Pushing the envelope

As HR marches on in its quest to become a strategic business partner, technology is being used to drive that push across many of its functions, as HRM Asia finds out.

Yo-Hahn Low, Global Head of HR Operations and Technology for agricultural trading business COFCO Agri, says many HR departments do not invest in quality time to design the right technology solutions.

He says they end up retrofitting the technology to suit their current processes, which ends up being the wrong way around.

“Among HR transformation specialists, we call this ‘same staff, new toys’,” he says. “Nothing will improve if you simply roll out the technology – HR professionals need to be able to think outside the box and challenge their own processes and rules.”

Low says that because HR is perpetually busy in their field, HR technology often becomes an afterthought for the profession.

“Several years ago I implemented an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for a multinational company. The in-house recruiters had a ‘high-touch’ approach with the hiring managers, and they also relied on recruitment agencies” says Low.

“Besides being too busy to help design a better recruitment system and better processes, they wanted to continue with their high-touch approach. The end result was that they did not want the managers to use the ATS self-service features and they still continued to use recruitment agencies.”

Hence, Low cites that this particular HR technology simply became a very expensive storage database, and the recruiters did not free up their time to be more strategic.

“Recruitment costs did not fall and the worst thing was that the HR department had to hire recruitment assistants because there was more data to fill out on behalf of the managers,” he adds.

Sudhanshu Tewari, CEO of Rewardz, a Singapore-based provider of employee engagement technology, says there are always a lot of interesting concepts and ideas that companies want to implement.

“However, it’s a daunting task to implement these ideas due to the effort required in executing them,” he states.

Not solely about the technology

Contrary to popular notion, Low stresses that technology itself should not be the focal point of HR systems.

“This may sound counter-intuitive but I think HR technology is actually centred around using information effectively in an HR context,” he explains.

“Don’t get me wrong, we still require actual HR technology products.

“However it’s about enabling candidates, employees and managers to access information in a variety of ways; in order to apply for roles, access and maintain job records, hire and retain people, and make informed decisions via data analytics and reports.”

Low highlights the key aspect is that the HR technology has to be intuitive, easy to use, and that the data and information is accurate and more importantly, useful.

Kara Walsh, Chief Human Capital Officer, Unit4, says HR technology encompasses solutions designed to manage every aspect of a firm’s human capital.

“As such, the various aspects HR technology addresses are fluid, as the role of employees, and subsequently the HR function within an organisation, continues to evolve,” she elaborates.

Walsh acknowledges that companies today are facing increasing competition to hire the best people and maximise performance.

“In such a scenario, engaging and empowering employees is the lever to business success, as organisations with high levels of engagement outperform on profitability, productivity, and customer service.”

“Key aspects of HR technology must then address issues such as talent retention, engagement and productivity to drive business success.”

Tewari aims to divide key HR technology solutions into broad categories: recruitment, HR administrative functions (on-boarding, payroll, time, travel and expense management), employee benefits and wellness, learning and development, and recognition including performance management.

“I consider HR technology as a suite of applications for the listed categories that simplify day-to-day functions for HR, reducing manual overheads and becoming a one-stop shop for employees,” he elaborates.

“There are very few organisations who have manged to consolidate all the HR functions in a single technology interface, across all areas.”

Tewari says HR technology should be an “enabler” for all of HR’s most important activities.

“Its main role is to improve the efficiency of the HR function so HR can focus their energies on fresh ideas to recruit, train, motivate, and retain talent. A technology solution is successfully implemented if it takes away the pain of implementing ideas from HR teams,” he adds.

HR benefits

Tewari says his company offers three products to HR departments of medium to large organisations.

These are known as Emperks, Flabuless and Skor.

Emperks is a mobile perks platform for employers to reward their employees with exclusive privileges across Singapore, with rewards redeemable via the mobile app.

Flabuless is a corporate wellness platform that tracks physical activities, and motivates and rewards employees for following healthier lifestyles.

“The platform connects to different wearable devices and can be leveraged to organise fun challenges and manage company events,” explains Tewari.

Meanwhile, Skor is a new-age mobile flexible benefits platform that aligns itself with the organisation’s rewards strategy and can also act as a one-stop employee communication tool.

Tewari says HR in Singapore has been experimenting with wellness programmes for the last few years.

“With Flabuless, we managed to connect various wellness programmes with some of our clients like Fuji Xerox and Lendlease on a single platform, and were able to determine return on investment on their wellness dollars,” he says.

Tewari says all of his company’s products serve as tools for HR to make employees feel rewarded, loved and cared by their respective organisations.

“We believe that this can prove instrumental in building a sense of belonging and retain staff,” he shares.

Walsh says Unit4’s Office of HR solution provides human capital management that goes beyond the traditional functions of HR technology.

“In addition to solutions such as the Unit4 Absence Manager, Unit4 Time Management and Unit4 Travel and Expenses, we offer HR and payroll applications as core solutions in the Unit4 Business World On enterprise resource planning suite,” she says.

“The applications provide comprehensive support with a fully-integrated range of functions, including, but not limited to, training and development management, remuneration, promotions, staff changes, and shift patterns.”

Walsh says these talent management solutions assist with identification and administration of employees’ competencies and skills, employee development and learning, recording of employee performance, and succession management.

“Companies can keep track of staffing by easily identifying if the required number of skilled staff are in place, and they can comprehensively manage the recruitment process by identifying the best internal and external applicants,” she says.

In addition, the Unit4 People Planning resource provides firms with an overview of the availability and planned activities of HR, whether by project or department.

Walsh says organisations can optimise the use of people resources and track the progress of various projects to ensure those resources are being put to best use.

“Employees are also given more control of their own schedules so that they can update or make changes to their planned activities,” she adds.

Low says in his role, a wide range of HR technologies is utilised, with the crucial one being the enterprise resource planning system.

“In order to serve the business, we promote the use of self-service (absence management, personal and employee data) and easy-to-use reporting tools,” he says. “Typical to most companies these days, we incorporate a single sign-on and use a one-stop HR portal as the gateway to all our HR technology.”

Low says that regardless of which HR technology application an organisation uses, it needs to be configured to be easily accessible and usable, and to be on par with purpose-built consumer web-based systems such as those used for online shopping.

“I am aware that not all companies have the latest HR technology, but all companies do have HR-related information needs,” he says. “So, to serve the business well, the data and information has to be fairly clean and usable, and employees, managers, and HR need to be able to trust the data and see that it’s consistent.”

A strategic player

As HR continues its journey toward strategic partnership with the business, Walsh says it is imperative that HR technology does not lag behind.

“The HR function has evolved significantly over the years, and HR technology needs to keep up,” she says.

While Walsh acknowledges that some businesses are making positive steps in the right direction, she adds that many continue to limit investment in HR technology to administrative functions only, such as payroll, expenses and leave management.

“While the automation of these functions helps free up HR professionals to work on more strategic tasks, HR technology should also directly address the changing responsibilities of HR personnel,” she says.

Walsh says modern HR technology enables success by providing HR professionals tools for attracting talent, boosting engagement, and managing business changes such as mergers, acquisitions and downsizing.

“With the integrated perspective from technology across HR, finance and projects, HR can make strategic decisions to drive business success and build an empowered and engaged workforce,” she says.

Tewari says Rewardz is continually focused on identifying the needs of the HR market and launching new products in the employee engagement and wellness spaces.

“We are already researching on our next product in mental wellness, which is slated to launch in 2017,” he shares.

However, Low has a slightly different take.

He says as HR technology solutions are becoming more sophisticated, the landscape changes quickly and this forces HR itself, and not necessarily HR technology, to be more strategic.

“When I first came to Singapore a couple of decades ago, I searched the one-inch thick Straits Times employment pages and sent my résumé and cover letters out,” Low reminisces.

“A few years later, you would search for jobs on specific company websites, and then online job portals came along and pooled this information for you.”

Due to today’s applications such as LinkedIn, Low notes it is possible to find out about almost every employee in the world, which company and sector they are from, and where they are located.

“Then, employers can decide whether to try and recruit these targeted individuals (directly). So, HR needs to be more strategic to leverage these tools to find talent but on the flipside, it also needs to guard against competitors who are doing the same thing and targeting their best people,” he adds.

Top tech tips for HR

Yo-Hahn Low, Global Head of HR Operations and Technology, COFCO Agri, says it is crucial to get buy-in from HR when it comes to deciding on which technology solution to implement.

“This means getting dedicated HR resources which will give plenty of quality time to view the product, help design it and the new processes around, and be willing to change and use the new system,” he states.

Low also suggests sourcing for a solution that best suits one’s business and culture, and not just settling for the most popular or latest gizmo.

“Furthermore, this needs to be driven by HR, not IT,” he says. “HR is in the best position to understand what the business and HR strategy needs are. Sometimes, a non-biased consulting firm can add value to this search process,” he explains.

Low also stresses that the information and data are more important than the technology itself.

“No new system will fix your problems if you have poor quality HR data. Before building the solution, understand what your key data sets are and clean them up to a good degree,” he says.

 

Analysing the Workday advantage

Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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