HR departments often suffer from underinvestment in technology, with the purchase of new systems prioritised to corporate functions where commercial payback is perceived as more immediately tangible. But times have changed.
That's according to David Hargrave, Director at Willis Towers Watson, who is urging HR to shift their mindsets from seeing technology as an opportunity to seeing it as a commercial imperative.
"HR must embrace change and meet the expectations of its modern workforce," he tells us. Failing to do so, especially among a younger cohort of workers who are acquainted with technology, has a negative impact on engagement and the company’s employee value proposition.
Hargrave outlines the key areas where HR can benefit from investing in software: “In compensation and reward, specialist software can be applied to many areas from program design and delivery to the user interface and communication.
“Medium-sized organisations, in particular, still rely heavily on HR business partners’ proficiency at number-crunching, but Excel spreadsheets could become an outdated, 20th century throwback within a couple of years.”
In addition, technology has streamlined the pay review cycle. Hargraves elaborates: “One of our multi-national clients with a quarter of a million global staff recently adopted a model to bring more visibility to employee compensation and market pricing at a global level, and to prevent duplication such as salary surveys being purchased from multiple vendors locally. The new centralised system enabled far quicker access to relevant market information and brought efficiency to modelling, budgeting and overall control of the pay review process.”
Another key area technology facilitates is employee segmentation, with today’s leading HR functions analysing vast volumes of data to subsequently ‘micro-segment’ the workforce by behaviour, values and attitudes rather than one-dimensional groupings.
Furthermore, although it sounds futuristic, artificial intelligence (AI) has a place in eradicating cumbersome admin. Research from Gartner suggests the first virtual career coaches could come onto the scene as early as next year. In the insurance sector, chatbots have already proved valuable and the legal sector is adopting AI to process and analyse data, to review documents and model case outcomes.
Hargraves urges HR professionals to embrace an attitude which views technology as enabling them to free their focus on valuable tasks – rather than seeing it as a hindrance or a development that’s removing the demand for human skill.
“The processes that are fundamental to efficiency and productivity are those likely to be handled by specialist software,” he explains. “This points to the clear need for employers to invest in training to help staff acquire the necessary skills to deal with the new technologies, and to address any knowledge gaps.”