Western European businesses spent €2.5 billion on HR software systems in 2014, so how can HR professionals learn to love the technology that supports them? In the first of a regular “HR Tech Talk” series, Cath Everett finds out.
Believe it or not, “tech” can be quite fun. Really.
It makes communication and sharing information, particularly with employees who may be halfway around the world, a veritable doddle. It can automate mundane tasks, provide you with data to support key people decisions and enable employees to work from almost anywhere.
Introducing HR Tech Talk
We will be exploring everything from trends and new developments to interviews with key personalities and case studies so you can catch a glimpse of what HR Tech looks like in action.
But please do not be put off. Many HR professionals see themselves as “people people” first, but technology can arm you with data, automate the mundane and help you focus on the strategic stuff.
After all, we use technology with impunity and vigour these days in our personal lives – whether it is being surgically attached to our smart phones or compulsively logging onto Facebook every evening.
So what is the difference at work? The principles, in many instances, are exactly the same.
However, too few HR professionals, in my view, see tech as an enabler. It should complement what you do already, not be something to be wary of.
Easy for me to say, I know. Especially when the jargon coming out of the IT world is nearly as bad as that coming out of HR, which does not necessarily aid mutual understanding (or any understanding for that matter).
Technology is something that HR needs to embrace, given current HR tech adoption rates.
According to consultancy Towers Watson, western European businesses spent a vast €2.5 billion on HR software systems last year, with the market showing a compound annual growth rate of 7%.
This figure is expected to stay stable for the next five years, too, so this growth in technology investment is no flash in the pan.
Mature areas show slower adoption rates at more like 2%, while the trend for replacement is fuelling growth in core human capital management systems, at around 6%.
Organisations are … looking for ‘softer’ HR applications that can provide more information to managers, support communications and help them in their search for talent” – Peter Cools
Peter Cools, head of HR technology for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Towers Watson, explains that some areas are growing even faster.
Learning and development, performance management and recruitment, for example, should show growth rates of more like 8% each.
Compensation and reward management are likely to fare even better, hitting the heady heights of 9%, while packages to do with analytics and social media should outflank them all at 10%.
Cools says: “Organisations are starting to build out from their core HR systems. Most have got the foundations in place now so they’re looking for ‘softer’ HR applications that can provide more information to managers, support communications and help them in their search for talent.”
Yet despite this growth, there are virtually no formal tech training paths for HR professionals who fancy finding out a bit more about the basics without getting bogged down in techie details – as can certainly be the case if you go down the vendor seminar route.
But one trend that could herald easier access and greater understanding is cloud computing, which enables you to access systems from a browser for a monthly fee.
Quick off the mark
Cools estimates that an average cloud deployment will take between 14 and 16 weeks, a mere drop in the ocean compared to the two to three years that used to be required to implement an on-site HR system.
It is still necessary to plan for these projects, particularly in terms of what data you want to migrate and how you want the systems to be configured.
So how can HR make the best of this trend to become a bit more tech-savvy? I asked a few experts.
Jonathon Hogg, people and operations expert at management consultancy PA Consulting, recommends volunteering to help out on cross-functional projects – although he acknowledges that it can be tricky getting that all-important experience under your belt.
If it does prove impossible though, he advises to “just try reading up and going to conferences to familiarise yourself with what’s happening so you can stay abreast of the trends as much as possible”, which sounds like sensible advice to me.
Another suggestion if you are feeling either brave or adventurous enough comes from Gary Miles, director of international operations at leadership specialist the Roffey Park Institute.
He proposes setting up some kind of peer coaching activity with members of the IT department – who hopefully might be flattered that you are asking for their help.
Find a mentor
In the case of tools such as social media, you could also approach younger members of staff, for whom IT tends to be part and parcel of life, to see if they would “reverse mentor” you in how to get the most out of it.
It’s important not to move away too much from a people-centred focus. Tech is a complementary thing, not the be-all-and-end-all” – Gary Miles
This is not just a great way to learn, but also a fabulous means of engaging them by showing that you value their knowledge and skills.
So, although it might feel daunting, it is definitely worth giving it a go as being able to master technology could well reap rewards.
And while not wishing to overplay it, a key reward could, in some cases, be about helping to transform HR from being a back-office support function to becoming a strategic corporate player with influence on the board.
As you begin to embrace the power of technology in HR, I offer a word of caution; tech will not prove any kind of panacea or the answer to all of our problems. Instead, it should really be seen as a means to an end.
It definitely has its downsides. For instance, the expectation that speed is paramount generated by email and instant messaging can lead to high levels of stress and dissatisfaction among staff. Some employees can even display addictive behaviour, which may affect their wellbeing in and outside work.
Moreover, as Miles points out: “The human touch is still a very important way to communicate and get your message across, and it’s important not to move away too much from a people-centred focus. Tech is a complementary thing, not the be all and end all.”
I could not have put it better myself.