Developing a digital HR environment requires a fundamental rethink of how HR processes are designed and delivered, writes Rob Scott

Over the last few years, the impact of digital technology has significantly changed the way we work, requiring HR to rethink how most of their traditional business processes are positioned, implemented, consumed and supported to take advantage of this hyper-connected and information-sharing era.

Among HR professionals, the term “digital” is often understood to mean having a HRIS with features such as employee self-service and workflow. These are certainly handy elements, but the essence of a digital work environment and experience is far more compelling and one which transcends technology itself, influencing things such as choice, data type, ownership, accountability, preference and validity. An example of how this plays out in the real world will help cement the opportunity within the work environment.

The travel industry has worked tirelessly over the past decade to digitise its supply chain and user experience. Think about making travel arrangements for a family holiday. Six months prior to departure, you use an app to constantly scan the internet for best flight prices across your choice of airlines. When a good deal shows up, you may go to a different holiday planning website to book the flights, which uses real-time data from many different providers. You provide the required information as if you were on the airline’s booking system, including your frequent flyer number to ensure you get your points. While finalising your flights you get suggestions for hotels, car hire, restaurants and family events based on settings and previous preferences.

“The digital world offers the opportunity to focus on user experiences and give choices to execute an activity, such as requesting time off”

Before deciding, and using another app, you check out what other travellers have said about your hotel choice and see more realistic images of the place. You pay online and receive e-tickets. You get mobile updates of any changes and are prompted to check-in online to further optimise the airport queuing time, but are still able to get a hard-copy ticket if you so wish. All of this in what is arguably a high risk industry.

There are many things HR can learn from the travel industry and successfully emulate in the workplace. Three important themes are:

Provide choice
In the past we were fixated with building singular approaches for HR activities – we called them “standard processes”. In reality, we did this because of HR’s need to control outcomes and comply with technology limitations. The digital world offers the opportunity to focus on user experiences and give choices to execute an activity, such as requesting time off. These choices may simply be device-type options such as a desktop browser, a mobile app or a time terminal, or more sophisticated ways via integrated third-party tools such as your diary or a project-scheduling tool.

Analyse & predict
This is a function that is rapidly growing in relevance within HR, particularly as the value and richness of historic people-data coupled with non-HR data is realised. Predictive tools scan for pre-defined data “signals” which trigger personalised actions or suggestions. For example, an employee in a consulting company may receive an automated suggestion to take time off based on high overtime hours, current leave balance and future scheduling commitments. A manager may even pre-authorise time-off requests for selected employees when they spot potential downtime. The employee is notified and may even be incentivised to take up the offer. Other predictive actions could be based on employee actions such as which policies are being read and what is being discussed on enterprise social tools. These events could alert a manager to investigate a possible resignation before it happens.

“It took the travel industry 10 years to build their digital environment. Your digital journey starts with an employee-centric vision”

Transparency
HR data confidentiality no longer exists as employees share information on the internet. Sites like Glassdoor and a host of other platforms allow applicants and employees to share information on salary and benefits, and their views on managers. In the digital world your company will be increasingly scrutinised, and HR must drive greater collaboration, openness and fair practice to keep attraction and engagement optimised.

Digital prevalence is already impacting your brand, talent attraction and employee value proposition, whether you want it to or not. It is a journey that requires a combined HR & technology focus and one that puts the employee experience at the centre of its outcome.

5 keys to developing a digital strategy

  1. Developing a digital HR environment requires a fundamental rethink of how HR processes are designed and delivered.
  2. A modern cloud-based HR information system will provide a powerful springboard for an employee digital experience, but it’s not the only technology requirement.
  3. System integration and real-time data-sharing capability are critical aspects of a digital environment.
  4. The identification and merging of relevant metadata to support predictive capability is a critical success factor for a truly digitised HR environment.
  5. It took the travel industry 10 years to build their digital environment. Your digital journey starts with an employee-centric vision.

Image source: iStock