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James Strickland


Founder & CTO

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Future of work: top technology skills for HR in 2021

Three key technologies that will benefit HR next year.

Businesses will spend much of 2021 re-grouping, with HR facing up to a future where remote work is the new normal. The skills needed to succeed in this environment are evolving too; HR is expected not just to be IT competent, but often lead the charge with purchasing and implementing new HR technology solutions. Of course, these solutions don’t work in isolation, and so 2021 will see HR working more closely with IT in order to optimise the integration of tools into existing systems infrastructure.

If HR can learn to adapt its requirements and workflows to these technologies, the future will be bright, and well connected

Add to this the expansion of HR’s remit to include the use of business intelligence (BI) tools for aggregating and reporting on disparate data sets, and it becomes clear that the people department is set to enter a new era of upskilling. With this in mind, here’s an overview of three key technologies that HR can benefit from in 2021.

Accessing the value of APIs

Jeff Bezos famously introduced the ‘API Mandate‘ at Amazon in 2002, dictating that all teams must interface with each other using APIs, even non-technical teams. It was a direction that would contribute massively to the growth and operational efficiency of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the broader Amazon business, but what are APIs and how can they be applied for the benefit of HR?

An application planning interface (API) can be thought of much like the menu in a restaurant. It lists the things on offer and lets you select what you want from that list. In reality, APIs are far more specific than a restaurant menu, and it is this specificity that allows us to extract the most relevant data at the point of need.

For HR teams, APIs enable access to information that would otherwise be cumbersome or even impossible to retrieve from within an application or product. Let’s put this into context: your HRIS system can produce a record of employee absence, but only for the last 12 months. You need to perform an historical analysis but you don’t have the data. With an API, HR can customise parameter ‘start’ and ‘end’ dates and pull the exact data that is required.

The key takeaway here is that HR must be cognisant of the value of APIs and know how to use them. The thought process should go as follows:

  • Does the system have an API? If so, where is the documentation located?
  • How do you use the API? (pay specific attention to how to authenticate with the service – you’ll need an API key that the vendor can provide).
  • Try it yourself! Most well-documented APIs allow you to use them directly from the website, or try an open-source tool like Postman.
  • Consider APIs when problem-solving – if you can’t do something from within the product, there’s a good chance the API will support it.

Becoming familiar with business intelligence

The average enterprise has 11 different HR technology solutions. That’s a huge number of different data points to track and manage. This is where business intelligence (BI) tools, already commonplace in sales, operations, and finance, can really help HR.  

BI tools can take much of the complexity out of HR reporting, as they bring together disparate sets of data from different systems and collate them to create comprehensive dashboards that inform more accurate and more detailed reporting. Think of them as a higher-level version of Microsoft Excel, only with automatic data population.

In HR, the use of BI tools is increasing in many areas. Let’s take the example of analysing the performance of new hires. Performance data is rarely stored or used in the same place as recruitment data (ATS), however by connecting both data sets to a BI system, HR can create one common set of data from which to perform a complete analysis. It’s also an easily repeatable and ‘refreshable’ process, and it’s set to become an essential skill for HR.

Integration platforms as an (HR solution)  

With remote workers less visible in a physical sense, it’s especially important for HR to have a complete picture of employees’ needs, wants, motivations and performance. For this reason, the ability to integrate disparate HR data will be even more business critical next year.

HR can sometimes get around this with ‘native integrations’ – essentially a hand-built ‘pipeline’ between two HR solutions. It’s an approach that can integrate ATS with HRIS, for example, but it’s not a feasible solution that can be scaled to connect multiple data systems.

To achieve this, HR teams will need to become skilled in using integration platforms as a service (iPaaS). Some common examples include Zapier, Boomi, and Workato – and in many cases, these are ‘no-code’ solutions that enable HR to focus its full attention on defining and collating the requisite data.

So what should HR be asking when attempting to solve these integration challenges?

  • Is there a native integration between X product and Y product? If so, that’s often the best choice. The larger and more popular the product, the more likely it is to have a native integration with a similar sized solution.
  • If no native integration exists, does the organisation’s iPaas support this? If so, it should be relatively simple to set up a new workflow on your iPaas and build the connection.
  • If your iPaas doesn’t natively support the product, check your API documentation. Often there will be a standard HTTP service in the iPaas that can retrieve and send information to any API.

Understanding the three topics discussed above will give HR an excellent head start in today’s cloud-remote-first world. APIs are the foundation, BI tools the driver of discovery and data insights, and integration platforms the connector that brings information together so that HR can analyse everything in one place.

If HR can learn to adapt its requirements and workflows to these technologies, the future will be bright, and well connected.

Interested in this topic? Read Why digital transformation is key to weathering a recession.

Author Profile Picture
James Strickland

Founder & CTO

Read more from James Strickland
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