Unleash Amsterdam 2018: Is HR tech ready for the future?

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Will HR tech help transform HR processes for the future workforce? Only if they are implemented in the right way, speakers at the Unleash World Conference and Expo suggested. Ashleigh Webber reports. 

According to Fosway Group’s HR Realities research, which was released at the Unleash World Conference and Expo in Amsterdam last week, a staggering 68% of HR professionals believe their current HR systems are not ready for the modern workforce. And if these systems are not fit for today, then how are they expected to serve the needs of tomorrow?

Yet, many organisations do not realise that much of the HR tech and services coming on to the market are not, in their current state, going to offer what is needed to get the best out of their staff and drive their business forward.

Artificial intelligence, chatbots and collaboration tools may all sound exciting to an organisation looking to embark on a digital transformation programme, but the effect they will have on their workforce and output will be limited unless such tools are used in the right way.

“This isn’t just a technology choice; we’re not just swapping one piece of technology for something else and nothing changes,” Phil Wainewright, co-founder at digital analyst outlet Diginomica, told delegates. “Actually, what it means is we completely transform how the enterprise operates. This is a transformation that is bigger than the advent of machinery or the industrial revolution.”

Think bigger

Agnes Jongkind, global vice president of HR at Deutsche Telekom, agreed: “If you talk to HR people about digital transformation, the answer you get a lot of the time is ‘we need an app’. But do we really need an app? We need to think bigger.”

Going paperless is widely considered one of the most important elements of a digital transformation, but Wainewright said this is not simply a case of transferring every paper-based process online.

“People talk a lot about robotic transformation, but we need to be careful that we don’t transform robotically the processes that grew up in the paper age – we have to be creative and transform digitally into new processes,” he said.

HR tech should be used to facilitate better communication, to remove silos and promote collaboration, he suggested. But those that have attempted a digital transformation might find their HR processes are no different than they were before if they have not properly considered their organisation’s future needs.

“People are still using the same old processes and are expecting that to support future agile organisations that need to move much faster and have flatter organisational structures,” David Perring, director of research at Fosway Group, told Personnel Today.

“We need to turn things on their head a little bit and look at how we can best serve the individual, rather than serving the organisation. It’s one of the things that the HR processes do not really do.

“It’s a bit more of a cultural shift; if you want to be more agile you need to think about accountability, you need to think about satisfaction in work, you need to think about autonomy.”

Rethink recruitment processes

One area Perring suggested needs to be rethought is recruitment. Current processes mainly look at candidates’ past achievements, rather than what they have the potential to achieve.

“You should be hiring fast learners or people who are more resilient to change, who will be inherently more agile,” he said.

“I think most of the talent acquisition processes do not uncover any of that information. [Organisations] only get a pinprick of information through a CV and none of the important information which they’d base their future organisation around, like does it really uncover your capabilities, your personality, your preferences, how you work in teams?

“[The industry] is working on technology to speed up the process, but the process itself is fundamentally flawed.”

Josh Bersin, HR analyst and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, estimated that there could be up to 4,000 core HR products on the market – an overwhelming choice for any HR professional looking to determine which technology will help them future-proof their processes. And the market is getting even bigger, with major tech players like LinkedIn, Microsoft and Google wanting to get into the HR space.

We have to do a bit of a reset and go back to understanding how we can have people adopting new ways of working so that they are effective in their jobs,” – Nico Orie, Coca-Cola European Partners

“You have to become a bit of an analyst of your own to become an HR tech buyer,” he suggested, particularly as many products offer tools that employers were not aware they needed a few years ago, such as social recognition and engagement tools.

HR’s future role

While Wainewright suggested that future workplaces will probably not need an HR department – just HR services – he said HR teams have a key role in making the capabilities and functions employees and the organisation need accessible.

Nico Orie, vice president of HR strategy and operations at Coca-Cola European Partners, said HR teams need to come up with a convincing business case for tech adoption. He said much of the developments over the last two decades have not offered much in terms of productivity, just improvements in user interface, so HR must carefully consider what is needed.

“We have to do a bit of a reset and go back to understanding how we can have people adopting new ways of working so that they are effective in their jobs,” he said.

“That requires a lot more resources and much more investment than the percentage we now have in our transformation budget… we should at least spend 15% on adoption.”

Total cost of ownership is also an important factor to consider, explained Invate-HR managing partner Niraj Varia, especially if only 50% of the workforce is using the tools. For this reason, collecting data on what is working and what employees are and are not using is needed to determine whether the organisation is moving in the right direction.

With so many products on the market, HR teams must carefully consider what will make their organisation more efficient and get the best out of their staff, otherwise they could invest significant amounts in technology that could have little use in the future.

Ashleigh Webber

About Ashleigh Webber

Ashleigh has been a business journalist since 2012. She covers HR, recruitment and employment issues, as well as occupational health and wellbeing.
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