On July 11th, I moderated a discussion on payroll automation with CloudPay and ISG. Sign up to view the recording here.
The key payroll objectives of global organizations haven’t changed much in the past few decades: better compliance, consistent performance, reduced costs. The world in which global payroll teams operate, however, has changed dramatically in that time, in ways that both directly and indirectly impact the payroll process.
As the world has become smaller and more connected, it has also become more automated. The majority of the global workforce carries a computer in their pocket 24 hours a day, no longer commits important numbers to memory, and sets automated reminders for everything from staff meetings to breathing breaks.
We are living in an automated world, yet several key human-dependent functions such as payroll have yet to embrace automation as a means of improving processes and efficiency. However, a greater understanding of the capabilities of robotics automation and its potential for process improvement and employee support could change that.
The Opportunity of Automation
A recent survey asked leaders of enterprise organizations where they planned to invest over the next two years. The clear priority of respondents at the SVP level was robotic automation of processes, which ranked nearly 10% higher than their second focus, analytics.
Currently the widespread possibilities of robotics center on the ability to automate repeatable, rule-based manual transactions and processes, which promises to free up professionals to focus on higher value tasks. This is the most standard form of robotics on the automation continuum, which categorizes solutions into systems that do, systems that think, and systems that learn.
The first characterizes systems that replicate repetitive human actions, such as data entry or calculations. The second identifies systems with the capabilities to handle judgment-oriented tasks, and the third refers to automated systems that learn to understand context and adapt to users and systems.
A Range of Applications
Robotic automation covers a range of applications from minibots to virtual assistants to artificial intelligence. The key potential of robotics systems in the coming years for functions such as payroll lies in their ability to expand the availability of expertise, understand and apply context, and adapt to user requirements.
These advantages are already changing the fields of health care, construction and even finance. The Vasteras Giraff enables the elderly to communicate with the outside world without leaving their home—opening the door for direct, responsive patient care through virtual home visits whenever a need arises. Going a step further is the da Vinci Surgical System, which can facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach while controlled by a surgeon from a separate console. Suddenly the idea of highly specialized surgery being performed by a remote expert becomes science fact, not fiction.
Moving along the continuum, systems like Wordsmith and Quill are automating written analysis and reporting. Working from your existing data within Excel or Google Sheets, these programs effectively analyze the information and deliver written reports everyone can read, understand, and act on. Some of these narrative systems are even routinely in use by media outlets like Forbes to generate news reports.
Both the potential and limitations of robotics systems comes into focus when viewed against the human element. As amazing as it is that a computer program can generate a relevant, informative and even insightful news story, it’s not going to win a Pulitzer Prize. There are nuances and idiosyncrasies in language that aren’t easily replicated, such as noses that run, feet that smell, and houses that burn up as they burn down.
These distinctions permeate our cultures and relationships, impacting how we digest information, perform our jobs, and interact with each other. It’s these kinds of idiosyncrasies that even the most sophisticated robotics struggle with.
It’s easy to cling to such subtleties as defense against the threat of machines taking over human jobs, but that ignores the fact that automated systems can do and are doing a better, faster job of key repetitive actions. Rather than worry about unwanted layoffs, it’s useful to recognize the opportunity that robotic automation offers to both employees and organizations to significantly decrease the time spent on recurring tasks and allocate that time and human ability to more important activities.
Moving successfully into the future of automation requires the thoughtful application of robotics to add value to important and everyday functions. In the payroll process, for example, this means examining which tasks and occupations can be automated so as to improve the outcome and empower employees with supportive processes and more time to spend on high-value, human-dependent tasks.
The goal is not to automate entire occupations or industries, but rather to examine work activities to identify which specific aspects of a job can be improved through automation. Predictable work is a place to start: for example, robotics could improve the safety and consistency of welding or soldering on an assembly line. Data collection is a common, often tedious process that can easily be done through automation.
Automation in Payroll
By taking this approach, organizations can unlock the value of automation in the payroll process. Reviewing calculations, scheduling tasks, uploading files to ERP systems and even validating pre-processing information are all activities that could be easily automated. The payroll team would then have more time to focus on managing workloads, interfacing with clients and stakeholders, incorporating country-specific regulations, and other tasks that require a human touch.
Although robotic automation has been transforming industries for decades, it’s a relatively new development for global payroll—which means payroll leaders get to learn from others’ experience and apply automation to benefit the industry as a whole.
On July 11, we hosted an important webinar that dove deep into the potential of automation to improve the full scope of payroll functions. The talk helped identify which tasks can and should be automated, the benefits of automating core repetitive activities, and the impact robotic automation can have on payroll on a global scale. You may view the recording here.