The digital transformation of human resources will not reach its potential if it occurs in isolation from other functional areas. Information from finance, marketing, sales and even statistics on the way laborers perform their jobs is increasingly being integrated into a vast data soup, according to Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for Sierra-Cedar. She recently shared with EBN her thoughts on this trend and how it will affect HR. Edited excerpts follow.

Stacey Harris
Stacey Harris

EBN: It seems like technology is integrating corporate functions as never before. How do you see HR, finance, marketing and other units working together?

Stacey Harris: First, HR processes and their outreach are becoming much broader. So, for example, if I’m a recruiter, I’m not just waiting for someone to put a resume into my system; I’m going out to the web, I’m searching, I’m socially tracking organizations and people. Meanwhile, organizations are looking for customers and at their customers. But there can be overlap; some customers might -- down the road -- be our job candidates.

Eventually we’re going to see the finance applications and the marketing applications reach out to these multiple levels of audiences for talent just as much as the HR applications are. And blockchain technologies create the ability to bypass the middleman. That allows, for example, useful marketing information to be embedded in vendor and supplier payment transactions that go directly between the parties without a bank acting as the intermediary. Once these systems develop, we’re going to be able to “speak” directly to vendors and suppliers, and our marketing departments might interact directly with other businesses. And that’s going to open up the dynamics just like we’ve seen in HR.

EBN: But let’s look at what’s going on internally at companies. You have referred to employees as the “consumers of HR services.” I wonder how many HR leaders think of themselves as service providers in that sense, almost like being a table-server.

Harris: I put myself through college being a waitress, so I know that a waitress can do a lot more for a restaurant business than many people realize. I think it’s the same thing with the HR services. Employees can feed schedules and performance into HR systems and, in turn, the HR systems can share data throughout the organization. But if you want employees to give you their data and use your tools, you need to give them a reason to use the technology. And that has to be something that’s as valued to them as it is to you.

EBN: So, you’re talking about more than just keeping the interface simple and easy to use?

Harris: Yes, because just having a good user experience means that they’ll go in and do whatever they need to do to get their job done. But in the world that we’re in, we’re desperately trying to get as much information as possible. Consider the process of managing a supply chain, where you want an employee to go in and track the vendors they’re working with, and then ensure that those vendors are paid on a timely basis and are updated on what you, as the purchaser, are doing. Normally that doesn’t have a lot to do with your HR systems.

But it might be that an employee knows a lot more about that vendor and its background experience because of the work that they’re doing. And the employee’s knowledge and experience with that vendor could be very valuable during the negotiation process. You want that employee to include those insights either in their employee profile or someplace within your organization. Otherwise, when you go to do your negotiations, you have no idea that that information is available inside your company.

EBN: So, how do you motivate employees to go the extra mile and provide that kind of useful information?

Harris: Personalization has a lot to do with it. Giving employees the information, tools and environments that are valuable to them, personalized to what, when and where they need it. And the more information they give you, the more in turn you can personalize the data you can give them. It’s like a virtuous circle.

EBN: So, as you see it, data is at the center of everything.

Harris: Yes, the big race right now is no longer about who has the most skilled workers, or who has the best innovation, or who has the faster computers. The biggest race right now is who has the most data. That’s why you’re seeing organizations like Oracle, SAP and Workday vying for the spot to be the organization that has the most data. These systems will allow you to get down to a granular level and gain insight not just about your employees, but your industries, your environment, your customers and clients.

EBN: That’s a big assertion. Data trumps talent?

Harris: Basically, it’s a different way of understanding of the value of your employees. Their basic job skills are always going to be important, but the information that they’re providing is also important. So, the skill that is becoming increasingly important is the capacity to follow the data and understand the connections between different categories of information and know what’s useful, and how.

EBN: Does this apply across all categories of jobs?

Harris: What I’m seeing is that this is a priority for all kinds of jobs. Think about a manufacturing environment. It used to take 1,000 people to do what 100 or 150 people can do now because of robotics and automated processes. But those 150 who are working on that floor today are expected to have a better understanding of multiple lines and the multiple technologies that are running on those lines than any of the 1,000 employees would have needed in previous years. And it’s not just about the knowledge; it’s also about what they’re sharing back with the system -- what’s broken, what’s not broken, what’s working, what’s not working, what’s happening in that environment.

EBN: How does that link to an HR system?

Harris: That feedback is part of an operations system, but then the HR technology -- your performance management system or learning systems, or maybe it’s your benefit system -- is tracking things like how often you were sick or how long you’ve been on leave, so it knows which solutions you’re actually working on. That will provide critical background, such as, has the employee been on that line long enough to give feedback that make sense.

And it’s providing information on performance. So, it understands. It’s capturing the skills you’re gaining as you’re maturing in the organization. It knows that now you may be able work on three lines instead of just one. And from a learning perspective, the system understands that in the next two weeks, you will have time to start working on this fourth line. And, with that information, the system will provide feedback to the organization that you’re going to need training.

EBN: That sounds rather futuristic.

Harris: Yes, it sounds a little science fiction-y, but this is what’s happening in many organizations already. Now they may be doing it by cobbling together a lot of different things, and it may not look that seamless when you look at it from the employees’ perspective, but that is what’s happening. And it will definitely happen more often in the future as these systems start to integrate their data more effectively. 

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