Tech Disruptions in HR – To Embrace or Ignore?

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Rainy days are refreshing. It’s the sky’s way of descending to Earth, spreading the fragrance of life all around us. After all, without rain, there would be no life.

October 1997

It was the end of the rainy season, and time to welcome winter weather. Bangalore was at its best – the real Garden City and Pensioner’s Paradise. I was transitioning from NEC to the house of the Tata’s – the Taj West End. I joined the Personnel Department.

As I entered the lush, green campus, filled by a fresh, cool breeze and the sounds of chirping birds; Mr. Thomas – the Time Office Manager – escorted me to the Personnel Manager’s office, and welcomed me to the Taj family. While the overall induction went smoothly, it was hard to ignore a few subtle, yet important aspects of the organization, related to the tools in use:

  • Payroll Software (MS DOS-based software to manage employee records)
  • Printed payslips
  • Wage statements (in a floppy disk) to be sent to the bank
  • Dot matrix printers with the messy affair of changing ribbons every now and then
  • Memos to be typed on Word Star (MS DOS-based as well)

The Road to Automation

Only a few months into the job, I was to manage the first real tech disruption within the HR function – the transition from a punching machine-based Time Office software to a swipe system. It was a huge surprise to everyone, and soon, the concept of “punch and lunch” had become a deal of the past. Swipe cards started monitoring total work time and associated productivity at work.

The process of embracing technology had started well. From then (1997), there was no looking back. From LAN, MAN, and WAN to the Cloud and Mobile-based solutions of today, the process of obtaining, adapting to, and embracing new technology in HR has been a continuous one. Now, regardless of when new technology comes into practice, using it, as a T.E.A.M., to better business efforts is of the utmost importance:

  • Transform the business
  • Execute right the first time, always
  • Agile
  • Mobilize strategies and ideas from people

———— “If you fail to plan. Plan to fail.” Prepare actively, and act accordingly.

———— Have an end result in mind and create appropriate processes to drive the end result

———— Use information to create more meaningful interactions

The Dynamic Landscape

Change is happening at the speed of light. Many call it “digitization”, “disruption”, an “evolution”, or even a “revolution”. Whatever it’s called, HR needs to adapt to this changing environment to stay relevant, and add value to a business. Digital transformation is no longer an option but rather, imperative to the survival of HR.

We can broadly classify HR into “Old HR” and “New HR”. The former was all about bringing in processes and standardization. The latter is about creating tailor-made solutions that meet the specific requirements of the industry in which a company operates. With such a dynamic technology landscape, there is no “one-size-fits-all” model in HR anymore.

This new paradigm shift, since the 2000s, has changed the face of HR completely, morphing the function into a true strategic center, making it into the Board Room, and influencing and driving the People & Transformation agenda.

As suggested by the Father of HR, Dave Ulrich, HR needs to be a true business partner, change agent, administrative expert, and credible employee advocate.

The Way Forward

The ABC’s of Digital HR – Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Content – are making a huge difference in the way the HR function creates engagement both in and outside the organization. There is an increased accumulation of data by way of Hu-bots, like Alexa, Sophia, and Watson. They are now a reality in the workplace, and while many leaders are alerting their HR functions of the threat posed by such systems, my view is that these innovations need to be embraced to enhance employee experience and effectiveness in the workplace.

Other online engagement platforms, such as company intranets and ERP systems help manage data for various HR activities, but HR analytics – in which, investment has doubled these past two years – uses this data to provide valuable insight into the behaviors of employees – a key understanding that helps manage emotions, wellness, productivity, and overall performance much more effectively and efficiently.

While many feel advancements in technology will slowly and steadily replace our position in the workplace, in actuality, that’s not the case. Humans have been the creators of this technology, and the intent behind all of it has always been to supplement our abilities in the workplace and deliver impeccable value. By ignoring the advancements in the market, we run the risk of being replaced, however, by embracing the change, and learning to work within the new digital environment, we are, in fact, putting ourselves in a position to perform better than before. Technology need not replace the “human” element of HR, but rather, emphasize its importance, and as a result, its continuous success.

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