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Technologically speaking: Cases from digital-first employers

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To review the progress of HR technology, Aditi Sharma Kalra logs into organisations for which becoming “digital-first” is not just a top people priority, but a business strategic focus.

An industry expected to grow to US$19.88 billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 9.6% (according to MarketsandMarkets), cannot be taken lightly. The market for human capital management solutions is growing at a higher rate in Asia Pacific compared with the rest of the world, driven by Singapore, China, Japan and Australia adopting advanced organisation-wide technologies.

The majority of this growth, for the moment, lies in what is known as “core HR” – the basic employee-related record keeping necessary for the smooth day-to-day functioning, such as maintaining employee records. But there are a number of organisations that have gone above and beyond to digitise additional components of the HR value chain, ranging from performance management to learning and development.

Then there are those organisations for which becoming a “digital-first” organisation is not just a top people priority, but a business strategic focus – such as engineering major Siemens.

Head of talent acquisition, strategy and technology, Sebastian Hubert, based in Singapore, explains: “For us, being tech-driven doesn’t just mean developing new digital solutions and services, but recognising the pace of technological change will transform our entire way of doing business.”

The usage of the term VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – is appropriate to convey the need to build an organisation that is flexible and agile enough to be able to embrace the possibilities of technology in such a fast moving environment.

Another organisation embracing the possibilities of technology is Citi Singapore. Present in Singapore since 1902, this financial services player has embraced digitalisation to not only accelerate innovation, but redefine the DNA of the organisation itself.

Jorge Osorio, head of human resources at Citi Singapore, weighs in: “Th e advancement of technology has allowed jobs to be performed anywhere and anytime. “This led to the rise of a virtual work environment. Employees must now be equipped with competencies to work in a virtual world, be it daily communication or managing virtual teams.”

In this feature, we take a closer look at the trending themes in HR technology through the experiences of HR leaders across sectors and stages of the HR evolution.

#HRTech to refine people processes

Established in Singapore in 2003, Kleen-Pak is known for its innovative hygiene solutions. HR manager Sharon Chng joined the company in 2009, and immediately started to put together a comprehensive set of HR policies covering recruitment, remuneration, performance management, training and termination.

New policies such as flexible work arrangements and re-employment were progressively added in response to employees’ needs.

“With my background in information systems, it was apparent during my early days that we should invest in information technology and equip our employees with the right tools so that information can be more readily and effectively shared from anywhere in order to improve our productivity and customer response time,” she says.

It didn’t take her long to get management’s approval as they recognised the need for local manufacturers to provide better customer experiences and lower operating costs to better compete with competitors within the region.

Kleen-Pak recently implemented an enterprise resource planning system supported through a virtual network, leading to information being readily accessible within and outside of the company.

“In such a digitally connected environment, the place of work may not necessarily be in a predesignated workplace. This has changed the way we work and communicate between co-workers and our business partners,” she says.

With factories in Singapore and Vietnam, Kleen-Pak has also upgraded to more advanced machines to increase productivity and reduce the reliance on manpower. Chng explains that not only does this enable existing employees to move up the value chain through upskilling, but because of the increase in productivity, there’s a lesser need for workers to work beyond their normal working hours.

In light of limited internal resources, she didn’t hesitate to tap on government grants for network infrastructure, laptops and time attendance devices. All technical training such as accessing the network virtually was conducted by Chng.

Her advice? “To tap into rapidly changing technology, organisations must adopt a dynamic culture. This means equipping staff with the necessary technical knowledge, skills and competencies to ensure adaptability. This also helps prevent skills obsolescence, especially among the older workers.”

#HRTech for candidate experience

Technology is allowing Siemens to move away from traditional hierarchies to a much more transparent and open community. “In the past, we relied on our management system to cascade messages and receive feedback. We now have so many more ways to draw upon the collective power of our employees’ minds – and we have more than 300,000 at Siemens,” Hubert says.

From hackathons, where diverse groups are encouraged to tackle some of the company’s biggest challenges, to everyday two-way communication from the leadership team on the internal social network, Siemens is using the power of technology to build expert communities across traditional borders.

This thinking has resulted in a real transformation of processes. One of the major changes Siemens has made in talent acquisition over the past year was redesigning its entire search and application capability for external candidates – making sure that it works on all devices – whether it’s desktop, tablet or mobile.

Explains Hubert about the impact: “Since we implemented this, we’ve found that over 30% of candidates are starting their application on mobile – that’s a huge pool of talent that would have found it difficult to apply to Siemens in the past.”

One important aspect to note here is the team in charge really focused on how the actual application process needed to be redesigned so it made sense on a difference device, rather than just replicating Siemens’ desktop experience for mobile. For example, reducing the number of questions that candidates were asked.

#HRTech for career development

In April 2016, Citi Singapore launched a new talent development initiative called My Career in Asia to help open up opportunities and off er guidance on career progression as jobs evolve and new roles are created. “Through an online platform, we host a range of tools and resources such as career assessment modules and videos where senior executives share their own career journeys,” Osorio says.

In Singapore, within the first month of its launch, My Career had more than 1,600 active users. Today, 33% of Citi’s employees in the nation are active users of the portal.

Employees are also benefiting from access to internal systems and processes which have helped enhance productivity and flexibility in managing their professional and personal life. Osorio cites an example: “A ‘Learning on the Go’ mobile app called Udemy was recently made available to all our employees, providing them with access to on-demand, bite-sized and high quality cutting-edge video-based learning courses developed by industry experts and individuals to help employees with their ongoing career development.”

Another key highlight is Citi’s annual internal career fair called “In the Big Citi” which aims to promote career development and mobility, while providing a platform for employees to engage with various businesses within the organisation.

“Last year (2016), we featured a digital capability where a mobile application was developed to enhance the user experience and provide more robust interactions,” Osorio says.

Continuing the streak to appeal to the next generation of workers, Citi has embraced the concept of an activity-based workspace supported by state-of-the-art technology, which reflects how people work today.

“Citi Works, our global workplace strategy, was established in 2013. Since then, we have delivered close to 24,000 Citi Works seats across Asia Pacific,” Osorio says. In Singapore, the first phase of Citi Works will be rolled out this year at its Changi Citi Service Centre, including a purposefully designed office floor layout catering to different work styles and increased amenities for employees.

All Citi Works office environments worldwide will share a common theme, but there is also flexibility for regional distinction and local requirements.

Apart from pioneering this, Citibank is also among the 4,500 companies that have signed the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices managed by Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices.

#HRTech for end-to-end HR coverage

Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) has taken a systematic approach to bringing a number of HR processes under the purview of technology.

In the first stage, NYP started by automating various non-value added HR activities such as leave application and medical claims, enabling staff access anytime at their own convenience and replacing tedious transactional procedures.

In the second stage, the team further digitised key HR functions such as recruitment and selection, performance management, and manpower allocation. These services reside on an HR information system developed in-house and built on an Oracle technology platform.

Judy Tan, director of HR, says about the features: “They are integrated with other non-HR systems such as the finance system to facilitate payments and the library portal for staff learning. With a single sign-on, staff can easily access all HR services at their workstations or using their mobile devices.”

Ahead of the curve, NYP has implemented staggered work hours and telecommuting schemes since 2012. This was to expand the choice of flexi-work arrangement options and provide greater autonomy for staff to manage their own work schedules.

“We leveraged on technology to make it easy for staff to apply for flexi-work, healthy lifestyle time-off , as well as flexible work arrangements, seamless for them, as well as their reporting officers,” Tan says.

“When we embarked on e-HR, apart from logistics and infrastructure, the human factor was the biggest challenge faced,” Tan adds, explaining that staff were concerned about switching from manual to a technology-based mode of work.

“They generally felt a loss of control over the manual work processes they were familiar with and were apprehensive that their roles would become redundant and their jobs eliminated.”

In overcoming these human challenges, the HR team examined current work processes, staff profiles and their skill sets. Tan says: “For staff whose jobs may be affected by the use of technology, we redesigned and expanded their roles as part of their career development within the Poly. We also conducted communications sessions to explain and get buy-in from staff on the rationale of our digitisation initiative.”

Besides involving staff in the design phase of the HR systems, NYP implemented the system on a pilot basis first before launching it across the Poly. Briefing sessions, hands-on demos and training for staff and reporting officers prior to the system launch were also conducted. The efforts have paid off significantly.

Management and HR have instant access to data to satisfy immediate information needs, thus removing the delays caused by multiple interactions between different staff . This information sharing through technology has ensured the manpower costs required for the mundane task of hard copy records are eliminated.

Tan also cites the Workplace by Facebook platform as having enhanced staff engagement and cross-school/department communications.

In addition, NYP was awarded the WorkLife Excellence Award by TAFEP’s Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy in 2014.

“There is a voluminous amount of timely information updates and processing required in a large tertiary institution such as NYP, with 1,455 staff and seven schools off ering a wide range of courses in engineering, design, health sciences, and more, to some 16,000 students, spanning a 30-hectare campus,” Tan says.

“The seamless integration at both the data and process levels has seen tremendous gains in productivity and efficiency.”

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