What is human resources (HR) automation? 
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HR automation is the practice of using digital tools to streamline time-consuming HR tasks in human capital management. It involves utilizing software and algorithms to handle activities previously done manually by HR professionals, such as data entry for applicant tracking, drafting job requisitions, onboarding new hires, following offboarding protocols, and managing time off requests.

Through automation, organizations can lessen the administrative workload for HR staff, reduce errors, enhance efficiency, ensure consistency, and improve the overall employee experience. This enables HR professionals to focus on human-centric support, such as shaping company culture, facilitating employee mobility, and making strategic growth decisions. However, the implementation of task automation may necessitate additional training and upskilling for HR employees, as highlighted by the Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM).1 Poor implementation can impede person-to-person interaction.

Putting human resources at the center of strategy

HR automation, or even hyperautomation, equips HR professionals with valuable data and insights for informed decision-making amidst changing economic, technological, and labor landscapes. With the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in various industries and employee skill sets, the need for HR automation has become even more critical.

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Benefits of HR automation

Human resources (HR) departments are leading the way in navigating significant workplace shifts in the economy, labor market and technology. Talent scarcity and rising costs are prevalent, and AI tools and other technological advancements promise accelerated digital change. HR teams face the challenge of managing employee career mobility and ensuring adequate resources in these complex contexts. Here are some ways that HR automation software serves as a valuable tool for addressing these challenges within HR departments.

Efficiency and scalability

HR automation software minimizes HR professionals' time spent on routine tasks like data entry, applicant tracking, paid time off and overtime management, and new hire benefit enrollment. It enables HR teams to address complex people-related challenges and provide the desired face-to-face engagement. Automation ensures efficiency, accuracy and consistency, enhancing employee experiences, satisfaction and retention rates. HR automation also ensures a company can handle increased the demands of fast growth.


HR teams leverage HR automation to align their work with the broader corporate strategy. By generating data, insights and analytics, HR automation empowers HR professionals to identify trends, make data-driven decisions and formulate effective HR strategies. According to KPMG's 2023 report “The Future of HR: From Flux to Flow," automation data enables HR teams to shift from analysis to predictive analytics.2 This might include developing hypotheses based on employee listening systems, gathering insight into remote working using advanced data correlations that can drive culture decisions, and using advanced analytics to design and deliver internal products to enhance the employee experiences. Evidence-based solutions like these, made possible by data that is the byproduct of automation, deliver business value, securing HR departments a position at the corporate strategy table.

Continuous performance management

HR automation will support the shift already underway from traditional annual performance reviews to continuous performance management. Real-time feedback, goal tracking and agile performance conversations will be facilitated through automation tools, fostering ongoing performance improvement and employee development.

Challenges of HR automation

Culture Shift. HR professionals play a crucial role in establishing talent pipelines and training employees for value-added positions, enabling companies to stay competitive amidst technological disruptions. However, if IT teams seize the opportunity to oversee HR automation initiatives, there is a risk of HR professionals being automated out of their roles. The Society for Human Resources Management emphasizes that understanding and leveraging automation's power can determine the advancement or marginalization of HR professionals.3 By utilizing automation software to reduce time spent on routine data entry, HR professionals can focus on addressing these significant external shifts.

Takes time to implement. Automating any HR process will require an initial investment of time to configure an automation system, migrate data, analyze processes and redesign them to enhance the automation. An HR team implementing automation will also have to train and familiarize themselves staff with the tool and then conduct testing and troubleshooting to make sure the automation is working optimally before deploying it fully. If all works well, though, teams that undergo automation have laid the groundwork for valuable time savings in the long run.

Beyond employee onboarding: HR automation examples

Currently, HR teams use various software for organization and communication. Common HR automation includes systems for tracking applicants, managing performance, attendance and payroll, as well as employee self-service portals. However, advancements in artificial intelligence hint at the untapped potential in HR automation. Familiar examples of HR process automation include:

Applicant tracking systems. What began as digital file management systems in the 1990s has become much more robust. Today’s applicant tracking systems can touch every part of the recruitment process, from helping employers create and advertise open jobs, collecting resumes, creating a shortlist of candidates, scheduling interviews with shortlisted candidates, managing the interview process, and extending offers to selected candidates. They can also assist with onboarding new hires.

Automated onboarding workflows. Onboarding new hires requires sending and receiving signed documents, granting software access, making device requests, submitting tax documents, setting up the new hire on tools that may be new to them, introducing them to their team and giving them everything they need to confidently embark on their new role. A system for onboarding automation can set up workflows for automatic notification, or for example, push notifications and approval. It can collect e-signed forms and generate official PDF documents. It can deliver devices to employees without waiting for IT support and ensure seamless enrollment into benefits plans.

Employee self-service portals or employee experience platforms. Employee self-service portals are centralized online sites or gateways through which employee stakeholders can access information and conduct transactions. Employee self-service portals let employees access and update personal information, view pay stubs, request time off and access HR policies and resources, reducing administrative time for HR professionals. According to Forbes “self-service portals have become increasingly common in a number of areas, from customer service to health care and more. Self-service portals are one way to meet employee demand for easier access and transparency.4

Performance management tools. Performance management tools gather data on productivity for individuals, teams and organizations, and then organize this data and present it in templates in a central location. This data offers HR departments and managers insight into employee workload and allows them to make informed decisions about delegation, training and support for the employees they oversee.

Time and attendance tracking tools. Some HR automation tools track employee time and attendance to help companies operate at their optimum capacity and ensure they have enough human resources to take advantage of growth opportunities. Where HR teams of the past may have manually entered paid time off (PTO) and attendance into spreadsheets, new attendance tracking software lets HR teams review and approve requests for time off, calculate available PTO, notify team members when a teammate will be out of the office and analyze employee time off trends to help avoid burnout.

Benefits administration tools. Managing employee benefits and eligibility, including medical insurance, pension, retirement and PTO can be a huge administrative load for HR teams. Benefits administration tools can centralize employees’ benefits data to a single platform for everyone’s visibility, and letting employees access the information they need when they need it minimizes HR’s administrative effort. Companies can use the data aggregated by these tools to better manage their benefits spending and budgets in the future. Some tools even offer healthcare analytics to help employers make decisions and ensure compliance with regulations like the Affordable Care Act.

Learning management systems. When HR onboards a new employee, deploys a new company policy, or initiates training to keep employees in compliance with regulations, learning management systems can help. Quite simply, these automation software platforms automate the delivery of online courses and the tracking of employee progress.

Compliance management tools. Companies have to make sure they are always operating in line with state, federal and international regulations. That might mean anything from paying taxes on time to ensuring any licenses, permits and certifications remain up to date. When deadlines or expiration dates loom, companies have to take action in a timely manner. And, as companies begin digital transformation processes and become more reliant on ambiguous legal spaces like artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, 5G and the Internet of things, new compliance regulations and issues will crop up. Automating compliance where possible alleviates the administrative workload of an HR team and takes human error out of the equation.

Not only do these automation streamlines HR workflows, but they also let HR departments track and analyze data for optimization.

The future of HR automation

More application integration. It can feel cumbersome for HR teams and employees to work across the long list of HR automation software on the market, each of which addresses a single HR task or action. One advancement on the horizon is the integration of these tools into a single platform. In the future, HR automation platforms, like IBM watsonx Orchestrate, will deliver a comprehensive HR solution for automating across HR functions, encompassing recruitment, onboarding, performance management, payroll, benefits and analytics—a one-stop shop for all HR automation. This would enable a seamless flow of data for predictive analytics.

More personalization. Recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning can let HR teams offload even more offloading of manual tasks, while offering greater personalization from the perspective of the employee. For example, while AI-powered chatbots can already provide employees with round-the-clock HR support, and virtual assistants can already automate routine tasks, new advances in sentiment analysis could allow bots to gauge employee satisfaction throughout all communications. Advanced analytics and predictive modeling could help HR teams better predict attrition and identify high-potential employees. Advances in natural language processing will likely make employee engagement with these tools even more seamless.

Mobile solutions for mobile work. With the rise of remote work, hybrid work and mobile workforces, HR automation will have to cater to the needs of distributed teams. Mobile apps and cloud-based platforms will provide seamless access to HR systems, self-service portals and collaboration tools, ensuring a consistent HR experience regardless of location.

Ethical AI and data privacy. As HR automation becomes more reliant on AI, HR professionals will have to ensure the ethical use of AI and safeguard employee data. HR departments will need to establish robust data governance practices, ensure fairness and transparency in AI algorithms, and comply with data protection regulations.

Employee well-being and mental health support. The global COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the need for companies to address employee well-being and mental health in a meaningful way, and this has become a high priority for employees and candidates. Chatbots and virtual assistants may provide resources, self-help guides and access to mental health support services, promoting employee wellness and work-life balance.

How to implement HR automation

Have you been tasked with delivering HR automation for your team and don’t know where to start? A systematic approach to HR automation would include the following steps.

  1. Survey and document manual processes primed for automation
    First, the HR team has to identify manual administrative tasks and other HR processes that can be automated. Look for any cumbersome and repetitive tasks with regard to recruitment, onboarding, performance management, time and attendance tracking, benefits administration, payroll processing and more.

  2. Select HR automation tools
    Next, do your research. Compare HR automation software and decide on a spend. Or, pitch corporate leadership for budgetary approval. The HR automation tools you choose can range from specialized HR software for specific tasks and use cases to integrated human capital management (HCM) systems that encompass multiple HR functions.

  3. Integrate automation tools with existing systems
    After you select a tool, roll out your new software and integrate it into existing HR systems, such as a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), payroll system, benefits enrollment systems, or applicant tracking systems, to ensure seamless data flow and synchronization.

  4. Collect and manage employee data
    No longer does your team need to do manual data entry. Once the new automation tool is in place, the HR team can automatically collect and store relevant employee data, such as personal information, performance metrics, attendance records and training history. To do this well, HR teams have to ensure compliance, ethics and privacy of this data, which will also serve as a foundation for future predictive analytics, reporting and optimization decisions.

  5. Standardize the process
    After an automation is running, review it to ensure that the new tool or process delivers maximum value to employees. An audit of the deployed automation will reveal areas for expansion, streamlining or other improvements.

  6. Analyze data, optimize and report
    When data starts flowing, insights are not far behind. Use automation analytics to make data-driven decisions and recommendations to corporate leadership. Analytics can help HR professionals monitor employee performance, evaluate the effectiveness of HR programs and policies, and identify trends with meaningful business implications, worth the C-suite’s attention and investment.

  7. Maintain and update regularly
    HR automation requires regular maintenance, updates and system checks to ensure data accuracy, security and optimal performance. This may involve monitoring data integrations, applying software patches, and addressing any issues that arise.
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1Maxwell, Alexis. 2020. “The Pros and Cons of Automating Human Resources” Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) (link resides outside ibm.com)
2KPMG 2023 “The Future of HR: From flux to flow” (link resides outside ibm.com)
3Tobenkin, David. 2019. “HR Needs to Stay Ahead of Automation” The Society for Human Resources Management  (link resides outside ibm.com)
4Nazef, Lila. 19 April 2022. “How to Increase Employee Satisfaction Using Self-Service Portals” Forbes.com. (link resides outside ibm.com)