, and succeeded. Report by Aditi Sharma Kalra.

Research on use cases, by Automation Anywhere, has shown that automation has the potential to deliver 30% cost savings on average, 30-40% improvement on operational metrics, and just 12 months to deliver ROI on average. It’s no wonder that HR leaders across industries and geographies are resorting to automation to either simplify their processes or free up their time in favour of more value-adding tasks.

The pace of adoption has been rapid. Of the 12 HR leaders we spoke to during a recent roundtable, each one has implemented some form of technology – be it through mobile onboarding, paperless transactions, chatbots, or robotic process automation (RPA).

When done right, automation has proven to deliver real benefits. So we’ve distilled insights you may need to know before or in the midst of your HR automation journey from 12 leaders who’ve piloted, adapted, and succeeded. These excerpts are derived from the Virtual CHRO Roundtable organised by HRO, in partnership with Automation Anywhere. 

Learning 1: No project can take off without leadership endorsement

Clear direction from management is a must to embark on any automation journey. Your leadership needs to embrace the new ideas around technology and set the tone for digitalisation. This is even more important as, in some cases, managers see technology as “HR pushing their tasks on to everyone else” – a mindset that is easily clarified if the tone is right on the need to embark on such a project. In one case, the data from an engagement survey made it plain to see that career development was an area needing urgent attention – thus, promptly came the C-suite support to implement technology to aid employees’ career pathing.

Learning 2: Show early success from pilot testing

If you find yourself having a hard time securing buy-in for an organisation-wide revamp, start small.

Pick one process in HR and set it up for automation. Or convert your company’s HR handbook into a chatbot that answers basic employee queries at their fingertips. If the pilot goes well, not only can it help pave the way for smoother conversations into bigger projects, but it can also boost adoption rates. Being agile helps to make the digitalisation journey more seamless.

Learning 3: Keep consolidating your tech solutions within the organisation framework

The pandemic has catalysed the development of bite-size, easy-to-apply solutions for HR to automate. As you head off to the market to pick and choose the ones that can make your life easier quickly, don’t forget to work with your IT team or vendor to find a way to link each solution within your existing organisation framework. All your tech solutions need to be able to “talk” to each other for you to optimise on the analytics they can provide.

Learning 4: Bring the user into the design process

Adopt a design thinking approach from the start. If your employees will be using the new software, you need to understand their usage habits, patterns and preferences. Don’t just rely on your vendor to suggest customisations, as this can pose a lot of challenges during the rollout. Off-the-shelf software will rarely fit your needs perfectly, thus it’s critical to involve the user early and listen to their perspective and needs.

Even with all of this, be mindful that if you use a SaaS solution, then you are limited in terms of the design thinking. If you have the luxury of an internal tech development team, you may have to rope them in to add layers to your purchased product to suit the way things are done in your company.

Learning 5: RPA poses initial challenges, but you can make the results work for you

Admittedly, in RPA, cost is a prohibitor at the start. RPA doesn’t resonate the ROI very well if you don’t identify the process and journey map correctly at the beginning of the project. You should select a vendor who can show you clearly what the total cost of ownership and ROI will be like before committing to any RPA project.

Another challenge in RPA is to lay out your internal process in such minute detail that you can identify exactly which part of the process can benefit from automation or a bot. The good news is that once you’ve identified which process can enjoy the biggest impact from automation, you can see genuine results in terms of man hours and costs saved. After all, a bot never makes mistakes.

For one HR leader, programming a bot to place each employee in the nine-box grid talent review, based on answers provided, saved 27 hours per person during performance calibration discussions.

Learning 6: The approach to ROI isn’t black-and-white, find what works for you

In most budget conversations, the topic of ROI will come up. But in automation, there are many aspects to consider before you commit to matching the dollar value of your investment with business results. Firstly, at the beginning you will have to spend a lot of timing educating and training managers, before they can start doing things faster than before, which makes measurement difficult. Second, a lot of companies have used a trial-and-error approach, say through an internal hackathon, to come up with solution prototypes which have the potential to be refined. However, talking about ROI in such cases can really diminish the value of learning associated with failure and experimentation.

So what’s the best way to have this conversation? Take this project up on a long-term basis and track milestones along the way – for example, boosts in customer experience or user experience. Are you finding more candidates applying for vacancies after the implementation of a chatbot, for instance?

Another approach is to valuate the time (man hours) devoted to a process, and present the business case on two aspects: first, the time and money saved by automating the process, and second, the value of the work HR is doing in place of the process automated. The ROI is not immediate, but the freeing up of time is fairly huge and can often be calculated.

Alternately, ROI can also be presented on the basis of the accuracy, efficiency, and availability of a digital worker who works 24/7/365 with a smile on its face. Finally, don’t forget the value of ownership – many managers will relish the opportunity to self-control talent processes (through ESS or MSS), and this is bound to have a positive impact on employee engagement and morale. 

Lesson 7: Human HR and digital HR must work hand-in-hand

Nora Cheung, Senior Director, Human Resources, APJ Region, Automation Anywhere, emphasises the future will be HR as a mix of human and digital HR. The role of human HR will clearly be to add value to the business, by doing the things that digital HR cannot do. “The value lies in the human interaction. A digital worker cannot replace employee relations.”

As such, a critical steppingstone will be to identify exactly what the HR team will do to help the business as it offloads its mundane work to a digital worker. Not only will this help to ‘sell’ automation internally, but it will also cut out to a path to measure by creating the need. “Being real HR business partners and adding value to the business will be driven by a change in mindset of HR on the value they can provide.”

Lesson 8: Develop a journey map to boost chances of success for your project

Cathy Dixon, Senior Director Global HR & Talent Acquisition, Automation Anywhere has spearheaded the inclusion of automation in the nine-box talent process for her organisation, and in her experience, you need to have a journey map for the process. She says: “It is a really involved process, and if you don’t have clear milestones along the way, it can be very difficult to know where your journey is leading,” adding: “It is really easy to go down a side road and lose track of the end goal. Thus, progress has to be defined in bite-size pieces in order to have a successful journey.”

She reinforces the need for leadership support, or better still an executive champion, to lend support to the journey. Further, if you don’t know quite where to start, her suggestion is to look at organising a hackathon and leveraging that to identify processes that can be improved. “Unless you define the process, you don’t know where automation can help along the journey. A hackathon is a great way to find out what could be part of the digitalisation revolution in your organisation,” she explains.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this piece featuring knowledge & insights from HR leaders on their automation journey from the Virtual CHRO Roundtable, held on 9 December 2020.

Human Resources Online and Automation Anywhere would like to thank the following HR leaders for being a valuable part of this discussion:

  1. Fiona Tan, Head of Human Resources, Alliance Healthcare Group
  2. Tan Sok Leng, Assistant Director, Group Human Resources, ARA Asset Management
  3. Sivakumar Machap, Head People and Organisational Development, HRBP, Talent Management, Aviva
  4. Jamie Koegler, Head of Total Rewards and HR Service Delivery, AXA Singapore
  5. Chan Mun Tong, Head – HR Shared Services, Bank of Singapore
  6. Jennifer Di, Director, Human Resources - South East Asia Cluster & APAC Corporate Functions, Baxter International
  7. Catherine Bulut, Head HR for R&D and SEAP, Crop Science division, Bayer South East Asia
  8. Yo-Hahn Low, Head of HRIS, Executive Director, DBS Bank
  9. Alex Mersch, ASEAN Head of HR, Siemens Healthcare
  10. Shenton Sng, Vice President, Human Resources, Singapore Press Holdings
  11. Nora Cheung, Senior Director, Human Resources, APJ Region, Automation Anywhere
  12. Cathy Dixon, Senior Director Global HR & Talent Acquisition, Automation Anywhere

Lead photo / Roundtable screenshot

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