Technological advances have repeatedly reshaped the business world since the dawn of the internet, and the human resources field hasn't been immune to such change. Digital payroll solutions, applicant tracking systems, job websites, benefits management systems, and human resource information systems have all revolutionized the way HR gets things done.
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Even prior to the internet, HR technology developers were at the forefront of innovation. HR software existed on legacy systems as early as the 1970s, according to "HR Technology Disruptions for 2018: Productivity, Design, and Intelligence Reign," a new report from Bersin by Deloitte, the research arm of Deloitte. It should come as no surprise, then, that HR continues to be a leader in innovative tech today, as signaled by the report's findings that 45 percent of large companies and 51 percent of mid-sized companies are increasing their spending on HR technology.
But how will companies be spending this money? Let's take a look at three factors driving HR tech innovation today:
1. Addressing the Challenges of Past Advancements
While the biggest change in HR tech over the last decade was the move to cloud delivery and employee self-service, Christa Manning, head of research at Bersin, believes the next big changes will be "in two key areas that thankfully should address the challenges that the former shifts created: the addition of experience platforms and the advancements in artificial or augmented intelligence technologies."
For the past few years, HR departments have been trading in their process automation portfolios for more integrated platforms in order to provide employees with a more consistent user experience. However, the transition has not been without its speed bumps for many organizations.
"Most companies cannot replace everything, and constant industry mergers and acquisitions can impact a company's ability to control all of its applications," Manning says.
As a result, Manning says, companies are beginning to invest in "experience platforms which can overlay these portfolios as well as connect with their HR service delivery operations."
"In this way, [companies] can now have a more consistent experience, as well as embedded communications capabilities that let them respond to employees' questions around policies, programs, and even how the technologies themselves should be working," Manning explains.
Other technological advancements will allow HR professionals to spend less time on tedious day-to-day tasks and more time on the bigger picture. For example, many companies are incorporating artificial intelligence (A.I.) into the digital portals through which employees access self-service apps.
"Employees can type in their questions for an HR representative, for example, but [the questions] could actually be [answered by] a chatbot ... searching a knowledge repository to make relevant information more accessible to workers," Manning says.
2. Turning Overwhelmed Employees Into Productive Employees
As millennials and Gen. Z enter the workforce, they're demanding better work/life balance, more employee engagement, and more flexible work arrangements. New HR technologies aim to provide all of these things and more.
"Employees have been indicating they need more meaningful work and support methods for a long time," Manning says. "They are disengaged and not feeling productive, doing administrative tasks, always hunting and pecking to adapt to new interfaces, applications, and floods of information."
Bersin refers to this condition as the "overwhelmed employee."
"On top of this reality, employees have a reduced tolerance for tools and technology that do not facilitate getting day-to-day work done," Manning adds.
Manning believes this lower tolerance will be key to driving HR systems to become more relevant to the business and more embedded in the workflows of core business systems. Aggregating various systems in a single portal is one way many organizations have tried to facilitate this transformation.
"[Companies] are getting rid of having to go to a separate HR system [to complete separate tasks]," Manning says. "Companies can now meet the workforce where they are ... to eliminate wasted time."
But this is about more than convenience, Manning says. Eliminating mundane administrative tasks and streamlining technologies is a way for employers to "create the space for meaningful work on the job" and help employees reclaim time in their personal lives.
"Simply put, if employers show that they care about their workers and support their real productivity — not just administrative busy work or compliance work — workers will care about their jobs and actually be productive, which to my mind is the essence of employee engagement," Manning says.
3. Empowering Team Players
For some time now, companies have been realizing that smaller, collaborative, self-directed, narrowly focused teams are the best way to get work done and complete critical projects. Even as the workforce grows more distributed, advances in communication and organization are making it easier than ever for such small teams to form and operate.
"As the virtualization of work has happened, the structures and systems around working in a team and supporting teams [have become] crucial," Manning says. "IT has made teams more visible and measurable with the advent of some newer technologies, like organization network analysis — being able to track where communication flows between people and where managers and HR may need to step in to better facilitate that person-to-person connection and the sharing of information."
While organizational network analysis may not yield entirely new team structures, it does allow companies to focus on their priority of enabling "the modern digital workplace with new collaboration tools" and other advances, Manning says.
"This enables teams to succeed on a grander, more virtual scale, as well as to sustain that success in an always-on digital world," she adds.
Managers will still be critical to team success, of course. As Manning says, "someone does have to really make some of the hard decisions that will move companies in a strategic direction."
New technologies to facilitate and empower teams will not do away with managers. On the contrary, such tools will allow HR departments and other leaders to identify where and how work is done at the team level. HR and leadership can then work on establishing and supporting those conditions and infrastructures as needed throughout the organization.
"In this way, the traditional hierarchical leaders and decisions-makers will have better insights to support workers, make better decisions based on that data, and support HR and people investments that contribute to sustained success," Manning says.