When Henry Ford unveiled the world’s first production line in 1913, it was the biggest change to society since the Industrial Revolution.

By streamlining the manufacturing process of the iconic Model T, Henry Ford could not have foreseen the impact of his innovation – technology had not only made the impossible, possible, but it had completely revolutionised the ways in which we view the world.

Over 100 years later, we are experiencing our own version of an industrial revolution in the world of HR and beyond.

The future is… automated

Manufacturing techniques may not have changed dramatically, but the increasing use of technology, in particular automation, is changing the ways in which we work at an alarming rate.

Much has been written about the so-called ‘robots’ – with the McKinsey Global Institute reporting that 50% of current work activities are ‘technically automatable’ by simply adapting existing technologies.

Recently, the Global Future of Work Survey reported that ‘companies expect automation will account for on average 22% of work being done in the next three years – compared with 12% of work companies say is being done using AI and robotics today, and just 7% three years ago.’.

This a big leap, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds.

Viewing automation as an opportunity, not a threat.

Despite somewhat alarming news headlines of job losses and human workforces being ‘replaced’ by AI or ‘robots’, technology isn’t something we should fear. Those who fear it, simply do not understand its potential.

Embracing technology and integrating it within our current HR processes will not only help to develop a new breed of human resources professionals who are geared up for the 21st century but will also help to support business strategies and drive them forward.

The reluctance amongst many businesses to invest in HR technology can be attributed to a general lack of understanding of its capability. But you only have to look at finance or marketing departments to get an idea of what technology can achieve – you won’t find much in the way of paper ledgers or abacuses sat on your accountant’s desk these days.

We previously wrote about how the right technology can make a difference to your bottom line, but technology extends far beyond mere reporting techniques, it’s causing us to re-examine what it means to be a modern HR practitioner.

Improved insights through technology

Today, we can collect valuable data that will enable us to understand the behaviours and motivations of our workforce, as well as produce automated reports that can be shared with other internal teams such as business development.

Through technology, the modern HR professional is elevated to the status of ‘people analyst’, with the ability to spot and predict workforce trends that can be used to make solid business decisions.

At it’s very heart, HR technology should be viewed not as a replacement, but as an added technological team member, enabling us to keep the human element in human resources.

Ian Barkin, co-founder of Symphony Ventures, an automation consultancy firm, suggests that in the long term, technology could benefit HR practitioners:

“Robotic Process Automation doesn’t have to lead to a culling of staff, it can empower them and unleash their creativity. It’s freeing them from doing the unproductive stuff.”

Technology doesn’t equal job losses

McKinsey also report that by 2030, up to 800 million people globally could have their jobs replaced by automation. This is one of the greatest fears surrounding technology.

Yet while these figures may stand up, it’s important to remember that with new technologies come new opportunities – ones that we may never have dreamt of just a few years ago. Could you imagine embarking on a career as a smartphone app developer as little as 25 years ago? The opportunity simply didn’t exist.

HR software may have automated traditional data input and payroll tasks, but the human element will always be vital in ensuring that technology is working as efficiently and effectively as it should be.

Looking ahead to the future

For the Millennial generation, many of whom are now taking up senior management positions and entering the Boardroom – the growing use of technology is seen as a positive step.

Having grown up with a world of possibilities, this group of workers understand the different ways in which technology can be used to benefit business growth as well as develop a more motivated and happier workforce.

We anticipate that whilst there will be challenges ahead, technology will bring about the emergence of new, highly-skilled roles, along with opportunities for improving skills and career progression – not just throughout the HR industry but across all areas of business. And that can only be a good thing.