HR in the age of technology

HR technology has come a long way in the last few years, as HR professionals demand user-friendly tools that provide great insights.
By: | September 4, 2017

Given the current ubiquity of online jobs platforms, and software like SAP and Oracle, it might be difficult to fathom the “olden days” when office technology mostly meant typewriters and calculators. But in fact, it was not so long ago – less than two decades, in fact – that classified advertising in newspapers and trade publications were a HR manager’s main tools for recruitment, while payday still meant hauling out the cheque writing machine.

Considering the rapid speed of technology change we’ve witnessed since the turn of the millennium, HR professionals today can safely expect their successors to boggle at the technology used today, thinking it quaint and maybe even antiquated by their not too distant future standards.

It’s a prospect that HR professionals themselves seem to be happily preparing for – the Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte last year noted that 74% of executives identified digital HR as a top priority.


Dreaming of digital HR

One obvious consequence of the recent technology revolution, even beyond HR, is the fact that it has made the world smaller. Thanks to high-speed internet as well as computers that are faster, smaller, and more robust than their predecessors, connecting with teams and employees around the world has become easier than ever. Do you have a new starter in your company’s Beijing office? No problem, even if you’re all the way in Singapore – chatting apps are just one of the many options available for HR managers to connect.

Cisco, for example, has developed an app called YoungBelong@Cisco to help the company’s fresh starters – and their supervisors – through their initiation into the company. The networking titan also created its own version of Apple’s Siri with a voice command app called “Ask Alex”. Alex, a “personal intelligence compass”, won’t tell users what time it is, or the closest place to buy a milkshake, but it will give them customised details about their annual leave and medical insurance entitlements.

Analytics technologies, in the meanwhile, do not just provide HR and business leaders with extensive data, but also the means to leverage the information to make people decisions – based on tangible numbers, rather than just “gut feelings”. SAP’s Digital Boardroom, for example, provides C-suite leaders with real-time metrics on recruitment, turnover, and other people-related numbers – thus enabling them to make informed decisions with minimal bureaucracy.

Alexis Saussinan, global head of Organisation Development and People Analytics at Merck Group, shared an example of how analytics technologies enabled the pharmaceutical titan to do just that.

During a review of a Research and Development organisation within the business, where the overall mandate was to bolster innovation: “We saw that the structure was too fragmented to foster good practice sharing and innovation,” he says.

“We also found that there was not enough focus on developing pure expert roles, as most people had diluted roles and could not focus on making core contributions. These insights arose from studying various angles of our analytics, and they helped to both provide new insights as well as confirm existing thoughts held by the business leaders.”

That, perhaps, is the ultimate dream of digital HR – the ability to provide people managers and leaders with tools that release them from the chains of transactional work, and allow them to optimise bigger picture strategy-making instead.


Era of the thinking machine

In Singapore, companies like iqDynamics seek to provide integrated software catering to the entire suite of people management functions. The proprietary HRiQ system developed by iqDynamics is comprehensive yet customisable, with modules that cover everything from performance appraisal to training and development, and even succession planning.

“Our philosophy is that an organisation behaves like a Maslow Pyramid,” says Lim Say Ping, director and co-founder of iqDynamics. “Without the basic security and assurance that the human capital is taken care of, an organisation would find it very difficult to attain its peak potential.

“We created our software to facilitate organisations in this process by making sure that HR needs can be easily met, leaving them more time and manpower to concentrate on strategic matters.”

Lim notes, however, that the industry has been under non-stop flux, with disruptive technologies constantly provoking paradigm shifts. As a matter of course, iqDynamics and its HR technology peers are relentlessly upgrading their offerings and moving towards the “next big thing”.

“We consciously monitor and invest in resources to adopt the latest technology in developing and upgrading HRiQ,” notes Lim. “We’re continuously looking to adapt the latest technology to our applications – such as delivering more secure hosting and cloud applications.”

Some of the fast-emerging technologies iqDynamics is currently investing in for future adoption include mobility, the Internet of Things, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence (AI). Of these, AI – the science of machines simulating human intelligence, and therefore fulfilling human tasks – is perhaps the most inevitable, with developments in machine learning and natural language processing techniques fuelling an AI boom across multiple sectors.

In the HR space, “AI will not replace the need for talent professionals; instead, it will change the nature of what they need to do to succeed,” suggests a recent report by staffing firm Allegis.

Talla, for example, is one of many chat-bots changing how companies engage with talent. Talla organises and automates much of the HR workflow, including scheduling meetings and guiding employees through the on-boarding process.

“If you came to work for us, rather than give you a whole stack of information, we say ‘Here’s a bot, Talla, and she’s going to walk you through it,” Talla CEO Rob May told Technology Review last year.

Meanwhile, Talent Sonar generates job descriptions and screens résumés to free up time for HR professionals. It also claims to provide something that most humans cannot: a bias-free environment for the hiring process.

Indeed, the recruitment space is proving to be particularly lucrative for AI. Digital assistants can take on tedious tasks like candidate screening and interview scheduling – and thus free up recruiters to focus their time on interviewing high-potential candidates and closing out offers.


Moving beyond gimmicks

“Technology, as we all know, is pervasive and also progressing rapidly. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’ or a gimmick. It can be disruptive to businesses, the roles of individuals and the way we live,” notes Lim.

It’s a two-way street of supply versus demand, however. As practices such as flexible working and employee agility continue to transform the workplace, there is a corresponding demand for technology to elevate beyond basic functionalities – and provide tools that match smartphones and social media apps in being easy to use and responsive across multiple platforms.

Further, intense technological advancement does give rise to very particular concerns. Data protection and privacy, network security: these are all issues that businesses and governments are grappling with today, and which will need to be addressed by stakeholders.

Sooner, rather than later, because the market for human capital management technologies is expected to balloon from US$14.5 billion this year, to US$22.5 billion by 2022. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to form a particularly high-growth sector, according to a recent report by Reportbuyer.

In such a landscape of digital disruption, HR professionals can anticipate that in the near future, apps such as Switch – which applies machine-learning algorithms to provide recruiters with a Tinder-like experience – will become the norm rather than the exception.

Swipe right for the next candidate? Well, why not?


Recruitment machines

The business world now has access to a wide range of artificial intelligence-enabled recruiting assistants.  Just a few of these chat-bots (yes, for some reason, they have all been given feminine names) that are transforming the hiring process include:

Olivia is a personal recruiting assistant which uses machine learning to engage with candidates. Olivia kicks in right from the moment they express interest in a company or specific position, and elevates the process beyond rote form-filling.

Wendy first learns about a company’s culture and needs and then screens candidates accordingly. Wendy also has a “sibling”, Wade, who advises job seekers.

Stella vets candidates’ qualifications before connecting them with hiring companies. Stella’s makers claim the chat-bot can slash the time needed to recruit a new employee by 80%.

Mya automates candidate sourcing and screening as well as scheduling. Mya’s makers claim the chat-bot can free up 75% of a hiring professional’s time, while still allowing for instant and positive engagement with candidates.