A New Wave of Innovation in HR

Henri Vanroelen, CIO, SD Worx

How has technology influenced the HR function over the years?

Technology has dramatically transformed the HR function in the last decade. Earlier, it was mainframes that ruled the roost with Citrix proving to be the best bet for client-server applications, or implementation happening at the customer’s location. Today, cloud and Agile have taken center stage, and technology’s Midas touch while changing every industry has certainly also impacted the HR function. The latest wave of AI and RPA are trending across the globe, and are set to significantly impact the way HR operations and transactions are carried out. The transformation is not only going to change the way our industry works but also the types of services we will be able to offer to our customers and to our employees who work with our customers. The next couple of years will witness a shift from B2B to B2C environment, with a definite focus on a much more individualistic approach to make life simpler for the individuals.

Please explain the role of technology in services like payroll, HR, and taxation?

In my opinion, most people don’t realize the significance of technology in the HR domain until they get into the detail. The services that we provide to our customers are underpinned by the software that we develop and deploy. The amount of money invested in IT is more or less similar to traditional software companies. With the changing trends in the market, it is essential to be in sync with technology regardless of industry, as technology is essential to organizations in the near future. If the technology does not work, neither does the company.

"No matter how smart the idea or how clever the program is, it won’t help if people are not happy with the service resulting from it"

Currently, we are looking at business platforms, something which is not very evident in our industry. Implementing a business platform in our company with the help of IT will be one of our differentiators, and help us provide better service to our customers.

What are some of the prominent practices that are impacting organizations in the HR arena?

Today, the buzz is around consumerization of products, AI, and different ways of interacting with the individual, all of which changes the behavior and expectations of the customers. Moreover, the agile company concept is getting introduced in many industries, and so do we. Agile methodology and approach is a cultural and behavioral change, the blueprint of the process and technology that’s being used is less important. Key to a successful transformation lies in change management, communication, and transparency. And for the sustained success of the company and as a part of agile methodology, it is also necessary to involve customers in product design and testing sessions because the customer is the ultimate product owner. Besides, bringing customers into direct contact with the employees has additional benefits in terms of fostering “outside-in” thinking and appreciation. Likewise, for customers they feel and see the results of the inputs they have given.

What is your take on newer technologies redefining HR?

The first thing that we evaluate before implementing any technology is whether it will bring value to our customers. In the IT industry, IoT plays a significant role, but in the HR domain, it’s not much valued as we typically do not work with devices in the HR function. For other technologies, such as artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and blockchain, we do see applications within HR. Regarding blockchain, it can be used to create a trusted source of information. Currently, there is for instance little assurance (without considerable effort on their part) for a bank that salary data presented to them have not been altered along the way. Blockchain technology can bring a level of trust for all the parties involved that no alterations in any shape or fashion have been made to that data provided by the HR service provider.

But of the two (blockchain and AI), I believe that AI can have a wider and broader effect on individuals in making life easier for people. For example, we have used AI to revamp our ticketing system in that it reads the ticket text and determines the categorization and solution routing based on the words typed. This has not only reduced the administrative burden, but also enhanced the user experience as they do not need to break their head on how to classify the ticket for speedy resolution.

The third technology, RPA, also has interesting applicability in the HR industry. It can take the mundane and repetitive work out of the hands of employees, allowing them to concentrate on the more value adding work where the human abilities of assessing, interpreting and human relations are paramount – and cannot be matched by technology.

There are other exiting technologies which I have not mentioned yet, such as Predictive Analytics, Deep Learning, Natural Language Processing, Augmented reality – all of which we will see surface in the HR industry in the years to come – but it would lead too far to get into those right now.

What will be your advice for the newcomers in the HR function?

First off, people who are joining the HR function have to believe that nothing is impossible. The introduction of new technologies is making work much more interesting and comfortable than ever before. Secondly, never forget that HR is a people function, and it is much more than hard numbers or applications. Perhaps most important of all - achieving success comes from making things easier for people. No matter how smart the idea or how clever the program is, it won’t help if people are not happy with the service resulting from it.

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