HRIS: Revolutionising the “human factor” in technology
Achieving strategic goals has become paramount for the HR profession if it is to effectively evolve and survive. But how can a function traditionally concerned with people and not IT, work to effectively capitalise on developments in HR technology and raise its profile in business?
The business of people is what most in HR would claim as their key role. However, this definition of HR cannot remain if it is to develop as a profession. Looking at any aspect of today’s business environment, it is evident that the utilisation of technology to improve function and performance is viewed as a vital solution in moving forward and maintaining a competitive edge. But, behind every great technology there is in fact a human resource of some form. After all, in supporting the premise that an organisation’s most important asset is its people, John F. Kennedy himself once said, “Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.”
With the information age has well and truly set in, its impact on transforming certain business functions has become recognised. However, this poses questions of whether or not increased usage of technological systems is the solution to best practice management.
In terms of HR, the leveraging of certain HR technologies has become a key factor in increasing the impact of the ‘human factor’ in business. As such, the HR profession has been provided the option to enter into a new age and phase of its own development with the future success of the profession in overcoming the challenge to add strategic value now dependant on best practice implementation of systems and processes. Thus, in revolutionising the HR profession, what we are seeing is the unique merging of technological and HR skills and processes.
Along with continual technological advances, changes in workforce conditions and employee demands have seen HR departments come to a crossroads in terms of how they deliver their services. As with any choice, there is a high road and a low road to be taken. Those that continue down the paper-based road and away from online forms are almost certain to become an outsourced function.
The Trends of Transformation
As the trend toward Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) intensifies, the competitive advantage in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in delivering HR applications on a service basis is becoming more and more recognised. While the core benefits of ESS and HR systems have not changed, its potential to extend the capability of HR away from transactional processes to people, performance and culture-oriented processes has, and continues to open other avenues for development. Easier communication of benefits and the facilitation of employee self service and career needs have encouraged businesses to upgrade their current systems to focus on more strategic goals.
For instance, the recent Global HR transformation study from Mercer found that of the 1,400 organisations surveyed, changing demands on HR have created new challenges such as acquisition of key talent (43 per cent), driving cultural and behavioural change in the organisation (40 per cent) and building leadership capabilities (40 per cent).
Essentially, the changing demands of business and employees are seeing shifts in the way HR technology is being utilised to assist HR activities. Survey results from a Hewitt Associates report have shown that talent management is the area where HR can prove its impact on business performance. Over the next few years respondents have therefore claimed that emphasis on development and retention will prove vital for the profession. Increasing evidence to support the premise that organisations making better use of HR technology are reaping the rewards of their current investments and looking to expand their delivery options also currently exists.
The Watson Wyatt Changing Strategies in HR technology and Outsourcing – 2007 HR Technology Trends Survey, found that 20 per cent of companies plan to change their HR delivery structure in the coming year, signifying a major shift within the HR arena.
Other findings showed that employee engagement and information delivery were paramount as HR technologies continued to provide the bridge between employees and the information they require. Remuneration management is evolving and becoming more aligned with performance management and training. This growing complexity in remuneration and benefits and the need for effective decision-support tools has therefore seen employees taking a more active role in defining and managing their own package.
As technological progression enables further progression of HR capabilities, the number of organisations looking to place more of an emphasis on streamlining their HR systems and processes has more than tripled from 10 per cent in 2006 to 35 per cent in 2007. A Towers Perrin study proved this number is only set to increase over time as talent performance management systems have proved a priority for 30 per cent of organisations
It’s not what you use, it’s how you use it
In seeking to drive strategic performance, it is imperative that the modern HR department do not solely rely on technology as the answer to all their problems. The human factor is still a critical aspect behind ensuring best practice implementation of various and customised HR service domains in breeding business success.
But what exactly does ‘best practice’ mean? And, what is HR’s role in executing it?
When it comes to best practice implementation of any HRIS, provision of faster, cost efficient and centralised services and information are what allow for easier management of an organisation’s total workforce, allowing more time for strategic commitments.
In addition to this, Wayne Brockbank and David Ulrich from the University of Michigan Business School, have said best use of HR technology will become a key competency of HR professionals that will help the profession improve on other core competencies it requires. These include: strategic contribution; personal credibility; HR delivery; and business knowledge.
For HR professionals that take the time to familiarise themselves with the various uses of technology that have become embedded in all aspects of today’s business management environment, the opportunities to achieve such competencies are endless. In this case, knowledge most certainly proves power. Once HR is able to speak the language of technology and contribute accordingly, it can speak to other areas of business in a credible way. Effective implementation also allows for new, efficient and innovative ways of managing human capital while more attention can be paid to making strategic contributions.
Proof that organisations making better use of technology often have higher performing HR functions has always existed. In 2005, The Hackett Group found that “a significant cost gap existed between world-class and typical companies, with world-class companies spending 25 per cent less than their peers.” Meanwhile, high-performing organisations examined for this study, defined as companies ranking in the top 25 per cent in efficiency and effectiveness metrics, were also shown to operate with 16 per cent fewer HR staff. Efficient use of technology and self-service were claimed contributing factors in the ability of these organisations to reduce costs and the number of HR staff. However, sound understanding behind the technology and the ability to simplify systems through such skill and knowledge by HR leaders also proved vital in terms of successful implementation.
Essentially, HR leaders must become the brains behind the operation of implementing effective and simplified business processes.
From people person to techno guru
HR professionals, as part of their transformation will find the need to improve their knowledge and skills in HR technology if they are to deliver modern and innovative services and make a measurable impact on business results.
Configuration – the key
As there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to maximising the benefits of any HRIS, best practice implementation will mean something different to every organisation as they look to fulfil different requirements. Just as success constitutes many different factors, best practice is also not a term to be defined generally.
For instance, best practice implementation may involve the use of an “out of the box” system for some organisations, such as our own HRexpress, as they seek to align their business process to system functionality.
On the other hand, those organisations characterised by sophisticated and more mature HR processes, that represent a detailed history and can effectively articulate their requirements seek to align the system function to their business process. In such instances, HRpro proves the better option.
The ability to create an enterprise-wide program that effectively integrates both the financial and people needs of any business is today made possible through provision of customised and fit-for-purpose systems. It purely depends on what needs to be adapted – whether it be system functionality or business process.
While the article, stickies, spreadsheets and loads of paper in our August newsletter outlines the steps that can be taken to effectively determine your needs and requirements. The following steps should also be taken to ensure your organisation maximises the benefits derived from customisation, configuration and implementation through effective planning:
- Begin with setting up a plan with the project team. Consider how you will work together -a partnership approach is always best
- Conduct a full business analysis and set your business objectives.
- Create a detailed statement of work – this articulates precisely what needs to be done and how it can be executed
- Set up an education plan
- Plan for the implementation through detailed scoping
The revolution continues
Traditionally labelled “administrative support” and a “people cost centre”, continuous developments in HR technology have opened the realm of HR within business. Increased visibility of the HR function through the provision of data and tools to all non-HR professionals, managers and executives has allowed the profession to prove its value add in business, aiding its much needed transformation as a strategic business partner. This has also seen shifts in the responsibility for many HR tasks passed on to line management, effectively altering the way HR delivers its services.
Much like the evolutionary nature of technology and its systems, the transformation of HR will prove a continuous process. Moving into a more strategic role will develop into something else as service delivery technologies improve and new challenges arise within the workforce. The only thing that is certain is that as HR adapts to technology and vice versa, just what the future role of HR will be is something only time will tell.