Why is HR hiding from tech investment?

Could a lack of data skills keep HR teams from making technical investments?
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While HR experts know why they should have a technology strategy and what benefits can come from it, many still shy away from technical investments – at least until others have adopted it first. Ashleigh Webber reports

Technology is changing almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives: our homes are now “intelligent”, there are robots to help them perform operations, and the advent of 5G has allowed us to download data faster than ever.

As this happens around us, our human resources departments seem to be struggling to keep up with this digital revolution.

A current report Global law firm Ius Laboris claims that while HR departments understand the benefits of the technology, many still have no plans in this area. Almost two-thirds of the companies don't have a formal HR-Tech strategy, but 97% agree that technology will help transform the function and improve their understanding of how people work.

Acceptance is mixed even for larger companies with more resources to invest. Only 53% of companies with 5,000 or more employees have a formal HR tech strategy.

“Some say there is a lack of stakeholder buy-in. Others point to a lack of knowledge about how best to use it and uncertainty about the benefits it could offer. But what is even more worrying is that it creates entirely new problems that they need to consider and that they are not currently prepared for, ”the report said.

One of the biggest obstacles to the introduction of HR technologies is the increasing fear of cyber security – 67% of employers said this was a problem. A quarter were also concerned that technology could distort recruitment, despite the widespread belief that technology is completely impartial.

"HRDs clearly need to have better information, advice, and confidence in how they drive their technology-driven HR strategies," the report added.

Part of the problem is that HR professionals feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, explains Andrew Drake, director of customer development at Buck consulting and technology company.

"Many HR professionals will be implementing HR technology for the first time, so they don't have the experience to know what potential hurdles they can avoid or mitigate," he says. "The fear of the unknown can become a problem for those who are unsure about the process, especially if the current system is competent, which can convince them that the effort is not worth it."

Successful technical implementation also requires a significant amount of time and resources, which may deter some HR teams, suggests Claus Jepsen, deputy CTO of the enterprise software company Unit4.

“The idea of ​​overhauling older systems is a daunting task. Successful implementations take a lot of time and effort to get the right results, ”he says.

Drake adds: “There is a lot to consider – HR teams have a lot of responsibilities to implement when implementing a new platform, and it can take a long time to complete. It can be a high pressure task not only to choose the right platform and keep stakeholders up to date, but also to form a dedicated team to help implement the system. "

Fast followers against fast users

Ius Laboris' Word 2020 report shows that HR professionals prefer to follow the example of others in this area rather than being pioneers who adopt new technologies before anyone else. It is said to be a "fast trailer" makes more sense than to be a "first mover".

"The interruption during the implementation can have a negative effect without adequate preparation," warns Kobe Verdonck, Managing Director of the HR and payroll consultants SD Worx. "There is something to be said to wait and see what turns out to be best practice first."

"I think trust is another factor: some HR teams don't have the confidence to really push their agenda and arguments for change," added Claire Williams, CIPHR director of people and services.

For the first time, many HR professionals will be deploying technology in the human resources department and will not have the experience of knowing what potential hurdles they can avoid or mitigate their impact ”- Andrew Drake, Buck

“Associated with this is a lack of knowledge and know-how in the field of HR technology itself: While larger companies invest in specialists for HR systems, it is rare that they play this specific role in SMEs.

"The market for HR technologies is developing rapidly, so keeping up with the latest developments and understanding the impact they could have on your business can be difficult."

An organization that believes to set an example in this area is Unilever. The company launched its tailor-made total rewards system, developed by Endava, a few years ago and is making the technology available to other organizations.

"It's really useful if you can learn from others' experiences," Peter Newhouse, Unilever's global leader in rewards, told Personnel Today. "We tried to encourage other organizations to follow us on this path because if you are alone you have to work a lot from scratch and do not have much point of reference. Now that we have that, we really want to show other people , how it works. "

According to Newhouse, the project went well because Unilever knew exactly what it wanted from the system and what data was needed to make it useful. An older system has also been updated to include some basic build functionality.

The Unilever system offers employees a live explanation of their compensation package, which was created using data from various internal systems, and enables employees to provide feedback on their salaries and benefits.

“(Introducing the system) was a pretty rocky road because if you do something really new you have to be able to have the vision of why it is useful and then you have to have the persistence to continue it in difficult times to build up when things don't go as you expect because you can't follow someone else's example, ”he explains.

A skills gap?

Part of the HR department's lack of trust in the technology implementation is due to a lack of trust in their data literacy, Drake suggests.

"In general, they are not experts in data analysis, which makes it more difficult for them to know which tools or platforms are best suited to the specific needs of their company," he explains. “It doesn't help that different software providers usually have their own opinions about how the data should be used. This can be a confusing experience for HR personnel who have to decide which of the supplier's recommendations best suits them. "

HR technology currently used

Ius Laboris interviewed the survey participants about the technologies currently used by their HR functions and found:

  • 58% use means of communication
  • 53% use engagement surveys
  • 53% have online portals
  • 43% have automated payroll accounting
  • 38% have data analysis software
  • 33% use digital training solutions
  • 12% use robotics to automate processes
  • 12% have introduced portable devices
  • 10% have chatbots

Williams says that much of the conversation about introducing HR technologies has focused on the "theoretical" and why the introduction of new technologies is important, not the "nuts and bolts" of the introduction. For this reason, the HR department in this area appears to be untrained.

"This is because it is difficult and complex, and there are many ways to query data," she says. "You can just report what's going on. You can analyze it to identify trends and areas where you need to intervene. And you can use it to make predictions about what could happen in the future. Lots of HR Experts are stuck in the first phase – reporting. "

Williams offers one possible solution: Introduce a central human resource management system that pulls data from across the company as HR professionals develop their data interpretation skills and ability to spot data trends.

Supporting other departments in the implementation is also critical, as Drake says: “Securing the budget and internal expertise, such as: B. from internal data scientists, is difficult because no direct income is generated. Even if they get the budget, HR experts often find little IT support for the implementation of the platform, so they can find it out despite lack of experience. "

Get buy-in

According to Claus Jepsen, it is important to obtain an evidence base to convince managers and colleagues of the advantages that technology can bring. However, this is often a challenge.

"Looking at other companies in the industry that have successfully implemented and leveraged the benefits of innovative HR tech solutions is always a good start, but this information is not always available," he says.

HR networking events and seminars often highlight success stories, although these may not always be entirely impartial, and give HR teams the opportunity to ask their industry peers about challenges in how they achieved buy-in from the board.

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Evidence that technology will make people's jobs easier – especially for those who provide the funds – will also help generate a buy-in, suggests Alexander Carlton, Head of People Insight and Technology at Essex County Council. The Selenity ER-Tracker was introduced, a platform for case management to modernize the processes of the council. Previously, the human resources department had to rely on a Microsoft Access database.

He says: “The ER software focuses on our human resources policy and helps the team to adhere to the standards and timeframes that we set ourselves. All of our records, correspondence and emails are securely stored in the cloud in one place, so we can rest assured that in the event of a lawsuit, we will have to demonstrate compliance with our human resources policies. "

Any technology that is introduced needs to solve a particular problem or improve a process – while technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning sound glamorous, do they deliver the greatest value and most practical use? The Ius Laboris report notes that technology adoption is most valuable in recruiting processes (25% or organizations interviewed), followed by remote workforce management (17%), workplace productivity (16%), and that Performance management (16%). So HR teams might be thinking about how technology can complement these areas.

When you do something really new, you have to be able to have the vision of why it is useful, and then you have to have the persistence to continue building it in difficult times ”- Peter Newhouse, Unilever

As the report shows, HR departments need to innovate using models such as: Gartner's "hype cycle" To ensure that what you invest in delivers lasting value.

However, to maximize their chances of success, the human resources department needs to change their minds and think about how technology can bring benefits instead of developing a shiny new tool.

Newhouse says: “A lot depends on the mentality. Most people don't necessarily want to do things differently or don't really know how to do things differently, so you'll always get some resistance … Having a tool doesn't necessarily mean that everyone will do it or that it's worth it to have yourself. "

In the same way that it changes our personal lives, HR technology, when done correctly, will bring tremendous benefits to employees and organizations. However, there are many reasons for the human resources department to be careful.



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