technology

5 STEPS TO BOOSTING DIGITAL HR LITERACY & TRANSFORMATION

Upskilling and introducing new competencies into HR will help ensure digital transformation initiatives succeed, writes Rob Scott

Original article published by Inside HR Magazine (Feb 2016)

Given a digital workplace is undeniably the future we are rapidly heading towards, the skills any future employee will need to be effective and remain market-competitive is an important consideration for HR and talent managers. HR functions have had first-hand experience of resistance from executives to hand over strategic accountability, mainly because their business skills and acumen have been lacking.

The HR function is not immune to the disruption of modern technology; in fact, the advent of Cloud and SaaS technologies in the HR space is ahead of many other business functions. It’s an advantage that HR leaders should capitalise on to secure the relevance of the function in a digitally minded work environment.

Being digitally literate for HR is a prerequisite for the next wave of business transformation. So what are the competencies, knowledge areas and behaviours required to ensure HR professionals can deliver optimised future service? I have identified five focus areas, each of which houses a number of different subsets.
Digital HR literacy

1. Computer and platform literacy
This competency area is often mistaken as the equivalent of digital literacy. Rather, this skill set is a predecessor of digital and includes understanding how desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets work. This includes how these systems are best consumed and how they connect, and managing software applications. For many, these are skills associated with IT specialists. These skills are no longer an IT domain but have become general business skills which form a fundamental base to foster digital innovation and creativity.

2. Data design and ethics
These two components may seem like distant cousins, but how and what data we collect and derive is both a powerful business opportunity as well as one that borders on intrusion, invasion of privacy and manipulation. This skill set involves an understanding of other disciplines such as marketing and finance, as well as how things such as graphics, video, Internet of Things (IoT) feeds and other non-transactional data are integrated and designed to produce evidence-based outcomes.

3. Analytics
Analytic skills are closely aligned with data design and ethics. It’s far more than producing quality outputs, which is increasingly becoming a science in itself, and has a strong emphasis on ensuring the right information is being analysed and interpreted to inform business- and people-related decisions. Just as HR faced rebuke by becoming pseudo psychologists with off-the-shelf psychometric assessments, this skill set is embedded in formal data-science education.

4. Social intelligence
Social tools are ubiquitous and increasingly straddle our private and work lives. Understanding how search, content and social media work together requires technical understanding such as SEO as well as strategic alignment and tactical execution skills. Creating, observing and responding activities are reliant on a creative mindset, communication, writing and PR skills.

5. Innovative mindset
SaaS solutions as well as hardware are continuously being updated and improved, to the extent that new features are being “dropped” by the vendors every few months. Ignoring new features and capabilities for extended time periods is not a good strategy; rather, HR should embrace an agile and continuous improvement approach to its operating model. Skills relevant to support innovation include novel, critical & adaptive thinking, problem solving and design concepts.

Most seasoned HR professionals won’t fall into the “digital native” category, meaning that many of these concepts will be foreign and confronting. However, upskilling and introducing new competencies into the HR function will ensure digital transformation initiatives are executed with insight and purpose.

The scope of digital HR literacy

  • The next wave of business transformation will develop around the creation of a digital work ecosystem.
  • Being digitally literate is not the same as being computer literate. It’s about understanding the creation, consumption, management, manipulation and interpretation of information across multiple platforms to achieve business goals.
  • HR should capitalise on their lead in Cloud and SaaS technology deployments to further develop their digital skill sets and influence.
  • Some digital literacy skills – such as being computer literate – are general competencies; others such as data analysis are specialist skills supported by formal qualifications.
  • Digital skills should be spread across many HR roles, rather than thinking they are inherent in a single individual.

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

HOW INTELLIGENT IS YOUR HR SYSTEM?

There are three key elements in determining how intelligent your HR system is
Original article written for Inside HR Magazine April 2015

The analytic functionality of modern HR software is meaningless without the right interest, creativity and skill of HR leaders.

You wouldn’t be wrong if the first words that sprung to mind as you read the title were “analytics” or “big data”, as they represent two of the three main components that drive HR system intelligence. Big data is really just a term that represents the massive amounts of information we create and collect in a myriad of digital systems such as email, collaboration tools, HR transactional, talent and payroll systems as well as our online social media activity using tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others.

Nobody really knows exactly how much data we collectively create. Whatever the volume or source, it’s really irrelevant, save to say that every individual in the workplace is creating a significant amount of data on a daily basis that could be extremely useful and valuable in the delivery of business- and people-related goals.

The data, however, is largely meaningless unless we firstly recognise what it is, know what value it will offer our organisations, and are able to apply analytical robustness in a creative and strategic manner to the raw data. Many will be familiar with the movie Moneyball, which highlights the power of using data and analytics to make business decisions regarding sportsmen. It’s now pretty common for top sports teams to measure a specific series of data points for each of their team members. They do this to ensure they invest in the right players from a hiring perspective, through to performance optimisation, risk (injury) management and termination.

system intelligence

This brings me to the third component which drives HR system intelligence – the human factor. While modern HR systems can be set up to provide historic, trending and predictive answers in a quick and consistent way, it takes people to ask the right questions, apply rigorous and causal measurement standards and to interpret the results correctly. System intelligence is far more than a set of logical technology sequences with a sexy user interface; it is a reflection of how the human aspect is applied to data interrogation.

What Moneyball also underscores is the need for absolute focus, commitment and trust in the analysed data. The real-life success of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, which the movie is based around, would not have happened if the right person, who loved and understood the data, was not part of the equation. This is important for HR functional and technology leaders to understand – HR analytics is not an activity you can simply add into your HR generalist’s job description. It’s a contributing factor to why HR departments have not been overly successful with their foray into the world of data analytics.

It’s good to see many HR system vendors actively embracing analytics directly in their HR software. Some provide fairly basic historic and trend analysis through online graphical reporting. Others are providing instant or embedded analytics that display results in a dashboard or by simply hovering your mouse pointer over an icon. More recently, we’re seeing diverse data and complex analysis engines being integrated into HR systems. These offer statistically valid predictions related to employee risk such as likelihood of resignation, best career move and ways to improve engagement.

The provision of complex analytic functionality by HR vendors is important; however, the HR system will not appear intelligent without the right human interest, creativity and skill. As tough as this may sound, your HR system’s perceived intelligence is a reflection of your HR leaderships’ views of data and analytics rather than the system-specific functionality. As we edge towards a completely digital work environment, HR leaders must address their role in future decision making through data intelligence.

HR system intelligence & HR implications

  • HR system intelligence relates primarily to its capacity to collect, analyse and represent data in a predictive manner such that it contributes to business and people decision making.
  • Just as sports teams have realised the value of people analytics in winning, HR must accept that there is significant business value to be gained by properly analysing HR and related data.
  • HR vendors will provide standard analytics in their solutions. These are useful, but should not be confused with the analytics that are unique to your business and HR drivers.
  • Data analytics is a specialist role that requires specific skill, a passion for finding answers in complex data and the ability to convey strategic messages from the results.
  • There is a direct correlation between your HR system intelligence and the level of interest in data and analytics from your HR leadership.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.

Your Future HR System is an Open Data Platform

technologyLet me start this blog off by drawing a comparison between Banking and the Travel Industry. Think about how you interact with your Bank digitally. You can do general banking at an ATM, on-line or through a smart phone app, you may use applets which help you calculate loan repayments or the future value of your deposits. But that’s where it generally ends. Try applying for a Mortgage and suddenly you’re confronted will loads of paper, duplication of information, signatures in black ink, proving your credit worthiness, physically going into the bank, multiple approval layers and reviews and possibly a lengthy waiting period until you have an answer.

Now think about the travel industry ~ your ability to build a personalized flight itinerary, buy insurance, book a hotel and car, check what others think about your choices, selectively introduce influencing factors such as price, time and loyalty points, get progress alerts and much more ~ all done without much fuss and no people interaction. You can choose which website or apps to use rather than being confined to the actual service provider and even use your smart phone as the mechanism to store and scan your electronic boarding pass. The only time you engage with a person is at the security check and boarding gate. This is a mature digitized industry, and arguably a higher risk one than Banking.

If we compare current main-stream HR/Talent software (including SaaS) to these two industries, most would agree that they are more like the Bank scenario. On the positive side vendors are including functions such as ESS, Social Recruiting and On-line Learning which are empowering users and streamlining processes, but there are some fundamental changes required for HR to achieve equivalent digital maturity, implied efficiency, fantastic end-user experience with choice as that of the travel industry.

Here are some of the key elements that would need to change.

1.       Modernize the Database Layer

The relational database management system (RDBMS) has been the cornerstone of transactional processing and reporting in HR systems for over 25 years. The need for this type of structured storage remains, but as we see new data types such as graphic, recognition, video, voice, gesture and style (eg. what I click on) being generated for work purposes, the RDBMS is not the optimal solution. There is a requirement to introduce non-SQL type databases which are able to leverage and manage the data inherent in these new data types. Non-SQL databases would allow HR to move beyond a fairly rigid and logical-based limitation (think workflow) and introduce personalized services, offerings and actions based on your unique data and interactions.

2.       Standardization to Individualization

Much of the constraint in HR efficiency is inherent in the need to control and dictate a process that supports the HR software rather than focusing on the outcome. We have spent years telling managers that standardization is critical, but in reality we limit the availability of choice in HR processes because of software constraints and by implication to make HR’s life more manageable. HR vendors needs to move past this hurdle and allow users to achieve the same outcome, but through an individualized approach. The underlying data remains the same, but the “How” becomes a choice. (Think about your choices when booking an airline ticket).

3.       A Dynamic Data Hub rather than the Source of Truth

We are seeing some HR solutions starting to venture down this path with interfaces or search capability to LinkedIn, Facebook and other 3rd party tools. The type of data that will be important to HR in the future will be generated outside of the core HR system by individual employees, contingent workers and applicants. We need HR solutions that can integrate to potentially thousands of external and individual databases to share information. The future Workforce will ultimately give employers the right to use their data whilst they are employed and will expect data generated during employment to be shared back to the originating database. The notion of the HR system being the source of truth for people data is outdated and is constraining innovation and creativity.

4.       The HR System becomes a Platform

Removing the need to use the vendors HR software or front-end in order to access data or perform actions will allow for greater integration and ownership by line managers and employees. Much of the frustration experienced by line managers is the need to go into “another” tool to execute an HR activity or get information to support a decision. In a similar way that Expedia.com piggy-backs off the data and system of the individual airlines, hotels and car renters, HR systems should allow for direct transactions through other tools (this is not the same as interfacing). A platform approach will allow for greater flexibility and agility at the company and individual level, and will give rise to continuous improvements in other systems (finance, procurement, workforce planning etc.) to use HR data to achieve a common end result. As an example, think of how a project manager could use his project planning tool to provide performance feedback rather than going into the HR tool itself or the scheduling manager at a consultancy could “pre-approve” leave for employees “on the Bench” from his WFM software.

 

Many of the new HR cloud and SaaS software products are fantastic solutions, but fundamentally they have not changed for over 25 years. I implemented my first networked HR system in 1987, and while we had no smartphone apps, high speed internet or fancy front-ends, most of the modules we have today, existed in those older system.

We are stuck in a logic and transactional mind-set and as we witness the emergence of powerful new data types,   it’s time to break these shackles and build software that will allow HR to surge ahead. If a high risk industry such as Travel can achieve this, there is no reason that HR can’t do the same.

The Clash of the (Social) Titans is Near

2012 ushered in a new era for HR software solutions. It will be a year that we saw some really big deals going down as the big boys of the ERP world manoeuvred themselves into  strategic positions within the cloud ecosystem. The writing was on the wall and vendors that didn’t have a cloud based solution and strategy (or at least claim they had one) were likely to  face some difficult times financially and competitively over the next three years.

With the advent of HR cloud based tool, we also saw the introduction of social and gamifcation layers being added directly into these new products. Not just as optional extra’s, but often forming the epi-centre of the product driver. Particularly in areas such as Performance Management, where communication and discussion needs between employee and manager were ripe for something new to spur what was typically a dismal failure in most organisations.

As society was settling down to the acceptance of social media as a legitimate means of sharing knowledge, ideas generation and general chin-wags in the work environment, the HR vendors saw the gap to add this functionality into their solutions to drive out better HR and Talent management. And the good thing is it works ~ you have to be prepared to adapt your work environment, leadership styles and accept that the control that was prevalent in hierarchical organisations may not work in a social environment, but if you get that right, there is a lot of good stuff that HR can do. That’s not the problem!

Who owns the social layer?

While the HR vendors were thinking about how to leverage social layers within their products, the Enterprise social guru’s were making strong headway into major organisations. Tools like Yammer have moved many organisations into a new ‘Knowledge Management” and information sharing era – building stronger communities and starting to see good paybacks on tacit knowledge lying wasted around in their staff’s grey matter.This is good too!

So what happens when Mr HR Director goes ahead and purchases a subscription to a new cloud based HR solution that also uses a proprietary social layer tool?  The reality is that many of these tools rely on the end-user using the solutions social layer, not a third party tool. OK, well having more than one social tool is not a big deal, I hear you say, we have more than one in our private lives like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, so things should work out.

This is where I think the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan and it’s going to get worse. If I look at the emergence of other cloud tools in the Finance, Rostering & Scheduling, Procurement and other business areas~ many of these tools are integrating proprietary social layers into their products just like the HR vendors, and they all have an expectation that you need to use the SM layer.

If I’m a user of the Finance tool and use its social layer, I might find that I’m having to repeat my knowledge post, great idea, message of recognition or piece of gossip on the HR tool – that’s of course if I remember to do that when I next use the HR tool. Not to mention the owners of the Enterprise Social layer who will be putting pressure on all employees to share and discuss on the corporate system. Then of course there is the confusion of whether I said something via email or on a social layer, or was it perhaps a text message.

Who will win the battle?

Maybe someone will come up with a clever technology layer that can plug into all these new emerging social tools embedded within discreet products to help manage the data flow and curb the likely confusion and risks. Until then I can see a number of battles taking place, with someone loosing and someone winning. The looser unfortunately may also see value disappear  from their beloved cloud solution. What we should acknowledge is that custodianship of the social tools is not an HR right!

I think we will be seeing a bit of fur flying in 2013 – a good thing in my view. Its the only way we will see the need for something new to help us manage our changing work places.

Let me know your views.

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