It’s time for HR to refocus its digitalization efforts. The long-standing focus on automating functional processes needs to be redirected toward achieving business goals. The game-changing digitalization initiatives of tomorrow will enhance employee productivity and engagement and support the need for ever-higher levels of collaboration and innovation.

Two imperatives lurk behind this radical shift in focus:

Digitalization initiatives must be aligned with and support business objectives. Increasingly, company leaders are looking back at the technology-driven productivity gains of 20 years ago and wondering why they disappeared. In the United States and other developed economies, companies have experienced a decade of stagnation in labor productivity. Now, these leaders are focusing on workforce enablement as the reward of HR digitalization initiatives.

Digitalization initiatives must augment the performance of the workforce. Ironically, the proliferation of digital technologies and the massive amounts of information they generate have overwhelmed employees. Instead of enhancing productivity, in many cases digitalization has fragmented employees’ attention and focus and distracted them from the strategic priorities of their companies. Now, technology must enable employee performance.

This isn’t to say that the automation of HR’s hire-to-retire processes will drop off the agenda entirely. The job of streamlining and integrating functional solutions and systems is ongoing. But an “HR for HR’s sake” approach to digitalization won’t be the focus any longer. All digitalization initiatives should be viewed through the lens of enabling employees to achieve business objectives.

In the coming year, our research at Bersin will support employers as they rethink the focus of their digitalization initiatives and seek out the technologies and solution providers that can help them augment employee performance. This quest will entail three notable challenges:

Reframing HR’s technology strategy. A new focus for HR digitalization requires a new strategy. HR leaders need tech strategies capable of delivering an efficient, intuitive, digital employee experience. In many cases, this will mean reimagining how people work to take full advantage of advances in technological realms, such as robotic process automation, natural language processing, machine learning, and predictive analytics.

Leaders will have to consider not only the tools and technologies offered to employees but also how HR itself functions and operates. Digitalization offers the opportunity to reimagine HR and take an evolutionary leap to become tech-savvy, consultative professionals who work in concert with employees and business units in pursuit of strategic goals.

Rethinking service delivery. Refocusing HR’s digitalization efforts requires HR leaders to revisit how employees access critical services. The cloud has been touted as a delivery panacea, but for all its benefits, it also gives rise to new complexities. For instance, because most companies have multiple HR and cloud applications, they must be integrated with the other systems and service delivery platforms. Furthermore, because the subscription services delivered on the cloud are updated and can be pushed in a ready-or-not manner to users, they give rise to the need for proactive application management, continuous innovation adoption, and just-in-time workforce support.

The quest to innovate by adopting new applications and progressive service delivery models requires the development of new infrastructure strategies and implementation road maps. It also gives rise to a host of questions:

  • How will HR work best with its technology and service provider ecosystems?
  • Which services should be outsourced, and who owns, manages, and integrates the enabling technologies?
  • What should be delivered in shared service hubs and virtual centers of expertise versus one-on-one with managers or HR business partners?
  • And most important, how will these delivery models and systems be integrated to ensure a simple, seamless, and satisfying employee experience
    The answers to these questions will determine HR’s ability to truly enable employees to do their best work and ultimately to help businesses achieve their objectives.

Reshaping the workforce. Finally, a new focus for digitalization provides the opportunity to reshape the workforce itself. For instance, it enables the use of virtual teams, bringing together workers when and where needed, with external contributors and new cognitive assistants to bolster the existing workforce.

HR will have to share in the challenge of managing and motivating this augmented workforce. To effectively meet that challenge, HR leaders must provide the tools that employees need to work together — and the systems that their managers need to enable and assess employee productivity and nurture talented people. HR leaders also may need to alter policies and adapt existing programs to take advantage of innovations, such as mobile-enabled check-ins and AI-driven coaching, and other capabilities and apps that enable continuous feedback and communication with all workers, wherever they may be.

It’s an exciting time in HR. The proliferation of digital technology and its disruptive effects have created an opportunity to reconceive the role of HR. Those HR leaders who embrace this opportunity and successfully harness digital technologies will be instrumental in raising workforce productivity and creativity and in delivering a valuable competitive advantage to their companies.

This column is part of a Bersin series on 10 predictions for 2018. The other articles can be round on Bersin’s blog.

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