Can HR Technology save HR Departments

 [ Rob Scott writes:]

Will technology be the saviour of the HR profession? Human Capital management remains constrained by its own shackles, and seems to be struggling to move into its new transformed state of being a real strategic player in the organisation. Research shows that there is a definite move by most large organisation to transform Human resources management, but I still see much of this “wave” spinning off the back of technology change.

One of the reasons for this transformation via technology is the fact that HR is still largely administrative in nature, and until HR departments take real ownership of technology and streamline how the technology is used, many organisations will simply not allow HR to play a different and more strategic role in the organisation.

One of the issues I have grappled with in HR software, is it’s continued level of complexity. We still need resources in  HR departments to “Help Line Manage” the software. This is a crazy situation ~ and on top of it all HR often points towards the level of competence of the line manager and his lack of desire to manage people effectively as the reason for not using HR technology tools. I think we need to rethink the source of the problem.

The fact that we still need to put line managers through HR technology training tells an important story. Why have we not progressed to a point that using HR software is so intuitive that you merely have to know its there to use and using it is as simple as following on-line prompts. Using the organisational HR system should be like going to an ATM to draw money or using your on-line banking system ~ you never went on a training course to use those tools! ~ no wonder line manager and employees get frustrated with HR technology.

OK, so I hear you all shouting that ESS and MSS does make using the software easy, and I concede that this is partly true in theory. My personal experience with some very large organisations is that the tools are still underutilised and often do not support visibility of what is happening during transactions, which creates confusion and delays. Also when the transaction does happen, then core data is wrong eg. the Org structure is incorrect or a cost centre is old etc. In the end the line manager reverts back to someone in the HR department to help him sort out the problem. In short I still think the general experience for line managers is not pleasant. Another reason to doubt the effectiveness of ESS & MSS is that not too many HR departments have downsized (by 15-20%)with the introduction of these tools.

If the basic HR administrative systems are still too complicated then I suspect the more “strategic” HR components that are using HR technology eg. Talent management, Recruitment, Performance Management, Development planning etc. are facing an even bigger challenge.

So what is the answer? ~ Firstly we need to rethink HR’s approach to what is logical, and radically redefine processes so that it will make following an HR process (through technology) child’s play (I like Steve Job’s view on technology ” If a 5 year old can’t use it, its too complicated”).

Secondly I think HR vendors need a mind-shift. The development focus of HR tools is still strongly focused on collecting employee or applicant data and using it in a linear fashion. Getting the data is important, but I would like to see vendors spending far more effort in making their tools intuitive, calculating ,self learning and predictive. We need software that can provide more definite answers to a user and can take out the guessing work.

Thirdly we need a lot more HR folk that don’t think in a traditional fashion about HR or HR technology. This is why we are seeing many organisations hiring non-HR trained people into HR departments ~ it is  to challenge the conventional thinking, which HR itself has not been good at. These new-age HR resources need to take on the task of putting technology on the top of the HR agenda, ensuring it is fully intertwined into how HR operates.

Future HR is not the “cry on my shoulder” department any longer, and that is a big jump for many traditionalist. Their role is to provide services to the organisation that will make it more competitive through its people resources. HR technology is the catalyst for HR to get out of the administrative trap and move into a value adding role – but the HR mind-set must change!


  1. I agree with Rob, particularly about applying information technology to for a more predictive view. For example, with statistical analytics organizations can improve employee retention by applying traits of those employees who have quit on to the existing workforce for a rank-list of which employees are next most likely to resign. This power exists today. I write a blog on this topic and enterprise performance management accessible by googling gary cokins.

  2. The problem with HR software is complexity, big vendors design their software as a place where everything is possible, but in real situations you need just small portion of functionality.

    I saw similar approach in the project management software with all of these MS Projects and other software with millions of features. This is great if you want to build the skyscraper, but in most situation you will be fine with much simpler system with few features that let you get work done.

    I hope that there will emerge much more smaller specialized software for HR which will be useful for specialized purpose.

  3. I think David is correct. The days of large, overly complicated HR software suites is coming to an end. Most companies don’t need all of the bells and whistles and all of the costs that go along with that. They just need a piece of functionality.

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