If you don’t know who Denis Barnard is, then you should… Why? Denis has been helping organisations think more strategically about their approach to human resources for many years.

Denis is the co-founder of the company HRMeansBusiness Ltd, set up with the specific aim of using the wealth of understanding from a number of HR experts to help businesses improve and grow their human resource infrastructures. In addition to this, Denis also operates www.hrcomparison.com, a website dedicated to helping HR professionals identify and connect with HR and Software products and providers.

We are fortunate to speak with Denis ahead of the HR Software Masterclass he will be running in March, to discuss all things human resource and get a bit of a retrospective on how the industry has changed over time.

You established HRmeansbusiness Ltd back in 2000 as a means of bringing HR expertise to the marketplace. How have you seen the role of the HR department change over the past decade?

It’s pretty apparent that the spotlight has fallen more and more on HR over this period.

Primarily, this has been to establish whether or not the function is of value, in the light of major organisational cutbacks, but also it has resulted in a drive to identify what it should be doing.

Slowly but surely Boards are beginning to understand why they actually have a HR department – and realising that rather than being a “bad news bringer and bad manager backstop” HR has a key part to play in enabling management and workforce to perform better.

The perception has also arisen of HR moving from administrative to more strategic roles; this in itself will prove a major change for the profession, as strategic skills are not learned overnight.

Latterly in 2009, you established HRComparison.com to provide HR professionals with a good unbiased overview of HRMS products on the market. How do you think HR software has changed over the past 5 years?

Major changes have occurred in these software applications over this period; obviously RTI and Auto Enrolment forced developmental changes in payroll software, but there have been game-changing advances in configurability, deployment options and cost models too. All of these have been driven by demand, and have led to other benefits such as shorter roll out times. Organisations no longer want long consultancy times and long contractual lock-ins.

There must be a broader range of propositions out there now – does this prove more challenging for those looking to implement a HR System?

There certainly is a wide range of options for the potential purchaser, and an increasing number of overseas vendors are attempting to enter the market. My analogy for this type of situation is the motor car; they all have four wheels and doors, but the choice of vehicle rests on the uses that the driver puts it to. HR & payroll software is broadly generic, but the same applies – some will configure to an individual organisations requirements, and others not.

All of this is set against a background of establishing value from each vendor proposition, but the key challenge in this is to set out knowing what you want; failure to do that in the past has caused most of the problems that I have encountered in my consultancy work..

What would you say to those HR Professionals out there that know there would be a whole heap of benefits in implementing HR software, but feel overwhelmed by taking on board a project of such magnitude?

Have no fear!

Selection of software is like any other task: establish why you need it, analyse what you actually need and then go to the market place knowing what you want.
Implementing software requires a project manager and is not an area for the uninitiated.

If you are uncertain or lack expertise, seek professional advice, as you would do in any other situation in life; it can save you time, money and heartache.
The good news is that if you successfully complete the project, the skills and knowledge you gain will set you up for the next time, and are very valuable assets.

What are the most common concerns you hear when talking to our industry’s professionals?

Some of the concerns I hear have been around for a while: the function is marginalised and has little influence, that there should be a seat at the Board table for HR, and that there is too much administration and fire-fighting to be truly strategic. A newer concern is that of HR being downsized or outsourced

It could be that we as HR practitioners need to take stock of what the role should be, and what it is trying to achieve; certainly it is time to get to grips and take advantage of all the technological aids now available in software to position the function more effectively.

What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by our industry in 2015?

The major upcoming challenges will centre around ensuring that our organisation, its management and employees are trained and/or equipped with the best available knowledge and tools to work more effectively.

The world is competitive – and increasingly so every month and year. Talent needs to be identified, acquired and then developed continuously, and the only way to achieve this is to have better quality managers and better technology.

For HR to propose such a programme as a strategic target needs Board buy-in, and that relationship and those conversations will be the major challenge for this year and the next few years.

And finally, how do you think HR Software will evolve over the next five years?

The pace of evolution has picked up significantly in the past few years, and I think refinement of these changes will be the order of the day.

The user interfaces will continue to become more mainstream for face acceptability, and offer a range of personalising options, perhaps even to the extent of being the home page of choice in an organisation if one can navigate from there to other sites.

There will be more automatic functions within the database such as auto-archiving, and pages will automatically open for processing tasks. This and increased operating speeds will drastically cut down processing times. Processing – and its associated administration – will be further reduced by even wider scale usage of self service than we currently see.

Features like Reporting, Workflow and Triggered Actions will be easier to configure for non-technically minded users, especially as they become available to a wider circle.

The software itself will be actually deployable and configurable by HR professionals themselves in some cases, as simplified roll out continues to evolve. Software as a commodity will actually become smaller in scale and therefore less costly.

And finally – Big Data. It is very much a buzzword at the moment; being what it is, a miscellaneous aggregation of structured and unstructured data, it may be of limited value to the HR professional in a medium-sized company. Some of this data will also have data protection issues, so let’s see if this is still a talking point in 5 years’ time!

Denis Barnard will be the guest speaker at the free HR Software Masterclass,which will be held on 24th March, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Tottenham Court Road, London.

So if you are thinking about implementing a new HR system and you would like to hear more from Denis on how to go about procuring a system – including recognising your needs, identifying software functions and features and putting a business case together – simply register for the event by filling out the attached form.