Robotics and the effect on HR

By Jessica Cooper, Research adviser - Resourcing. @JessicaCooperHR

I have recently started at the CIPD as a research advisor focussing on researching the future of HR Operating Models.  With technology at the heart of so many conversations about changing how we work and thus its impact on HR, I thought that it would be appropriate through my role at the CIPD to regularly share information I have come across on the topic of analytics and technology and the effect on HR.

I want to share two specific things in this inaugural post.  Firstly, the timing of this post isn’t unplanned.  Last week the HR Tech Europe Conference in Amsterdam, this is an important event looking at how software, technology systems and collaborative tools change the way people and organisations work.  Although unable to attend myself, I was able to follow the conversations of those in attendance via Twitter and able to read various blog posts written during and after the conference, it’s interesting to summarise the key themes that seem to be coming out of the conference and providing a signpost to some interesting resources.

Prior to doing this, I also want to share my interesting conversation with Mark Beatson, the CIPD’s chief economist.  This is the first of several conversations I hope we will have in the course of my work here at the CIPD but on this occasion I had requested a session with Mark to help me understand what might be happening out there in the world that would impact HR.  Specifically I wanted him to help me delve into this deeper and understand specifically what this would mean for what HR does in an organisation. 

As part of my HR operating models research, initially, I am trying to get a view of ‘What is HR’? and to what extent this differs across organisations – a conversation most definitely for another day, before going on to look at how HR functions are organising to deliver.  One of the first megatrends Mark and I discussed was Technology and specifically Robotics.  Research published in 2013 by the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford looked at the impact of future computerisation on the US labour market, concluding that about 47% of total US employment is at risk.  It provides some very thought provoking examples of jobs that could be replaced by computerisation, affecting both routine and non-routine, manual and cognitive tasks.  The accessibility of data being at the heart of making this possible. 

Robotics looks likely to have a massive impact on the way people work and as a result on the way people are managed, also if applied operationally within HR it could have an effect on how HR functions.  I was sent this very interesting article by the Boston Consulting Group, it provides a really good insight into the potential Robots can have on work and organisations, the article talks about “Robot density,” a metric indicating the number of robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers”  and that this  “is currently highest in South Korea and Japan. Approximately, 40 percent of the industrial robots used today are in the automotive sector, in which robot density already tops 1,000 in five countries—Japan, France, Germany, the U.S., and Italy. But demand for automation isn’t limited to developed economies. China is the fastest-growing market for imported industrial robots, likely due in part to the country’s realization that it can no longer compete on low-cost labor alone”. 

The article published by the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University cites examples of Robots being used to perform manual tasks in manufacturing, packing, construction, maintenance and agriculture as well as many more service tasks such as vacuuming, mopping, lawn mowing and gutter cleaning. They also describe Robots performing more complex tasks such in food preparation, healthcare, commercial cleaning and elderly care (p22).

Robotics was also one of the topics it would seem in discussion at HR Tech Europe and a topic written about by Andy Spence of Glassbead Consulting on the HR Tech Europe’s blog site. Andy, acknowledges, the use of Robotics in organisations will mean that organisations need to review their HR strategy because “there may be less workers, probably different contracts of employment and definitely different skills required.  So our annual performance reviews and engagement surveys in a workforce full of freelancers, working 24 X 7 across the globe is looking very last century”.  Andy examines the implications of ‘Robotic Process Automation (RPA)’, which will significantly affect how routine HR activities are carried out, particularly those that are often considered for outsourcing or centralisation in shared services.  In my opinion and as became increasingly apparent in my conversation with Mark, the use of Robotics will change pretty much everything that HR does in an organisation; Culture, Performance Management, Talent acquisition, Organisation Design as well as HR operations, which although at the moment limited to the automation of routine manual tasks has the potential if the Oxford University work is anything to go by to extend into non-routine and more cognitive tasks.  The change affecting HR will be in either how the tasks are executed and by whom, or by the composition of the HR strategy which has to take into consideration the use of Robotics in the organisation.

In addition to Robotics, the other themes of the HR tech conference seemed to be summarised under the theme of ‘disruption to HR’.  There appeared to be a lot of talk of analytics in HR and the impact of cloud technology such as Workday, Oracle and Successfactors.  There appeared also to be lots of smaller vendors, ‘disrupting HR’ with innovative new technologies changing how people are recruited and performance managed.

David Green, Director at Cielo provides a good summary and I have curated a number of articles that have been written by the conference on my scoop it page HR Technology and Analytics.

Things to think about:

  • How do you think technology will affect the jobs in your organisation in the future?

I would love to hear from you if;

  • You are using Robotics or plan to use Robotics in your organisation?
  • You are using Robotics Process Automation (RPA) to deliver your HR operations or looking into it?
  • Further topics you would like researched in the area of HR technology and analytics

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.