Redefining HR technology needs to succeed in the digital economy

Anthony Tian of Sage Software Asia says that HR must brace itself to face new challenges as digital technology redefines its role within the business.

Recently, the national manpower plan for the HR industry in Singapore was launched to strengthen the HR profession and better support business transformation. The strong technology focus in the action plan is proof that globalisation and digital disruption is forcing business leaders to rethink their approach towards human capital management.

Last month, at an executive roundtable organised by Sage, I had the pleasure of hosting a small group of HR leaders in Singapore, to hear first-hand the challenges they face in managing talent. We talked about living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Originally a vernacular military term, VUCA is used today to describe a business environment where change is constant and business leaders must make several key decisions every day.

It is a known fact that it is important for business leaders to be agile. The Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015 revealed that organisations whose leaders can operate effectively in a VUCA world are three times more likely to be in the top 20 percent of financial performance, compared to organisations lacking such leaders.

Concerns of a digital age

As digital technology redefines HR’s role within the business, HR is evolving towards a future characterised by social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies. With this, here are the top three concerns of HR leaders today, gleaned from the roundtable discussion.


  1. Engaging a diverse workforce

HR leaders are grappling with a multi-generational talent pool. Differing communication styles and viewpoints are causing friction at the workplace, exacerbated at times by new technology and work trends that mix workers of different ages and backgrounds.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 50% of IT organisations will shift their culture to a startup-like work environment by embracing agile practices and open source communities by 2020. With technological advancements, changes in demographics and emerging business models, HR professionals today are tasked to scale their operations to understand each unique employee, while keeping them engaged.

  1. Integrating technology into HR

HR leaders recognise that to play a critical role in helping businesses anticipate and manage organisational change in the VUCA and manpower-lean environment of today, they must harness technology at its core. However, HR leaders still find themselves on the back foot.

Disparate information systems is one challenge that HR leaders need to address. Data in incompatible formats has always been difficult to work with. Many also face an incongruent IT experience at work, especially after a merger and acquisition (M&A). Too often, companies engaging in M&As ignore the IT scalability of their new business partner or their own systems. A slow or poorly handled IT integration between merging companies can jeopardise business goals and have a trickle-down effect across the business.

  1. Gleaning insights from data

The HR leaders lamented not having enough insights into their workforce and companies, recognising that this was contributing to poor decision-making. For instance, they were not able to determine which HR programmes had the greatest impact on employee performance. Challenges ranged widely from identifying causes behind high turnover rates to simple tasks such as reporting to know the number of employees across different positions and regions. Many shared their experience of using spreadsheets to manage HR data.


Transforming HR to support growth

The HR function has shouldered much of the responsibility for managing people, working largely in a silo with little technology backing. If we want to build workplace environments and groom talent ready to tackle the challenges of Industry 4.0, things need to change.

For starters, employees are used to a lifestyle that incorporates digital technology into their everyday lives. They now expect that same lifestyle and convenience in the workplace. Many employees already access emails and their payslips through mobile apps, but they are raring to do more on the go. Companies today can offer on-demand video learning, allow workers to manage time sheets, and attendance records via mobile devices. The more the workplace reflects the way employees live, the more engaged and productive they’ll be.

To derive the most updated business insights, HR leaders must have an integrated view of human resource and payroll. Leaders need to know how to utilise informative dashboards to integrate various sources of information for fast and understandable analytical reporting. A good HR management system pulls real time data from multiple sources, eliminating redundant data entry and allowing HR leaders to focus on strategic tasks, such as forecasting future business plans and optimizing talent programmes.

Furthermore, technology-enabled development methods will also be more successful in reaching employees who are dispersed across business units and countries.

Ultimately, today’s HR practitioners are business leaders first. Their mission is to help their organization’s people – its most valuable asset – to be successful, so that they can in turn drive a successful business. HR needs to lead the way in allowing the organization to adapt to industry disruptions and achieve business success.


Anthony Tian, Director, New Customer Acquisition, Sage Software Asia is dedicated to supporting the dreams of entrepreneurs in Asia. At Sage, Anthony helps Small & Medium Businesses plan by equipping them with the technology they need to make smart, informed choices, and succeed in a digital world.

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