HRIS

Saba buys Halogen

News out today (23 Feb)  that Saba Software will acquire Halogen Software for $293 million. So what will the new “SAB-o-GEN” baby look like? What are the Common genes, the Unique genes, and who has the Dominant ones. If you are a current client should you be prepared for ‘baby sitting’ while the infant grows up? Time will tell.

sabogen

Has Technology Weakened HR?

Picture: 周小逸 Ian : Flickr
12 May 2016

This seems somewhat of an odd statement to make in todays technology obsessed world – surely HR technology has allowed People practitioners to greatly improve efficiency by reducing manual and paper-based activities, improving data access & reporting, reducing errors, helping employees make better decisions and ensuring compliance to policy and procedure.

This is of course true at a transaction level, but herein lies the problem. The way vendors have generally designed HR technology is not an accurate reflection of how professional HR and Talent managers think, nor does it signal an understanding of the complexities in Professional HR Management. In fact the slicing-up of HR into different software modules along ‘logic’ and ‘transaction’ lines of thinking has created and perpetuates the view that HR is simply a set of somewhat loosely interrelated basic transactions.

And surely that can’t be too difficult to get right! ah, yeah!  But yet time and time again we see HR functions under attack for poor performance and low value contribution. With these perceptions abound, no wonder there is doubt among some C-levels that HR is needed.

If only HR Management was so simple and logical. But it isn’t. There are a significant amount of people dimensions used by HR professionals which are not logically inclined or lend themselves to be developed into a ‘transaction’, let alone a software module. Think about important people management facets such as ‘Ethics’ , ‘Style’, ‘Diversity’ and ‘Values’ – these are key HR influences in achieving particular strategic business outcomes, and they are fundamentally intertwined into such things as learning, performance, development, communication and knowledge sharing. But they are ‘non-existing pieces’ in the HR software puzzle.

This is not a jibe at HR Software vendors. In fact some vendors clearly understand the impact of these gaps and are working hard to address them. Particularly those vendors who are focused on superior technical integration between modules.

They realize that while they have in many cases reduced HR to modular transactions to make it easy for end users, they also understand that the all-important ‘HR complexity value factor’ is partly resolved when effective and seamless integration across these modules occurs. The combination of modular interaction offers some support in achieving strategic HR objectives. Keep going vendors, there is lots more to do in this space!

HR Technology has inadvertently contributed to a weakening of professional HR outputs, but the finger should however point directly at the HR leader who has allowed the function to be reduced to a set of modules and transactions.

It’s an easy way out for poor performing HR leaders, and provides an opportunity to shift the blame onto technology. Professional HR management is not an easy job, in fact it is highly complex, with over 40 major elements or activities being continuously juggled to produce desired business outputs. Those that are successful also understand how HR technology should be used and positioned to enable people to achieve great things.

Do you have an opinion on this?

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: ARE HR PROFESSIONALS AT RISK?

Latest article published in InsideHR

would HR professionals be as enthusiastic about HR technologies if they contained Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability

Are we ready to be pushed down the proverbial pecking order of importance by sophisticated AI technology? asks Rob Scott

Very few HR and talent professionals would refute the value that technology has brought to their operations. HR functions have leveraged these tools to become efficient, effective, collaborative, engaging and more accurate. But would HR professionals be as enthusiastic about HR technologies if they contained Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability that could predict more accurately and make better business decisions than the highly educated, people-focused HR practitioner?

At what point does software that is able to pick the best applicant, predict who is most likely to resign or identify the best mentor for a talented employee, become a legitimate replacement for a highly paid HR practitioner?

Most HR professionals I engage with don’t believe this will transpire, citing the complexities of human behaviour, personal choice and the absence of universal logic in managing people in the workplace. In the short term I agree with them, but not for the same reasons they mention. In fact, when I look at how most HR functions rely on standard processes to manage certain events, I have no doubt that near-future HR technology will do a better job than humans in executing these rule-based processes. Our flawed minds can never achieve the same level of efficiency.

“AI in HR is maturing; we are seeing interesting algorithm designs, predictive analytics and automation solutions coming to market”

This is not to say that our current HR technologies are anywhere close to being artificially intelligent. Right now there is a lot of hype-spinning by software vendors about the predictive prowess of their tools, but in reality these are immature tools. We should, however, be under no illusion that sophisticated AI for HR is heading our way. As it becomes more credible and capable, it will displace employees who are focused on maintaining standardised HR processes and mundane transactional work. There is, however, a far deeper and fundamental reason why I believe AI will, in the short term, find a home as a digital assistant rather than as a replacement for HR professionals. It goes to the heart of a human emotion – fear. Having artificially intelligent machines making sophisticated and important people-based decisions feels threatening and generates a level of anxiety about our status as human beings. We are not ready to lose our “superiority” to machines, no matter how intelligent they become.

As an example, Microsoft recently released a small tool which guessed one’s age based on a picture you uploaded. The results were mostly wrong, however, the tool went viral. Why? The reasons lie in the notion that while the technology is inaccurate, we feel less threatened by it and are able to maintain our dignity and humanness.

This is a powerful lesson and opportunity for HR software developers. Building AI software that is too accurate and human-like is likely to be rejected or underutilised, not because its outcomes are incorrect, but because it pushes human beings down the proverbial pecking order of importance and insinuates that the work they are doing is demeaning and unnecessary.

“Building AI software that is too accurate and human-like is likely to be rejected or underutilised”

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that technology enhancements have been at the heart of mankind’s industrial revolutions and progress. New machines with capabilities that outshine human ability have typically been met with resistance from those affected, at least until new work opportunities borne from the new technology become evident. AI in HR is maturing; we are seeing interesting algorithm designs, predictive analytics and automation solutions coming to market, but future job clarity in a digital and AI age is still blurry. Until then, AI tools for HR will develop into great digital assistants under control of HR professionals. At least for now the role of the HR professional remains in demand. 

5 key takeways for HR 

  • AI is a growing phenomenon in HR. We are increasingly seeing the inclusion of decision algorithms, predictive analytics and automation tools in HR software.
  • Basic AI tools will have the ability to manage standard HR processes with little to no human intervention, ultimately displacing employees from these mundane roles.
  • Complex AI tools which can make human-like decisions are likely to be rejected in HR because of the implied threat to our status.
  • Whilst it seems far-fetched, HR professionals should start thinking about how to “manage” and integrate artificially intelligent machines in the work environment.
  • Digital HR assistants are already with us managing workflows, finding information and managing large amounts of data. We don’t need to fear AI.

Image source: iStock

Your future HR System will “Persuade” you

It isn’t a new idea that computers, mobile phones, websites and wearable technologies can be built in ways which influence your behaviour or causes you to think in a new way over time. While one could argue that this is akin to brainwashing, when used appropriately it can be very beneficial to end users as well as system owners. Just think how your smart-phone or Fitbit health band has altered your behaviour without you realizing it.

The idea of “persuasive computing” was first coined around 1990 by Standford University researcher Dr BJ Fogg. Much of his current work centres on teaching technology developers the psychology of behavioural change, and how to facilitate behaviour change via their technologies. Hello, isn’t this what HR people are supposed to be good at given that Psychology is the foundation of most HR professionals education? It begs the question as to why HR software vendors have not built their solutions with more “persuasive computing” thinking which could motivate end users to behave in a way that would benefit themself, HR and the organization.

Most HRIS vendors have developed visual dashboards, alerts and many use gamification techniques to encourage end users to do things, but in my view these are largely fear based design principles rather than motivational ones. These vendors are wedded to the “principle of standardization” ~ that a system process should be applied consistently to all users irrespective of their current habits, behaviours or motivation level. We need HR software that takes an individual’s current state as a base-line and uniquely “shapes” the HR software to suit that user. In the process of “shaping”, the end user is more likely to react in a particular way, do things suitable to their current state of behaviour & motivation level all while providing HR with a platform to influencing future behaviour of that individual.

BJ Fogg makes a great point that we cannot do complex things when our motivation level is low. Likewise we have windows of opportunity to do hard and complex things when our motivation level is high. SaaS HR tools in particular gather a lot of important Meta data that could quite easily be used to measure a users’ current state of motivation or other states of mind. When a users motivation is low for example, the HR system should “reshape” to encourage easy activities, while taking advantage of times when the end user has high motivation to get more difficult and perhaps more things done, while at the same time facilitating behaviour change so that these hard tasks become easy over time and can be done when motivation is at a lower level.

As HR people, our goal must be to think outside our rigid and standardisation boxes. To much of what HR achieves in our organizations are “feats of compliance” rather than value adding benefits. This is because we are standardisation-centric rather than employee centric. I would much rather a line manager do HR tasks that he or she is motivated to do, which add real business value and develop correct habits which facilitate personal growth in effective people management than forcing a person to comply to something because “HR says so!” – technology can help us achieve this.

There’s a greater role for HR software than simple process and transactional efficiency. For a tool that has so many components linked to people behaviour, we need vendors who understand persuasion and behaviour change though technology to come to the party.

Is your HR Technology adding value?

Most of the time, if you ask any HR leader to explain how HR technology is contributing to the achievement of business goals you get a somewhat perplexed expression, supported by an eloquent explanation which suggests it’s being conveniently ignored because it’s too difficult or not practical. Alternatively they reference the vendors marketing rhetoric which promise share-price improvements that would get Warren Buffett excited!

But HR is changing

It’s moving out of the administrative and transactional mould that has defined it for decades, and whilst the transition is often very slow and painful to watch, there are many organisations whose executives are maturing in their understanding of the unique value that HR functions can offer, and their direct contribution to business goals and strategy achievement. HR professionals can’t hide behind the mystique of psychology anymore; they need to show direct linkage from what they do and the outcomes it creates, including the role of HR Technology.

HR leaders are far more business savvy too, they will rattle off their business goals, they are succinct in articulating the meaning of value for their organisations, they understand cost, growth, quality and risk drivers, and they are familiar with industry and global issues, opportunities and constraints.  So what’s the problem – why are so many HR leaders resistant to show how the performance of HR Technology has or could advance the business objectives and strategies?

Addressing the problem

Some of the answer to this question may lie in previous bad experiences with “template” measurement frameworks such as the Balanced Scorecard. These tools are often introduced as off-the-shelf “best practice” which generally lead to disappointing outcomes. It’s the one reason that I loathe HRM software vendors pushing a “best practice” mantra. HR leaders wrongly believe the hard work related to measuring their HR Tech value contribution has been done for them. It can never be true – your objectives, environment and how you want to achieve your business outcomes using HR Technology are absolutely unique. You need to do the hard, detailed work yourself.

Another reason is simply lack of know-how and practice. Most HR professionals have a social science background which engenders greater qualitative rather than quantitative focus. That’s not an excuse of course, learning how to build a causal-effect model which shows where HR Technology is leveraged, is not difficult~ it just takes some practice and adherence to some basic principles such as:

  • Making sure your selected measures are strategic and aligned to company goals
  • Not making assumptions about the cause-effect relationships. You need to test it and prove its validity
  • Setting realistic targets, not everything needs to be 100%
  • Having clear ownership of the measure. Someone who is passionate about achieving a business outcome, and is constantly tweaking the framework
  • Being practical – don’t overcook the requirements or the data needed
  • Telling your story. Contextualize the results and explain what it means in business terms

By way of a simplified graphical example, I recently had the opportunity to help a client think through a cause-effect model for “Innovation” – one of their strategic business objectives. The HR director wanted to explain how their HR technology was directly contributing and supporting this objective. When we finished the model, it became very easy to explain how this would be achieved. A key learning for the client was to link the HR Technology to “drivers” rather than the performance areas.

I’ll point out again that proving the “cause-effect” (performance areas in graphic below) is critical to establishing credibility. For example, my client had to validate that “Empathy for client’s needs” really did cause “Enthusiasm & Engagement” in their environment. Once that was established the drivers for performance were identified and agreed, and HR was able to determine which HR Technology was required and how it would be used to deliver measurable outcomes.

exampleOf course there is a lot more work and involvement from other business functions behind this simple graphic, but hopefully it’s apparent that with some careful thought and focus, the real value of HR Technology can be measured and explained. Your next business case for HR Technology funding should be much easier to achieve if you have this in place!

THERE’S MORE TO SAAS THAN SIMPLICITY

written for and originally published in Inside HR magazine (Feb 2015)

Despite the simplicity and effectiveness of new SaaS tools, maximum value will only be realised by making fundamental changes to key areas in business, writes Rob Scott

You could be forgiven for thinking the relative simplicity and user-friendliness of modern HR SaaS solutions need less business transformation effort to embed them effectively into a HR and business environment. The oft vendor pitch of having a newly acquired SaaS HR solution “up and running” in a very short timeframe is very appealing to buyers, particularly if they’ve had prior ERP project experiences encompassing flashbacks of complex and error-prone planning, designing, testing and cut-overs etched into their long-term memory.

However, the lure of a swift, pain-free and cost-effective implementation can mask the very real need for a transformed business environment that supports the new SaaS HR solution. The HR SaaS value and business benefits won’t be achieved by simply switching on the software – this is insufficient and must be augmented by making fundamental changes in at least six key areas. The honeycomb below portrays the facets of effective HR SaaS value creation, and as you can see, there is more than “simplicity” at play.

What’s different about HR SaaS?
I am often asked whether HR SaaS solutions are the same as older on-premise solutions, but “just in the cloud”. While functionality is often similar, the principles behind SaaS design, delivery and value creation are fundamentally different and will require a different approach and focus to on-premise projects. As you read the honeycomb elements (see graphic) the obvious “cloud dilemma” is the disparity between the time to implement the SaaS solution (usually four to 12 weeks) and the time required to transform the business. The latter takes much longer and requires careful and advanced planning.

SaaS value

Ownership: On-premise HR solutions are generally owned by the IT function because of the inherent technical complexity and association to hardware; however, HR leaders are becoming the primary SaaS buyer and must therefore take primary accountability for the solution. For many HR lea
ders this will be foreign, but the ownership change is a key driver of value creation.

Skill: HR functions must build system administration (configuration), data management, project management, analytic, social media, mobile and gamification insights in order to appreciate, manage and leverage the capabilities of modern HR SaaS systems. These are not complex skills to learn and should ultimately become standard knowledge areas for all HR staff.

Behaviour: Modern HR SaaS solutions are designed around regular interaction and collaboration with other employees. These are not transactionally dominated systems, but rather tools that remind, inform, connect, advise, analyse, predict, gather, share and enable people’s effectiveness in unique ways. Interventions will be required to activate these new behaviours.

Relations: HR must actively co-ordinate relationships between the CIO, IT function, marketing, finance, the vendor (who owns and houses the software) and external support services. These relations are both strategic and operational in nature and dependent on the new HR skills noted earlier.

Practices: Gone are the days when you apply updates to your HR system annually. SaaS solutions are automatically updated three to four times a year, meaning HR will be accountable to lead a review (with support from IT and others) of new functionality and determine if and how it will be used. SaaS solutions offer “choice”, and HR must think beyond the concepts of standardisation as a best practice.

Leadership: Executives and senior managers dictate organisational maturity. Without the right level of maturity in place, HR is often fighting an uphill battle of acceptance, which will result in SaaS tools being sidelined and unlikely to return business value.

SaaS tools are in many ways a saviour for HR. The simplicity of these new solutions is offering organisations great opportunities to rethink people engagement and value generation using modern technologies. HR must step up and embrace this with understanding and commitment.

HR SaaS: what you need to know

  • SaaS HR software solutions are fundamentally different from earlier on-premise solutions and require new business transformation initiatives to get maximum value.
  • SaaS HR solutions are much simpler to set up and use, however, this simplicity and ease of use should not cloud the important business environment changes required to support these tools.
  • Taking ownership and accountability for the HR systems is no longer technically biased, it has moved to a functional level predominantly, which must be led and co-ordinated by HR.
  • The IT function remains important for technology strategy, integration, standards, security and quality control of all systems, but HR must be accountable.

Is WFM becoming the new HR?

For many years HR practitioners have been fighting among themselves and with their executive management about the value and importance of HR, Talent management and HR technology. It’s often been an ugly and public battle of personal believes and experience rather than factual and evidence based findings. What’s more, HR people have very strong opinions about being the people behavioural experts and find it very displeasing when they are challenged in this area of how to best manage people in an organization.

Coupled with this is the lack of a clear relationship between HR and company profits and value. Certainly most of the operations people I have met, don’t fully understand the value link that HR purports to have, and often are following processes which HR drives (e.g. Performance management, Goal setting and Career planning) from a compliance perspective rather than a clear business value perspective. While I have no doubt that professional HR has got lots of value to offer, in the most, these departments are too keen to adopt the ‘next flavour of the month’, implement someone else’s ‘best practice’ and expect line managers to love their technology solutions that mostly make the HR’s departments life easier, but are often seen as extra work for the operations and line managers.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s not all doom and gloom…..someone has been listening and doing something about it.

Unfortunately it’s not the general HR fraternity, but rather Operations managers and WFM vendors. After years of experiencing the effects of HR’s ongoing battle with itself, Ops managers have decided to ‘just get on with it’ and are enhancing and using WFM people solutions that are linked directly to the P&L account, have the ability to show exactly where money is being spent, can use real-time data to enhance business decisions and in the process, engage with their employees and optimize productivity – just what the executives ordered!. And as business leaders continue to drive out unnecessary cost and increase productivity, the business cases behind these new WFM tools is simple. Quite often they can easily save an organisation a minimum of 1-2% on annual employee costs and can generate a return on investment (ROI) in months.

All this is quietly happening while HR continues to argue among themselves and promise their organisations that {insert your favourite HR fad here} will change the world.

In some cases HR has ownership of WFM tools, but mostly they are not the primary owners, but rather have a secondary role ensuring the accuracy of data flows between HR, Payroll and the WFM solutions. Many in HR may be thinking the core of a WFM solution is nothing different from the Time management functionality in their HR system which provides scheduling and rostering capability. While there are many similarities between HR and WFM solutions, over the last 5 years the complexity around awards and labour agreement interpretation, as well as the need to plan and optimize people, assets, geo-location, customer needs and competitive business strategies, has seen the explosion of specialist functionality in WFM tools that would not easily be replicated in HR solutions, especially newer SaaS based HR software.

And while HR is demanding to be the source of truth for all things people, but never quite getting the alignment with day-to-day business practices right, WFM vendors saw the gap to add functionality into their software that has traditionally been the domain of HR and Talent systems. It’s now pretty common to see WFM software solutions with Employee self-service (ESS) capability, Mobility, Leave & absence management, Competency & skills management, Employee costing & budgeting management, Planned versus actual task management (goal setting) and even Engagement capability which support team or individual recognition (often using gamification), shift swapping based on personal needs and survey capability to highlight how staff are feeling about their assigned rosters and work assignments.

What WFM solutions are achieving in the people management space is nothing short of amazing – HR is envious! The reason it’s so successful is the seamless integration with operations management activities. And it doesn’t stop there. Modern WFM tools are branching out and building links and capability to Planned-maintenance, Sales & forecasting, Contingent labour management and Financial management solutions.

In many respects WFM is winning the people effectiveness battle at the operations level. Some WFM vendors are not stopping their advancement into HR’s space either with a number of HR and Payroll acquisitions by WFM vendors taking place recently. Perhaps it is WFM that will become the new HR, at least at the operating and tactical level, leaving the strategic people activities to the current HR functions. Watch this space.

Thanks to Shane Granger @gmggranger for promting the idea over the week-end

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