How EMC Beat the Competition for SSON's Process Improvement Award



SSON Awards
06/14/2016

EMC's GBS team walked away with two Awards at SSON's North American Excellence Awards earlier this year. One for Innovation and the other Process Improvement. Both applications wowed the judges with the innovative application of robotic process automation. What was more impressive: This initiative was driven by the HRSS team. When was the last time you heard of an HR organization being on the front lines of implementing new technology for their organization? Exactly.

So here is the winning application, courtesy of EMC, for the Award for Process Improvement. [Read the winning application for Innovation here. Also: watch the interview with the 'dream team' in which they describe their implementation here.]

Above: EMC's winning team collecting their Awards

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Some background on the HR Services team in EMC's GBS:

  • Don Potter Hopkinton MA US HRSS Leader
  • Christina Crowley Franklin MA GBS Leader
  • HR services
  • SSO launched in 2008
  • 100-500 FTEs including captive and retained team members
  • n/a outsourced team members
  • global responsibility
  • HR services
  • Serving 100 business units and roughly 50,000 employees in 75+ countries

Introduction

The HR Shared Services Tower is part of the overall GBS team at EMC and services over 50,000 employees across the globe. We are responsible for all back office HR support, including reporting, employee data management, and system administration. In addition to our back office support team, we have a world class employee-facing group in centers around the world providing support in all countries. These individuals are responsible for the full hire-to-retire process; we have talent acquisition coordinators facilitating the hiring process; individually assigned onboarding case managers to welcome the employee; a team dedicated to answering employee Help Tickets through our "Ask HR" System; and real time Chat agents answering employees’ inquiries on the spot with our internal Instant Messaging Program.

Each of these roles is focused on improving the employee experience, driving higher levels of engagement and improved retention.

Strategy

In this age of growing digitization, continued focus on cost savings, and the accelerating movement to shared service models, we, like other shared services organizations, are under constant pressure to "do more with less." At a time where headcount growth is viewed as a last resort, we had to therefore begin to think of new and creative ways to free up our existing capacity from routine activities, and focus them on more value-added assignments. As a result, we were seeking ways to streamline and automate our rote, repetitive and lower value activities. These are activities which require no decision making, little to no experience within HR Shared Services, and, in most cases, no real business intelligence. Previously these activities were performed by very bright, energetic, motivated individuals. However, when constantly working on repetitive and mundane, but necessary tasks, boredom, burnout and attrition result. It simply left us with less than stellar results and no room to expand service offerings that would truly enhance the employee experience at EMC.

We had to be able to deliver these required services, which were the backbone of what built the HRSS organization, but at the same time we also needed to deliver new, higher value services that would drive our organizations forward. We needed to figure out a way to free up capacity for things like HR Direct Chat across the globe, increased Onboarding activities, and combating the ever growing volumes of requests the team received from employees and HR Business Partners alike.

In stepped the SSON conference in Orlando last March [2015]. Our HRSS Operations Lead, Scott Sanfason, along with my teammate, Tracy OMeara, and I attended the conference for the week and left with a new outlook on our entire HR organization, our overarching GBS org, and EMC as a whole. The answer was there and it was Robotic Process Automation. RPA, we realized, would allow us to complete the "turn the crank" activities in house, with a 0% error ratio and little to no headcount support, while giving us the opportunity to repurpose our team members to do more!

Improvement Methodologies

From the outset of our RPA journey, the core implementation and leadership team has always held to one truth: "The automation programing will be easy. The change management aspect will be the difficult part".

As soon as we returned from the conference in March, the vendor meetings and demos began. We knew we first needed to convince the greater team that RPA was a solid investment with limitless potential. After one demo with a solution provider we spoke with at the conference, senior leadership was sold and our GBS value creation team was setting up multiple vendors for POC exercises. This process started with 3 different solution providers, all with the ability to meet our RPA needs but in very different fashions.

Our initial POC discussions kicked off in June with the HRSS POC focusing on our Offer Letter Generation Process. All three vendors were eager to start; they felt this was very doable with their individual product sets, and they also said this was breaking new ground with RPA in the HR space, especially for them.

For the POC’s we had a dedicated team comprised of one technical resource, two subject matter experts within the Talent Acquisition space, and an overall project leader. Each vendor solution was used to automate the current process in different degrees of magnitude:

  • one vendor did all of the programing (which was not our favorite option)
  • one vendor relied solely on our internal team to do all the programing, and
  • the final vendor was more of a hybrid POC, where both the vendor and our internal resources built the model together. Our preference throughout the POC, was to utilize the hybrid model where both the vendor and the EMC team had input in the development.

Along the way there were several hurdles to overcome, including gaining additional access for the Bots (not an easy task when the owners of the system were not on board with the process improvement at first); changing our process to fit the way a "robot" would complete the task vs a human; and overall familiarity of the tool and its workings.

In the end, we were able to fully automate the offer letter generation process with two out of the three vendors. At that point we had made our decision. We chose to move forward with Automation Anywhere as our RPA solutions provider. The largest contributing factor was ease of use; rather than need to hire additional development resources, we found that employees with strong Excel/Access skills and a decision-based "logic" mindset were able to program just fine. This significantly cut down on the implementation cost and upkeep.

Next came the implementation. This is where we met the most resistance, and for one simple reason: People are always afraid of what is different. This resistance came in several forms: external customer resistance, internal team member resistance, and overall hesitation to change.

The biggest concern for the external customer was whether or not these Bots could produce the same level of accuracy as our current team and whether they would still get their letters "on time." Our response was to provide a series of demonstrations (recorded and live) where we explained that these Bots cannot make mistakes. They are programed to do exactly what they are told, and as a result will never transpose a date, misspell a name, or inadvertently mistype a number. Coupled with the fact that we could schedule these bots to work around the clock to service all time zones, we were able to overcome this hesitation.

Internally, our team members were afraid of this new technology because they thought it meant the end of their jobs. As a result we had to put together several "sell" decks. Our senior leadership assured our employees that this was not the end of their job, but instead, a step towards the future of a new role. These "better jobs" would be more stimulating and challenging and bring more value to the team and EMC. Although this is still a concern in the back of some team members’ minds, strong leadership and a dedication to change management will continue to overcome this.

Overall, we are advancing towards a wider implementation of RPA well beyond our initial offer letter project to encompass all of our EMC offer types, scheduled reporting, data administration, all of our other letter generation needs, and any number of our "turn the crank" activities.

Benefits achieved

Throughout the implementation process we have often compared our RPA program to the "Space Race" of the late ‘50s. It will be a long, exciting, and hard journey but it is paving the way to bigger and better things. Our original objective has always been to create the most efficient back office HR support structure in the world. At this point in our journey we feel as though we have made it to "space"; Sputnik is launched and orbiting, as we say. Our first employee hired with an offer letter created by our RPA software started at EMC on January 4th, 2016 and we have scheduled two complex daily reports used by senior leadership to conduct day-to-day activities.

Offer Letter Process

Performed by TA Coordinator:

  • 15-20+ minutes to complete each offer letter
  • Multiple Handoffs & QC audits throughout the process
  • Very Manual
  • Prone to Errors and Rework
  • Scope: 6000+ Hires Per Year
  • Dedicated FTE’s to process: 20+

Performed by RPA Bot

  • 2 minutes to complete each offer letter
  • One Final QC at end of process before sending to candidate
  • Fully Automated
  • High Level of Accuracy
  • Scope: 6000+ Hires Per Year
  • Dedicated FTE’s to process: 4

Savings:

  • 15+ minutes per offer letter
  • 15+ employees to be redeployed to more value added roles

Scheduled Reporting

Performed by Employee:

  • 45+ minutes to run
  • Must log into multiple systems, running over 12 different reports
  • Data manipulation in Excel to bring these reports together for the final product
  • Manual draft of email to send

Performed by RPA Bot:

  • 45+ min time savings as there is no Human Intervention
  • All reports and data manipulation done by bot
  • Email generated and sent from Bots email address to desired recipients

Savings:

  • Resource time dedicated to new RPA implementation programming for future cost savings

After producing these two processes with the new RPA tool, the implementation expectations have reached new levels. On a daily basis our senior leadership team is approached by other members of our team, of the HR organization, and EMC, to request their work be put into the RPA line. Rather than just expecting to optimize our own processes we are being sought after to help others. As a result we have created a full project team to take in requests, prioritize, and begin optimizing wherever possible. Although we are only at the initial satellite launch phase in our journey, we know that the final outcome will be tremendous savings spread out among our internal HRSS team, greater GBS, and all of EMC.

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Summary

As mentioned, our two biggest challenges to overcome were convincing our external customers and our internal team members that this was the right move. For our external customers we had to help them accept that this was a positive change for them, and the quality of work would actually become better and timelier after moving to this technology.

With our internal team, it’s about constant reminders that this new technology is setting them up to take on bigger and better roles rather than the "turn the crank" activities of the past.

3 Lessons Learned

  1. During the POC it is extremely important to get your employees involved with the programing. We came to some quick conclusions on which tool to go with simply based on how our internal employees could interact with the tool.
  2. Be persistent: This is a new technology and it is not very well known across the board. For nearly all of our customers and employees this marked something brand new, that they had never come across. Simply telling them about the technology and the opportunities is not enough. We found the best way to overcome the apprehension was to record demos and take people through, step-by-step.
  3. Be willing to change your current processes. The way a human interacts with a process and the way the "Bot" software does are completely different. Don’t be afraid to change things around to make it more efficient for the bot. In the end you will likely get a much leaner process and inevitably save Bot processing time for other activities.

Finally…

We are an HR Shared Services Organization. When was the last time you heard of an HR organization being on the front lines of implementing new technology for their organization? Of the three vendors we spoke with, none were aware of other companies using this technology in the HR space, in the way we were planning to. We are moving our HRSS organization forward; providing more real, tangible, services that will enhance the employee experience at EMC and make it a truly better place to work. By implementing RPA, not only are we targeting time and cost savings (as are all other organizations implementing RPA) but we are also able to change our employee’s relationship with our company as a result of providing these new high-touch, great services.