Dimension Data's Michaela Voller shares insights about the company's HRI successes

Ultimately, HR tech is about simplifying business processes to improve the customer and employee value propositions.

Dimension Data HR Executive for the Middle East and Africa Michaela Voller says companies experience frustration when adopting new technologies in that they don't understand the steps that are required to deliver effective solutions. Speaking at a breakfast engagement at Platinum Sky on Wednesday, Michaela explained what organisations needed to consider when exploring Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), which is about understanding, designing and evaluating robotic systems for use by or with humans. 

Having adopted Workday at Dimension Data, Michaela said the platform had transformed their ability to engage with employees and create solutions that allow for robots to do more mundane tasks while people get on with more creative and analytical aspects of their work. Meanwhile, the data that has been gathered from the various solutions have vastly improved the decision-making prowess of employees and executive leadership alike.

For example, the company developed a robot called Feebee, which has a Workday profile like any other employee and collates feedback from clients about their satisfaction with the services they have received. It also monitors data on clients' computers to quickly escalate any technical problems that arise. The value of a robot like Feebee is that it provides verbatim feedback from users, which can be used to reconstruct the services they offer, making the IT division more of a strategic partner to the business.

Simplifying processes

But how should companies go about exploring technology in order to gain maximum strategic boost that it needs? Michaela said that the first thing is to understand the enterprise architecture of your organisation, which is about having a good grasp on the systems that are already in place. Secondly, it's important to invest in an HRI system that is robust and will stand the test of time because migrating to a new system is an extremely frustrating process. 

"Thirdly, once you have built various layers into that platform, you need to understand your business processes and how to optimise them. In the past, a lot of processes had been designed to make HR employees' lives easier to work on a spreadsheet, but with a new platform and software, those ideas may need to be tweaked. It has to be more about making those processes more employee-centric," said Michaela, giving an example of the difficulty she faced when upgrading her mobile phone contract after she first took on her current role.

"It was a three-month back-and-forth process to get it done. And the Vodacom lady said to me, 'I think you should escalate this to HR,' and I was so embarrassed because I was, in fact, the head of HR. If I was having that kind of trouble, imagine what an employee sitting in Rustenburg on some of our mining contracts as an off-site employee would have to endure?"

Organisations have a tendency to put policies together and just assume that they are being executed well without interrogating whether they are practical. Left unchecked, unnecessarily cumbersome processes can counter the values that an organisation espouses.

"Companies have all kinds of wonderful words in their mission statements and values about being inclusive and collaboratory but the truth is that the true values and culture of things are only brought to life by action. We wonder why our employees aren't living the corporate values but it takes 25 approvals to get your surname changed."

Once you have optimised your processes, Michaela says it is important to think about how robotics can be used to make the user experience feel seamless. Lastly, you want to make it convenient to access this digital environment whereby employees can use their phones and tablets to access it at any time from anywhere.    

Security must be top of mind

When all of this is done right, the organisation gets a tsunami of data and will need a data scientist to be able to interpret it. However, without security at the centre of it all, those efforts counts for nought, especially with legislation like POPI coming into force.

There has been a raft of corporate security breaches that have landed organisations in some very hot water in recent years, and Michaela could not stress enough how important this is, saying that corporates in Africa have become particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks, as the rest of the world had doubled down on their cybersecurity efforts.  

"If you think you can do it alone, you're mistaken. The days of operating in silos are long gone. you need to really understand the IT world and how it fits in with what you're trying to achieve.  The problem with the consumer world is that people think something like a security breach will never happen to them. The reality is that corporates have a responsibility to make everything secure." 

Making work life easier

When devising some of their HR tech solutions, Michaela said the organisation was looking for benefits to give employees without having to pay for them, and found answers in the tax dispensation. For example, they signed up for food-delivery app OrderIn, which incorporates tax-breaks on food that is ordered within a 10-kilometre radius of the workplace. Another app is SmartFunder, which allows for tax-free school fees for anyone who earns less than R600,000 per annum. These are simple examples of how the company incorporates tech services into their employee value proposition.

"There are a lot of tax dispensations for employees that corporates generally don't take advantage of. But these are examples of things that don't cost much for the organisation other than creating a benefit for employees based on the understanding of tax law," says Michaela.

Ultimately, Michaela said that when it comes to implementing Software-as-a-service platforms, the key was to start now so that you can learn quickly what works and what doesn't. The journey doesn't have to be linear. In the academic world, you start at the bottom and progress gradually, but when it comes to the digital world, there's a lot more jumping around between progress and failures. If you don't start your journey you're going to get left behind.