What’s ahead for HR technology?
The past year saw a number of HR technology innovations and significant product introductions — and 2018 promises to bring about even bigger changes.
“The whole field of HRIS is really exciting right now,” says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of consulting firm Leader Networks and a Columbia University faculty member. “There is so much change and innovation happening.”
Indeed, experts contend, innovations in artificial intelligence and analytics, along with development in cloud, social and mobile technologies, are making HR systems more intelligent and more engaging.
So what will smarter, friendlier HR systems do?
To begin with, they’ll provide more targeted support for employees by helping them gain access to the benefits and services they need. Employees with a new baby, for instance, would not only have their benefits packages updated automatically, but would also receive alerts and recommendations for store discounts, childcare facilities and other products and services geared toward helping them better manage their new family responsibilities.
Smarter HR systems also will deliver the type of workforce analytics that employers need to make better staffing decisions. The manager of a chain of convenience stores, for example, might want to schedule employees who have demonstrated a higher level of job performance for the late shift, because they can be counted on to close a store. The supervisor at a large hospital, on the other hand, might look to assign the facility’s most reliable employees — those who are more likely to show up for work on time — to care units that need to remain in compliance with their government-mandated staffing requirements.
But automatic updates and more efficient workforce scheduling are only two ways in which the latest digital advances will enhance human capital management. There are many others, including:
· Increased employee retention and more effective recruitment.
· Less biased performance management and KPIs.
· Improved knowledge sharing and employee collaboration.
· Greater workforce diversity and inclusion.
To illustrate this, DiMauro points to a new set of talent acquisition tools aimed at helping employers take advantage of underutilized labor pools by increasing the diversity of their workforce. These include applications to help improve outreach efforts to military veterans and people with disabilities, among other populations.
Offering another example, she cites an emerging category of applications designed to minimize gender, ethnic and other forms of bias, when it comes to performance reviews and considering employees for raises and promotions.
Building a smart system
What gives these new applications their power and joins them together, as part of an integrated HR information system (HRIS), is their ability to feed and draw from the same set of employee records. Building this smart HR system — and setting forth on the employer’s digital “journey,” of which it is a part — is likely to begin with the deployment of an employee-collaboration or knowledge-management platform that serves as the hub for all of the employer’s future HR tech endeavors.
The knowledge platform is linked through a single sign-on to the organization’s employee records database. HR staffers and other employees can organize the information into groups, which employees can join. A new hire might begin by logging into the “new employee orientation” group, which might auto-join the employee into a “benefits” group or a “training” group.
Over time, employees can continue to be auto-joined to different groups and auto-fed applicable content, as they experience different life events (such as a home purchase) or reach various milestones (such as a promotion) in their careers. Each of the groups might be built around a corresponding app — some of which might be designed for a mobile device.
Utilizing a hub and spoke model, different HR applications can be added to the system and tied into the employee database. In this way, employers are able to incrementally build out a 360-degree HRIS “wheel” that eventually includes performance reviews, employee engagement portals and talent acquisition tools that auto-reward employees for successful referrals.
The auto-classification and auto-taxonomy features embedded in the collaboration platform and corresponding apps, DiMauro explains, eliminate many of the purely rote administrative tasks that HR is saddled with today.
Meeting employee needs
Citing consumer research, the consultant notes that most customers — including most employees — want to self-serve. “Who wants to wait until morning, if you have a middle-of-the-night problem?” she asks. “When employees can readily find their own answers to less complex questions, that is a win-win for both the employee and the HR rep who would’ve had to handle the request.”
Behind all these innovations are a number of new technologies that will continue to gain steam in 2018. The most important of these is the cloud.
“From a technology standpoint, this is the biggest trend in HRIS,” says Lisa Rowan, vice president for HCM and talent management at market researcher International Data Corp.
Cloud-based HRIS solutions, which are hosted at remote facilities and maintained by the service provider, offer employers many advantages over traditional on-premise solutions that they had to maintain themselves. Chief among these are lower maintenance costs, faster transaction times, a more streamlined and easier-to-use interface, and software that is always up to date.
Keeping HRIS software current is important, if the employer wants to take advantage of other leading-edge technologies as they become available, including more graphically-oriented, intuitive applications for complex undertakings like a benefits enrollment. But it does require certain tradeoffs.
Traditionally, if an HRIS system didn’t support the precise way an HR organization handled a given task or function, custom software code would be written to adapt the system to the process. This was expensive and time-consuming, and forced companies to delay adopting new versions of the software, since every upgrade required complex rewrites of their customized code. Cloud-based systems eliminate these requirements and are much easier to deploy, but the HR department must adapt to the workflow prescribed by the system — and not the other way around.
As cloud-based systems become prevalent, says Rowan, “HR professionals will have to face the fact that they will have to do things a little differently to fit within the scope of a configurable, but not customizable, system.”
The cost efficiencies and operational advantages associated with a cloud-based system pave the way for other break-through HRIS technologies as well. Chief among them are:
· Social media, which offers employees new ways to share work and collaborate, and provides employers with new tools for disseminating their message and attracting job candidates.
· Mobile devices, which let employers tailor their outreach to select groups of employees, and allow employees to clock-in, enroll for benefits and handle many other tasks remotely, at a time and place of their choosing.
· Artificial intelligence, which is paving the way for new and different ways to respond to employee demands. Chat boxes, for instance, will soon replace human operators at HR call centers. Employees who phone or text in will still feel as though they are dealing with a person, but it will be a computer algorithm at the other end of the line.
· Data analytics, which give HR pros tools to gauge and influence employee behaviors, improve open enrollment outcomes and deepen employee engagement. But data analytics can also be utilized in a more strategic manner: By correlating workforce composition and activity with specific business outcomes, employers can systematically reshape their workforce to improve those outcomes.
“Analytics allow employers to identify useful trends by asking simple questions,” explains Bob DelPonte, general manager for the workforce ready group at Kronos, a provider of human capital management products and services. “For example, what’s the turnover rate for employees who live more than 20 miles away from work, compared with those who live less?”
The answer, he says, can inform the employer’s hiring and scheduling decisions. “Why risk losing a hard-to-replace employee because you’re forcing her to travel farther than she needs to, if you have the option of transferring her to a closer facility?”
Proceeding with caution
While technologies like artificial intelligence can be a boon to HR, they can also pose challenges. By increasing automation, AI will free HR staff from many repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on more strategic concerns. But analysts like Rowan are not demure about the fact that some HR staffers will also be replaced by the software.
“How does that play out?” she asks. “You have HR personnel today who are geared toward answering phone calls, and when there are fewer calls, they may no longer be needed. There’s no point to sugar-coating that reality. There are HR professionals that need to think about re-skilling themselves.”
DiMauro also offers a word of caution. “It’s important that HR executives don’t get drunk at the bar of tools. There are so many new applications,” she says, “that they need to keep their wits about them and determine what they really need. Look for the right tool to solve the problem. Don’t just collect and decorate because it’s all out there and available.”