by Padraig Gill, Director at Intelligo
According to a recent Irish Times article, machines will do ‘more than half’ of workplace tasks by 2025. McKinsey estimates up to 800 million workers globally could be displaced by robotic automation by 2030. The Nevin Economic Research Institute estimates that, in Northern Ireland alone, 7% of jobs are at risk of being lost entirely and 58% are at risk of changing substantially as a consequence of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics.
So, what does this, or could this, mean for Payroll? Apart from having to pay less people every pay period, there are perhaps certain tasks, or elements of the payroll function, that could potentially be automated with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning. A great example surely would have to be handling of (basic) employee queries. AI-powered chatbots could, for example, answer a range of basic employee questions. Think of the top reasons why people contact your payroll team right now – questions such as ‘When are we getting paid?’, ‘What will my net pay be next month?’, ‘What’s our employer reg. number?’ – could all be questions answered by a ‘bot’. The payroll process itself though, would be significantly more difficult to automate – where unplanned inputs can vary from period to period (e.g. ad hoc salary payments) and data can come from unexpected sources. Coupled with this, it’s hard to foresee automation replacing the human element of a raised eyebrow – “that doesn’t look quite right” and accurately interpreting data with the right context in mind, in order to decide if the data they’d received was appropriate or not, e.g. payroll may receive an instruction to pay Jim 5 hours overtime – automation will just pay it – but the payroll person would question it, as they know that Jim nearly always refuses to work overtime!
We will continue to see examples of AI seep into our everyday lives (think Siri and Alexa) and undoubtedly we will increasingly hear that robots, automation and artificial intelligence will put millions of people out of work. In payroll terms, people will undoubtedly remain (for now!) the decision makers and a fundamental part of the payroll process. We will still be around for some time to come! What automation will offer though, even in the short term, is the potential to handle repetitive and common payroll tasks, like dealing with employee queries, spotting patterns and perhaps even identifying fraudulent activity, leaving more time for the payroll team to solve real payroll problems and further develop the payroll function. In the meantime, payroll people will continue to do what they always do and adapt to the changed circumstances.