The HR sector talked tech and its revolutionising effect over breakfast. “HR needs to own these discussions,” says Mercer’s Dr Ben Haste. Here’s why.
Technology is shaping the human resources agenda like never before. While other global workforce trends are challenging HR to modernise, it is technology that is enabling – and demanding – a radical transformation in the way HR is delivered.
“Technology is at the heart of new ways of working,” Dr Ben Haste, Principal at Mercer told the audience at Mercer’s September HR Transformation Briefing in Melbourne. “The future of HR should be prominent in any discussions about technology and HRIS [HR information systems] implementations – HR needs to own these discussions.”
Six standout tech trends
Haste outlined six technology trends that are transforming HR. First, social media is now a critical part of brand building and reputation, highlighted by the rise of GlassDoor and Vault. Second, gamification is increasingly popular for recruitment and learning, to engage digital natives and to match a person’s skills with the right role.
The rise of mobile devices as the primary platform for employees and candidates, big data for workforce analytics, cloud-based services and crowd-sourced information where everyone adds to the knowledge base are four more major technology trends. These developments are having a big impact on the HRIS landscape, Haste said.
Many organisations are moving to a cloud-based subscription model, such as Workday, SAP or Oracle. This allows easier access for all users – not just HR – as well as embedded analytics and mobile to support data-driven decisions.
“This will have profound impacts on the user experience and, indeed, who the users of these systems are,” Haste said, noting that it’s a big shift from the traditional approach of licensing on-premise HRIS systems and applications that are highly customised to the organisation’s user environment and accessed mostly by HR.
On a show of hands from the audience, Haste estimated 5 per cent to 10 per cent had an on-premise HRIS; 5 per cent to 10 per cent had a fully deployed cloud-based subscription service; and 25 per cent intended to move to a cloud service.
Challenges of change
One attendee commented that he struggled to get approval for HR technology investment to keep abreast of developments, let alone get ahead of the curve. Another said she had an amazing HRIS but her company had very little interest in the data it could collect. A third audience member said HR must line up with the business strategy: “If their needs are quite simple, you don’t need the latest and greatest.”
Haste concluded by focusing on what all this means for the future of the HR operating model. Technology, he said, reinforces the “business partner model”, where HR has roles as adviser, administrator and consultant.
“While there is nothing wrong with the concept of the business partner model, the challenge is often with the implementation,” he said. “The key question, though, is what’s next? And what does HR need to do to prepare itself?”
These days, a leading practice HR operating model combines five elements: the leadership team providing HR strategy and execution to the business; HR business partners who focus on ensuring strategic alignment with the business; HR centres of excellence (CoE) that focus on global/enterprise level program design; an HR service centre to deliver operational excellence; and a technology-enabled approach.
In the future, HR CoEs will have an increasingly global focus on robust programs, stronger governance and global adoption, Haste said. Local CoEs will become obsolete because of automation and stronger service centre capabilities. Local business partner and CoE roles will merge, while CoEs for workforce analytics, strategy, governance and inclusion will become more prominent.
HR business partner roles will also change, Haste said, becoming a lynchpin advisory and implementation role across all areas. This will require capability building for key skills such as strategic partnering, telling a story with data and change management – not just a change in title.
Organisations will “buy” external talent when needed and rotate high-potential line talent into the role as a career growth opportunity.
One audience member commented that he had yet to see a team with no tension between the HR business partner and the CoE. Another said he felt this was healthy tension around change management. A third questioned the capacity of line managers to step up and work effectively in a business partner role.
Another major change, Haste said, will see HR service centres shrink as organisations question the cost of large tier-1 contact centres to handle basic HR questions. Self-service and automation, such as online chat using artificial intelligence, will reduce the tier-1 role, allowing these employees to upskill and combine with tier-2 to handle more complex cases.
“These changes are challenging,” said Haste, “but it has never been a more exciting time to be in the HR profession.”