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Tackling HR’s technological turmoil

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Human resources leaders are quickly realising technology such as HRMS and HR cloud are important drivers of effectiveness and efficiency. Akankasha Dewan speaks with HR professionals about how they are best utilising these tech advancements to overcome their talent challenges. 

One of the best contributions advancements in the information technology sector have made to human resources departments is getting HR to harness its true and full potential.

That is the main reason why today’s key HR initiatives across all industries and geographical regions appear to strike a balance between people, process and technology.

According to the 2014 HR Service Delivery and Technology Survey by Towers Watson, six out of 10 respondents worldwide have an HR portal, which is an increase from last year’s figure of 53%.

The survey also found a continued and quick adoption of mobile technologies, with 71% of respondents reporting satisfaction with their mobile HR applications.

About one-third of those polled also reported they planned to spend more on technology in the coming year and 29% of them will be moving to a new core human resources management system (HRMS).

“We believe this reflects an understanding that technology is a large and increasingly important driver of HR effectiveness and efficiency,” the report stated.

“These investments are directed mostly toward the implementation of new technology and new functionality, including HR portals, talent management solutions, mobile access services and leading software-as-a-service systems.”

The gift of time

The findings of the survey are actually not surprising, considering the several advantages such technologies bring to the HR function.

“Through new technological platforms, we have seen the evolution of self-service within HR functions for commonly used services like change of personal data, absence application, benefit enrolment, time attendance verification/submission and electronic pay slips, company letter generation and more,” says Vivien Koh, director for HR operations and HRIS at GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

“The HR function has naturally elevated from being purely administrative to more strategically focused. It enables HR practitioners to be more proactive then reactive.”

Such benefits are advantageous for certain industries specifically, such as the media and advertising industry, which are in dire need of making their HR processes as efficient as possible because of the nature of their business.

“The media and advertising industry is so client focused that policies such as talent management are not as proactive as we would like them to be. You’re always reacting to a situation,” says Ujjwal Sarao, regional talent management director of Asia at the Dentsu Network.

“But outside of this industry, you realise there’s an opportunity to do so many other things when it comes to HR. The world is further ahead outside of this industry. The kind of work that companies like General Electric and Xerox, both of whom I have worked for in the past, did seven to eight years back, the media and advertising industry is doing now.

“We’re playing catch up now, so there’s always a pressure to do things faster.”

And giving the gift of time is precisely what technologies such as HRMS, cloud solutions, and human resources information systems (HRIS) are known for.

HR departments, once consumed with transactional tasks such as collecting, managing and verifying data, are now free to focus on more strategic work.

“From the way back then until now, the biggest win we’ve gained from using technologies is freeing up our HR practitioners from transactional work,” says Bernard Seet, HRM, operations, NXP Semiconductors. “That’s a clear and undisputable advantage from implementing HR technology.”

Keeping up with the changes

HR technology, like any other technology, is in a state of disruptive innovation. Multiple significant market forces keep HR technology departments on their toes when it comes to understanding and implementing these solutions across companies.

“By introducing cloud solutions, we are actually empowering our managers with lots of data and information of their people,” Seet says.

“Employees can’t understand all technologies introduced,” he adds.

But such a problem undeniably needs to be addressed, especially because these market shifts are providing great opportunities for HR departments to deliver more value.

The question is: how can HR departments position themselves to take advantage in such a situation?

Fostering better communication with IT departments

Smooth and close alliances between HR functions and IT departments is one way to address this problem, according to Seet.

“We need to leverage on the resources of both the IT and HR department in order to work efficiently,” he says. “However, in many companies, the needs of the HR department are not the main priority of IT departments in terms of big projects. They would be sales, finance, etc. HR has never been in the top tier when it comes to the list of IT priorities.

“That is the reality, and that’s always something to work on.”

A twofold approach can be adopted to foster better communication with IT departments, according to these practitioners.

The first stems from leveraging on the very significance of HR to the business, in order to highlight the department’s contribution to the company in the long run.

“HR is in the management seat, in the CEO table already. It’s just that in the IT world, it is a low priority,” Seet says.

“As much as we want everything to go in place, there is still a business which we have to run, so to gain buy-in in our initiatives, we need to count in sustainability. While the companies are aggressive in trying to grow revenue to ensure in order for us to sell HR and its projects, we need to count in sustainability.

“We need to voice HR’s importance to the company. How do we make the company sustainable? Do we have the right kind of people, the right kind of talent to sustain the company and to enable its growth?

“From that kind of conversation, you can start to instil and influence the business on what kinds of things are really needed, and show how technology is inevitably a key enabler, if not the main driver, in order for us to perform such an analysis fast and well enough.

“And that’s where we can partner with IT and come up with a game plan.”

Koh, however, highlights a more independent approach when it comes to making the process of understanding and implementing HR technologies easier.

“In order for the usage of these technologies be made easier, I think we have to understand the work behaviour of people and the job nature of our audience,” she says.

Not only will analysing current needs and processes of employees help in implementing the right solutions in place, but it will also inform HR practitioners on the way these technologies work.

Cultivating an open and flexible mindset

HR may adopt a more independent or IT-based approach, but these can fail if HR practitioners aren’t willing to embrace the myriad changes technology and its evolutions bring in the first place.

“At this point of time, most HR practitioners will know of some form of HR technologies in their day to day work,” Seet observes. “What they lack is how to re-engineer HR processes.

“Even now whenever we introduce a new HR system, the practitioners might be open or quick enough to understand and embrace new systems of working.

“They should instead be saying, ‘Let’s look into what the solution provides, and what are our current processes which can be improved. And let’s look at how best we can adopt best practices, instead of going on to work using the old way of doing things’. Instead of going from step one to 10, we should see if we can go from 1-3-5-9-10.”

Seet adds HR practitioners should be reminded that cloud solutions, or enterprise resource plannings, do contain input from a lot of companies into the process when they develop the tool or software.

“Hence, they do contain the advantages and benefits of best and preferred HR practices. However, a lot of HR practitioners are still so deeply entrenched in their current and old way of doing things that they say ‘this is the way’.

“Not everyone is like this, but it is still a key area for us to improve.”

Getting the right training

But sheer willpower isn’t enough when combating any problem, unless one also has the sources to ensure that planning turns into actual results.

HR practitioners may inculcate an open mindset and focus on the advantages new and upgraded technologies bring, but these advantages will only come to fruition when employees, and HR personnel themselves are trained to handle such changes.

“Most HR functions are now looking at HR tech platforms, investing in that, and investing in ensuring that HR practitioners are skilled enough to manage these technologies,” Sarao says.

“So now, not only do HR people need to have better talent management and HR skills, but they also need to be better technology people as well because when rolling out a programme, the onus of training the staff on these tech platforms falls on HR people as well. So they need to hone their skills in technology as well.”

While Koh observes there aren’t many technology savvy HR practitioners in the market, she does admit to a change in this trend, especially when it comes to the younger generation who are better informed in the space of technology usage.

“Rightfully, self-service functionalities that are deployed to employees/managers should be as intuitive as possible and should not require any or much training,” she says.

“HR administrative users, nevertheless, require some end-user training and it is important for this group to have a basic or fundamental understanding of the system architecture to know what can or cannot be done.

“Nevertheless, I don’t see a need to train every HR practitioner to be technology savvy. A diversification of competency within the HR function will bring more value to the business.”

Getting the right software solution

When it comes to training employees to handle alterations in technological processes, however, change management is, for Seet, extremely crucial.

“Introducing a main global system doesn’t only involve HR, but also the managers and people of the entire organisation,” he says.
“It is important to consider how our managers and people start to understand and appreciate the journey on which HR is embarking on.

“Change approach is very important – not to view only HR and IT as the main stakeholders involved, but also our managers and people as an important stakeholder group, be it introducing a succession planning module or a rewards one.

“Employees can’t understand all technologies introduced. You need to have a game plan in your change management strategy as well when introducing these technologies.”

However, according to the “Managing Talent through Technology: HCM Buying Trends” survey by Deloitte, the biggest challenge HR software buyers face is “the fear that people won’t use the systems”.

“Our research now shows that the number one driver of change is the need for a more compelling, consumer-like, experience,” the report stated.

And providing a good user experience is, for Seet, a fundamental factor when providing a software which will be acceptable to and preferred by his employees.

“In an ideal world, for a cloud solution, I look into what design philosophy they have in mind, what interfaces they have,” he identifies.

“If the interfaces are still traditional and transactional, then it is not intuitive enough for a good user experience. Now with our younger generations, who are very exposed to technologies, they are expecting their HR to do the same.

“We need to look at stability, user experience and data security when looking at cloud solutions and how frequently they update their systems.”

Working holistically and cleverly

Koh reiterates, however, that choosing the right software involves a holistic understanding of its processes in the first place.

“For the HRIS specialists or centre of expertise, it will be beneficial to understand the solution architecture and capability of the deployed system. This will enable them to advise how to capitalise the technology investment fully and not let it become a white elephant.”

Essentially, a structured, rigorous and strategic approach needs to be applied when dealing with HR technology and its challenges.

Until and unless the HR function handles such systems with the right flexibility of thinking, right resources and right information, it won’t be able to fully utilise the value of such advantageous elements.

“The future is now. We don’t need to look so far ahead to see what’s going to change. We need to build on the here and now. If we start using our HR technology much better, we make ourselves more efficient and we are adding value to the business,” Sarao observes.

“Technology is now going to define and refine the future, make it better and better. You have to be clever when it comes to using it.”

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