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Why HR professionals need to adapt to new technology

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Technological revolution is transforming even the most human-centric of roles. Human resources are no exception, but if those working in the industry do not adapt and learn the skills necessary to work with new software and methodologies, the entire impact of the technological overhaul could be greatly undermined.

HR may be late to the party, considering the rise of Big Data in recent years. However, software innovators are increasingly exploring how novel technologies can be used to automate much of the manual work involved in human resources. Concurrently, organisations understand the costs of resourcing, and are constantly seeking new approaches for retaining employees, improving their experience, increasing their engagement, upskilling them and so maximising their considerable human capital investment.

Of course, as is true of anything, the tools are only as good as the individual leveraging them. Software can only go so far without the intervention of a human operator – and evidently, an operator trained to use the software will fare much better than one with no training.

The major challenge for businesses that wish to update their HR practices is ensuring that they’re not only adopting the best technologies for their organisations, but ensuring that they’re putting them in the hands of those best equipped to use them. Done right, companies will effectively develop their human resources departments into powerhouses capable of generating sophisticated and previously unobtainable insights into various facets of their operations.

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The revolution is here

HR technologies are being invested in, now more than ever, by a myriad of businesses. The 2019 HR Technology Market Report outlines some key findings on this front – investments into HR technology have increased by 29 per cent, resulting in the market for HR technologies growing by a noteworthy 10 per cent.

Also highlighted were new trends towards artificial intelligence, a shift away from engagement towards productivity in core systems, and the recognition of the role the gig workforce plays.

Artificial intelligence is far more than a buzzword designed to impress the board of directors when it comes to HR. Unilever offers a prime example of this – given that it recruits upwards of 30,000 individuals a year (filtering through close to 2 million applications), it should come as no surprise that a significant amount of capital and manpower must be devoted to sifting through applications to identify the best people for the job.

This changed dramatically with its AI-powered solution: partnering with Pymetrics, the business developed a platform that would test the candidate’s aptitude, and even process 30-minute interview videos, using natural language processing and body language analysis to assess their suitability for a given role. The outcome? An estimated 70,000 hours of interview/assessment time being saved.

Another major area for innovation is in HR analytics, relating to the aforementioned focus on productivity. This involves the development of methodologies which can reveal insights into how investment in human capital assets contributes to the overall success of a business. Typically, this is done by applying tried-and-tested statistical approaches to human resources, financial and operational data.

Tech solutions need data skills to fly

The promise of all this new technology will no doubt sound highly appealing to the Chief Human Resource Officers. However, selecting the right vendor is not something that should be rushed into without significant consideration.

First and foremost, an organisation must establish its real needs (as opposed to being seduced by particular software that may not actually be the best fit). Generally speaking, if executives are unsure as to what their needs are, practitioner-led solutions – that is, those built by innovators with real HR experience – are the superior choice.

From there, it’s key that an organisation upskills its employees accordingly. Recent research into people analytics from the CIPD reveals that only half of all companies believe their HR team to have demonstrable numerical/statistical skills, and only 40 per cent believe that their HR departments can tackle business challenges through the use of analytics.

Businesses upgrading their HR technologies must understand the importance of data science – they should actively seek out the intellectually curious, who can experiment with and manipulate data to spit out insights to benefit the organisation. With inter-departmental collaboration, HR practitioners can input into and inform company-wide strategic thinking.

A good deal of data analysis that HR practitioners are likely to undertake will be about productivity, attraction, engagement and retention of people:- all part of reward. But the models that still dominate organisations - fixed structures, hierarchies and pay ranges - don’t necessarily suit the approach that the ‘digital workforce’ of the future will need.

Given the fast rise of the gig economy and all manner of deconstructed workforces, organisations that are not able to consolidate and investigate all employee data - that of full and part time employees as well as contingent workers - on a detailed,  individual level, will need to resolve this data gap, particularly in the case of international companies that have to show consistency in rewards across territories and functions.

HR practices informed by data will change business models

Upskilling will not only serve to maximise the effectiveness of the new technology: encouraging data science as a core skill effectively raises employees up from people managers to business strategists. Future HR professionals will be advising organisations on everything from pay ratio adjustments and cost-effective locations to borderless workforces. They will be able to take otherwise wasted data, and transform it into valuable business intel.

This sort of change may appear drastic on the surface, and a long way into the future. But this could not be further from the truth: tech skills are attainable for anyone wanting to transform their career. Granted, the half-life of a tech skill is thought to be just two years, which means that personal development in this manner must be an ongoing effort.

It’s likely that we’ll see greater emphasis on applicable skills over years of experience going forward. While such changes will undoubtedly affect the entirety of organisations, HR departments that remain ahead of the curve have an unparalleled opportunity to transform themselves into data-driven, skill-based teams that will lead the company charge.

Ken Charman, CEO, uFlexReward

Ken Charman is CEO of uFlexReward (, a real-time, enterprise Total Reward Systems that originated in Unilever, where Ken led the build and implementation of the platform from the ground up.