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Transforming the HR function with technology


Technology within HR

Jason Kiely looks at the different stages of technology adoption within HR and provides advice to help HR departments understand how technology can make them more efficient, and as a result add real value to the business.

The issue of e-HR is high on the list of senior HR professionals for its potential to improve processes and help facilitate HR’s move towards a business partner role. However, in reality, the number of organisations using e-HR to its full advantage is actually very small.

One of the most significant changes for HR in recent years has been the availability of new technologies to enhance the HR function. HR is now spoilt for choice with solutions to improve processes such as recruitment, career planning, and appraisal management.

Implemented correctly, these solutions can have a huge impact on the HR department and on the organisation as a whole; e-HR can enable the HR function to move away from its traditionally admin-heavy role and push work out to employees and managers, effectively making many HR processes self-service.

“e-HR can enable the HR function to move away from its traditionally admin-heavy role and push work out to employees and managers, effectively making many HR processes self-service.”

This takes away much of the transactional activity, leaving HR with more time to spend on strategic processes, such as lowering absence rates and implementing talent management programmes. These activities can have a direct impact on the bottom line, and as a result enable and elevate HR towards a business partner role.

The importance of e-HR in improving the HR function has been outlined in a new book, ‘Technology, Outsourcing and Transforming HR’ by Graeme Martin, Martin Reddington and Heather Alexander. Findings in this book show that e-HR is high on the agenda for many senior HR professionals for its potential to improve processes and deliver strategic advantage, yet despite this, HR often lags well behind other departments in terms of technology adoption. Why? Because in many cases, HR lacks the internal knowledge and project delivery experience for major e-HR implementations, which makes the implementation of a new technology a daunting task. Furthermore, nightmare stories of failed implementations persist.

As a result, the HR community sometimes shies away from the technologies that could ultimately help them in many ways. As Martyn Sloman (CIPD Adviser, Learning, Training and Development) points out: “Technology and HR are not always the most comfortable of bed fellows.”

Although the ability of HR to adopt new technologies is perhaps uncertain, the necessity of implementing e-HR is very clear – e-HR will not be a choice in the future but will be critical for large companies in order to maintain their competitive advantage.

So where should the HR function start with the introduction of a new technology? Here are six essential steps which should be taken for successful e-HR implementation, regardless of what stage HR is at on its transformation journey.

1. Develop a roadmap and examine your resources
A clear roadmap is vital so you know exactly where your HR function is now, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. Your roadmap should consider the need for external support since HR does not always have the right skills sets for e-HR implementations. These skills include project management principles for following processes, timelines and budgeting, as well as training and communication skills (see below for details). HR also needs to have a wider view of the business and of what it wants to achieve. There also needs to be a 100% commitment within HR to making the project work, and if external help is not going to be brought in, there needs to be a willingness to learn and to adapt to a new role.

2. Examine which processes can be improved with e-HR
The next step is to look at processes across the organisation and consider how improvements and efficiencies can be made through using technology. For example, could technology improve the efficiency of your recruitment process or your benefits management? Once you have reviewed your processes, consider if you can use off-the-shelf technology or if you need bespoke technology. Don’t be tempted to implement technology just for the sake of it.

3. Develop the business case
The development of a concrete business case to engage the key stakeholders in the project is the next vital step. Who you need to engage depends on which processes are being looked at. To engage your stakeholders you must clearly communicate the benefits of the project. For example, if you are considering implementing e-recruitment, the benefits for the overall business might be reduced costs and improved perception of the company amongst potential recruits, and for managers it might be greater control over their department’s recruitment needs.

“Critical to the success of any e-HR project is gauging the level of change the project will have on the company.”

4. Set benchmarks
How is the project going to effect the HR organisation and the wider business? Within your business case you must establish benchmark metrics so you know if the implementation of e-HR has been effective. For example, if you are implementing online recruitment, benchmark comparisons will include time-to-hire and cost-per-hire improvements. If metrics aren’t set out in the business plan then you will have nothing to measure the success of the project by.

5. Look at the level of strategic skills within HR
If one of the key drivers behind the introduction of e-HR has been to enable the HR function to become more strategic, you need to determine if the right skills exist within your current HR function to enable this to happen. If the skills do not exist internally, you will need to recruit someone with the right strategic skills and experience to move HR into a business partner role. The cost implications of this can become a real consideration. Alternatively, the necessary training should be provided for someone internal who has the potential to fulfil this role.

6. Communicate the changes
Critical to the success of any e-HR project is gauging the level of change the project will have on the company. This is a topic which is looked at in-depth in the book, ‘Technology, Outsourcing and Transforming HR’. A common problem for HR solution delivery is that the implications for the business are not always accounted for. For example, when a new HR portal for an employee or manager is introduced, this can have a significant impact on the business, the way employees interact with HR, and the roles and responsibilities of managers. This is because if HR processes have been previously centralised and then become self-service, HR will have increased its presence in the business. The benefits of changing working habits must be communicated otherwise you risk creating a culture of resentment which can damage the reputation of HR.

With any new implementation, you must tell the business what you are doing, and ensure an understanding of roles and levels of engagement. The importance of constant communication cannot be underestimated in the success of a project. Training and ongoing education is also vital to ensure all stakeholders are up-to-speed with using the new system.

In summary, making the right technology decisions, creating a strong business case, ensuring successful implementation and excellent communication are all crucial for project success. If the above processes aren’t in place, the project risks failure. If this happens, it can create a backlash against HR and can damage its reputation.

However, if HR gets it right and if benefits are achieved and long-term value is added to the HR organisation and the organisation as a whole, it can go a long way in boosting HR’s image and propelling it towards a business partner role.

Jason Kiely is ERP capability head at Bluefin Solutions. For more information on HR and technology, please contact Bluefin Solutions on 0870 233 0404.

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