Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 8: Is there a future for HR Tech?

HR Technology has changed massively over the last 5 - 10 years, with more of a focus now on understanding how tech can deliver end to end talent experiences, and insights around productivity and wellness. The shift of HR's role to be the owner of productivity and employee experience, leveraging HR tech and data to add value across the organisation, is having a big impact on the HR function. Find out more!

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Tom Hughes
People Technology Strategy Lead at Deloitte

Tom leads our People Technology Strategy offering in the UK. He specialises in advising and supporting organisations to analyse and select solutions from the rapidly evolving cloud, service delivery, workplace and digital technology marketplaces to enable their business strategies.

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Pamela Trinh
Senior Consultant
People Technology Strategy at Deloitte

Pamela is a part of our People Technology Strategy offering within the Human Capital Practice in the UK and specialises in supporting organisations going through large HR Transformations. With experience supporting businesses in redesigning and simplifying their systems landscapes, Pamela also helps organisations enhance their employee experience through implementing new digital tools.

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Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte

Speakers: Tom Hughes, Manager, HR Transformation at Deloitte and Pamela Trinh, Senior Consultant, HR Transformation at Deloitte

DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? This is Deloitte's Humanising the Future of Work podcast to share where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.

In each episode we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. While technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.

In the last episode we discussed if there was a future for HR, and one of the key areas we explored was, is HR technology making HR obsolete? However, that conversation poses a wider question insomuch as, is there a future for HR tech?

I'm you're host Daniel Hind, and today I have the pleasure of exploring this topic with two colleagues from our HR Transformation practice, Tom Hughes and Pamela Trinh. Tom, would you like to introduce yourself?

TH: Yes. Thanks, Daniel. I'm Tom Hughes. I sit in our HR Transformation practice and lead our people technology strategy proposition. So support clients around the people technology ecosystem from devising visions and strategies, roadmaps, selecting technologies from this broad ecosystem and really taking clients on that journey into implementation and getting the most out of this technology ecosystem.

DH: Pamela?

PT: Hi. I'm Pamela Trinh. Like my colleague, Tom, I work within HR Transformation specifically aligned to digital HR. Working with clients on their global HR transformation, understanding how best to implement their technologies and ensuring that moment that matter, who their employee experience is captured to optimise their business objectives.

DH: Thank you. Of course, a big question to start, as normal. Tom, is there a future for HR tech? What are we seeing happening in the market at the moment?

TH: I did think about saying no, but I think it would be a fairly short podcast. For me, yes, there's a future for HR tech. I actually think we're at probably a tipping point right now where there's never been a better or more exciting time within the HR technology marketplace.

If you look at it from a client perspective, digital and talent for me right now is at the centre of many of the C-suite transformation agendas that we're seeing and talking to clients about with the notion of making humans better at work and work better for humans. The data and the experiences that people and HR technology can provide to really support those initiatives is really critical.

Then if you look at it from an external market perspective, the level of investment and funding and backing that this area of technology has had from venture capital firms and PE funding, or private equity funds, from across the globe over the last two or three years has really shown that they believe there's a future in this market. And the types of technologies coming through in this market are really starting to drive innovation in this space.

PT: I would definitely agree with Tom, especially within our current climate. I think HR technology has really shot into the limelight. We have a heightened demand from HR leaders to understand how are their employees doing in the current state. How can we help them be more productive? How can we make sure that their wellness is there, so that they can be productive? How can they still connect with each other even if they might not be able to physically see each other?

So I think that HR technology has definitely been even more important these days with more organisations, more jobs that are operating remotely.

TH: The use of HR technology in our clients has really changed over the last five to ten years as well. Before, when we were implementing big cloud HCM technologies it was all about process efficiency. It was about access to clean and reliable data for operational reporting and mobile access.

Now clients are really coming to us to understand how technology can deliver end-to-end tele-experiences and deliver predictive insights on top of the operational reports in areas such as productivity and wellness.

For me, the HR technology landscape now isn't really about HR and the abilities that the HR can deliver to the organisation. It's about putting an ecosystem of technology around people that allows the workforce to engage with one another in terms of productivity and collaboration suites. And in order to be able to interact with the organisation in terms of case management and knowledge management, chatbots and chat type tools. And also be able to transact with the organisation in terms of those processes in the most intelligent and seamless way possible.

DH: What are we seeing happening in the market with regards to HR's ownership of productivity? Are we seeing that there's a range of what may previously have been seen as operational type tech coming into the HR arena, and is that having an impact? Why doesn’t just the technology suite may be an impact on operating models or the way that HR are working or the services that they're delivering?

TH: I think it has to. For me, there's a whole new range of metrics that are associated to the workforce that we didn't really have two or three years ago, and the technologies that are associated as metrics, such as the workplace collaboration suites, don’t tend to really sit in… In HR, they tend normally to sit in the IT world.

But when you are talking about HR being the custodian of the workforce and the real custodian of that workforce experience, getting the most out of that workforce, productivity is a key driver of that.

So really starting to understand the metrics that sit behind productivity and the technologies that start to be able to measure that is something that HR really have to start thinking a look at. And really understanding in order to deliver to the business the most effective workforce model and the most effective workforce construct to align to their business strategy and where they want to go.

PT: Yes, again, just saying that I think it's just a bit more of a narrow or specific approach to productivity. So previously thinking about talent acquisition, it was time-to-fill, but what does that even mean? Just because they filled that role doesn’t mean that individual is going to be productive right away. What are some steps that we can take in an organisation to ensure that…? It's not about just time-to-fill, but what is the time, what is the technology to support them to actually start contributing to the organisation?

So I think there's just a slight shift and adjustment. It's still based off of the same similar, I'd say, data or KPI, but I think it has more meaning to creating an actual measurable thing that is attached to, say, revenue or whatever it might be as a business.

TH: Then just to build on that, I think it fundamentally shifts to the mindset of HR. If you had a time-to-proficiency of 50, 60 days beforehand, your time-to-fill would try and be as short as possible because you've got the time to added value in the business so long.

If you can reduce that time-to-proficiency by half, you can actually then spend more time making sure you get the right candidate through the door and giving them the experience they need because you know that actually the tools and technologies and culture you put in place allows them to add far more value quicker in the organisation when they get through the door.

DH: Great. You both touched on… Tom, you touched on metrics, and, Pam, you were talking around data. So I suppose that would lead me to talk about the broader analytics in the HR arena. Is there anything that we're seeing…? Are we seeing HR taking the ownership of money from information in a different direction to maybe where they were a decade ago?

TH: Over the last 12, 18 months there's been a kind of evolution in the data that the HR are using. The majority of our clients means that [unclear] have got the operational data now on pat in terms of… When they moved to cloud five, six years ago, one of the big benefits was I want to be able to see all my headcount in one place. I think many of our clients have now started to tick that box and starting to explore more areas.

But being the custodian of the workforce and that workforce experience, HR now have a unique opportunity to use data from that workforce to start to drive areas of experience and the business strategy.

And using tools that listen to the employees and listen to their wants, their needs, their desires, their thoughts and feeding that back into business leaders is a slightly different track to the traditional analytics and the traditional numbers, but it's far more qualitative. And using technology such as natural language processing and cognitive engines to process the themes and process some of those sentiments that are coming through those qualitative conversations.

DH: All this being said, what does all this mean for the HR tech within the landscape? What are we seeing happening at the moment? I'm aware of a… I read a recent Burson article where he was talking that this is slowly consolidating the landscape of HR tech. What are we seeing happening out there?

TH: The market's gone boom over the last three, four, five years with the investment that we've seen. I talk to clients about we're now starting to see this second generation of the best-of-breed evolution.

So you've moved from the on-premise systems, such as E-Business Suite, SAP and PeopleSoft. Then you moved into the first generation of best-of-breed with the likes of TILEO and Saba, and then the bigger players came back with full-suite cloud technologies that really tick 85% to 95% of the boxes of key client requirements.

Now we're starting to see this evolution of the next generation of best-of-breed. So smaller type technologies that are really dialled into niche areas and functionality that will deliver things like video interviewing or in formal recognition or VR-type technology in learning. For me in terms of that landscape, it's gone a lot broader, but it's also become a lot more complex.

I think that article that you referenced from Burson is actually really interesting because what he's saying is organisations are really now starting to look at what technologies are really essential to drive efficiency, productivity, experience, compliance across their workforce. Actually, some of the technologies that have come out maybe aren't deems essential [?].

So I think over the next two to three years you'll start to see a lot of M&A activity in this space with some of the larger vendors acquiring some of the smaller-type technologies that have some of this innovative technology. And some of the less essential technologies from a client's view will actually go away, and you'll start to see a lot more of a consolidated marketplace.

PT: I definitely agree that we're definitely going to see some consolidation with bigger organisations finding… Looking at vendors are really doing really well in that space and wanting a part of that business. But of course you just never know what's going to come up.

We mentioned earlier that right now within our climate that idea of understand the well-being of their workforce or further and accurately measure satisfaction and productivity level, that leaves an open space for new start-ups to try to push that boundary. So while the landscape might get a little smaller for a short amount of period, it continues to reduce and expand, reduce and expand just depending on trends of businesses.

To add to that, there's just the fact that we are going to see further evolution of this landscape, but funny enough, organisations themselves are not necessarily operating in terms of adopting new vendors or technology at the same pace. So they are two different viewpoints in terms of how that landscape's being interpreted.

Clients tend to be a little bit overwhelmed when they look at that landscape because there's just so much, and they shouldn't necessarily compare themselves to how quickly that vendor's landscape is growing because their material level might be… Maybe they don’t even have a headcount centralised for them yet. So trying just to check that box off for them.

TH: Where vendors have been very good, especial the bigger vendors, over the last 18, 24 months is making those types of innovations that they're brining out, one, accessible. But two, if you're not quite there in terms of the maturity, you can turn them off, and they're there when you need them.

It's not a forced upgrade/forced enhancement. It's a piece that… We're giving you this because we want you to still have the best technology in the market, but it's very much there to use when you need it.

DH: Pam, you mentioned earlier employee experience. Are we seeing this pivot within organisations towards delivering a great employee experience as impacting on HR tech?

TH: I actually think that HR technology has really helped to drive companies to think more about the employee experience. It challenges the status quo of… How are you planning to asses potential candidates? What are the skill sets that we can measure and help collect data that will be helpful for you to understand where are the right individuals to put in the right seat?

So that HR technology actually has a huge influence on how companies can think of… Again, typically companies, they talk to us, and it's like, well, we don’t know what we don’t know. So by having these vendors and their options and what they can do helps to start painting that picture or create those employee journeys for them in a better light.

That would be my take on that, that the HR technology landscape actually helps to influence organisations to think more about the employee experience.

TH: The importance of employee experience has actually shown or developed a whole new area of the HR technology market in terms of a physical or functional area such as… You'd see recruitment or learning, you've now got technologies in that space that are enabling organisations to listen to their workforce. We're seeing the next generation of employee engagement type surveys and that continuous checking in and pulse survey and understanding how people are feeling across the whole lifecycle of the employee.

Is really saying the way of starting to talk to clients about lot and how they start to measure the employee experience and how they can start to track and improve and refine that across the lifecycle and across the moments that matter and offer different personas across their workforce.

Because we recognise that from boarding, if you're onboarding a retail associate, it's an incredibly different experience to an exec. So how do capture that, and how do you make sure you're delivering differentiated and personalised experiences across your organisation?

DH: Might be a little bit of a chicken-and-egg-type question, this. Are we seeing a particular driver behind our clients' desire to change the way their HR is operating? What I mean by that is, is it generally a technology driver, or are they approaching it as about changing the employee experience? Or is it a little bit more generic about their looking at their operating models? Are we seeing a change in what is making clients look at their HR suite and operating models?

TH: Yes. I would say three or four years ago the amount of projects we had that supported clients go from on-premise HR technology solutions to cloud technology solutions was fairly big. The evolution that I've seen is we're now starting to see clients to come to us with a lot more complex problems that need us to look at multiple different facets.

If we're looking to improve the employee experience, technology is a key driver of that, but it's only one driver. It might be one of the fundamental drivers because a digital experience is now a given for many people coming into the workforce, and if you give them an onboarding pack of 500 pages, they'll wonder what organisation they're walking into.

But we have to look in terms of employee experience, that the culture, the processes, the operating model, how everything interacts across the organisation. Therefore, we are doing a lot more projects and having a lot more conversations with clients around how do you use multiple different levers across your organisation to drive a particular agenda or a particular objective.

PT: I would say… Just even thinking about previous work experience, I remember working with a leader who was basically questioning… If I can do this within my own personal life, that I can deposit a check virtually, why am I asking my employees to manually produce paperwork to do the exact same thing?

So just naturally within our own real day-to-day life technology is around us, but within the workforce it's been a bit slower, and people are trying to catch on. If we can do this in our normal day-to-day, why aren't we doing this within the work space to create more efficiencies and be more productive in that way and focus on, again, moments that really matter that produce an engaged, satisfied and productive employee?

DH: With all of this drive towards delivering an employee experience through either service delivery or technology, are we seeing that there's a drive and a shift in the capabilities that are needed within HR?

PT: I would definitely say, yes, we are definitely seeing creations of new roles of someone understanding the IT side of things and the HR side of things and even a little bit of marketing. When we think about recruiting, it was traditionally that job post. You have candidates. You assess them, and then you ideally hire the right individual.

But now it's like this war on talent. How do you make yourself better than any other company? So you're almost using the skill set of a classic marketing individual to be able to take that and be able to market a role or the company to attract the right person.

That's where I'm thinking in terms of… They are naturally going to have these gaps where these new role will get created. We talk about data and the AI space. We're going have an individual who will be able to have to reproduce a report and interpret that report and be able to create a story within the HR landscape to be able to communicate that to the business leaders.

So naturally you're going to have to have someone who is very much equipped to understand numbers and data and again be able to articulate that in a way where it speaks to the HR need but also speaks to the core of what it is, which is again data, and then to connect that to the business.

So I would say, yes, you're going to see that blend of IT, HR, operations, marketing, and it just continues to expand as we look at the different vendors within the HR landscape coming into play at any business.

DH: Obviously, we have seen quite a dramatic and quick shift of late to remote working and working from home. Are you seeing any changes to HR's ownership of these kind of collaboration tools or even just the use of some Zoom calls like this?

TH: Yes. Well, I think the current situation has left many organisations no choice but to adopt digital and actually are starting to see the benefits of adopting it.

You used to have… When we used to go into clients to talk about digital transformation or digital employee experience, you'd get some resistance around… Well, why can't I just pick up the phone and talk to somebody, or why can't I just walk down to somebody's desk and have a conversation? When that's taken away, we're actually now starting to see the forced adoption and actually the championed adoption of many types of work and technologies that we use.

Where HR has really stepped up over the last two months or so is really starting to understand what the employees and what the workforce want from an organisation in relation to technology, in relation to technology, in relation to culture, in relation to wellness. And have been far more receptive in understanding that information and feeding it back into the business.

I've seen organisations that have done day-long assessment centres that are now doing day-long assessment centres on Zoom, or typically would do a maths and English test are actually now saying, if you can send us a picture of your GCSE certificate or your A-level certificate, that's proof enough for us. And you don’t need to go through maths and English test.

So it's really driven that adoption and almost forced adoption to adopt and think about new ways in how you can use technology to deliver the same service you did before.

DH: In light of actually this dramatic shift and this adoption of digital almost overnight in organisation sectors, industries that maybe have had to go on fast-forward to be able to carry on, Pam, do you feel, touching on your wellness comment earlier, that there's a new drive…? There's a term at the moment. I don't know why poor Zoom seems to be named, but Zoom fatigue, but actual virtual fatigue being…

On a personal level, I've now stopped talking to my friends on virtual calls, and I've said, if you don’t call me, I'm not going on a video call because it's what I do all day. So it's almost reverting me back in an evening to old school telephone calls. But I just wondered if we see any clients, or do you have a view on the role of HR moving forward and just making sure that people are okay in this virtual world, that they are feeling okay?

PT: Everyone's going have their own personal preference of how they want to connect with individuals. Technology is there to support as a great tool an option. Not everyone is a classic soul like you, Daniel, and want to pick up the phone. I love a good phone conversation myself. Depending on your Wi-Fi bandwidth, maybe video is not an option. Love getting snail mail as well.

But technology is going to be there to help drive the option of connecting and Deloitte in general to setting up coffee chats to be able to connect with people and to continue inspiring people to network with one another even if you don’t know each other. Those people have been figuring out very unique ways, using technology, getting very creative to do trivia just to connect.

So it is what you make of it. Seeing how an organisation looks at the landscape of HR technology, it's whatever you want to make of it.

Going back to Tom's point before, they might have an all-in-one platform, but they might not be utilising and maximising the onboarding module to the best of their capabilities. They're continuing to believe that the best way of doing it is a high-touch manual approach, but it's there. It's there for them to use, and it's really on them to decide if this is a priority or not or if the pain points are big enough to exercise that. So it comes down to if you want it, and it's personal preference, and if it meets your needs.

TH: Just to build on that, this current situation has given us a couple of good things. If you look at your working day now, you get up. You walk down the stairs or walk down the hall to your laptop, turn it on and off you go. Whereas before you had maybe five minutes or ten minutes between each meeting to walk between the rooms or take a bio break, your mind is now constantly engaged in back-to-back meetings. You end a call at 10:59. You join a call at 11:01.

So there is this Zoom fatigue, and I completely get it and understand it, but where this has helped and supported is we now really start to take ownership of our own employee experience and work-life balance and become a lot more strict around it. And you're seeing organisations really start to push those wellness agendas in terms of virtual yoga or virtual Pilates classes at times of the day that you wouldn't typically see any organisations do them.

The other thing that this situation has really allowed us to do is trial a bunch of different technologies and different methods and see what really works in our organisations. If you're a typical really high-touch HR environment, you're not going be able to really get that experience if you're working remotely or on Zoom calls all day.

So does a chatbot work? Does having a widget on your laptop enable people to interact with HR and to interact with the organisation, rather than this classic HR high-touch environment that they might be used to? It might work. It might not.

But when we do go back to the work environment that we were used to, you have a better idea of what's going to drive value in your organisation and what's going resonate with your employees probably more than you did so before. So there are a couple of things that I've seen and taken as positives through this journey.

DH: Just on that point, I suppose what you were talking there about a chatbot and almost a service portal, traditionally that wouldn't have been seen as an HR-owned product. But I think we are seeing a shift in that direction, that we are really focussing portals to deliver great HR service and, like you say, maybe moving away slightly from the high-touch. Is there anything you can talk about in that area?

TH: Yes. For me, HR owns the employee experience or owns the workforce experience, and everything that touches that workforce should have a HR role or should have a HR influence.

One of the examples I use is we can have a great HR portal with all of our HR content and knowledge. So someone can type in, my partner's having a baby, and can get the the maternity or paternity [audio cuts out] this contextualised to them in their country very, very quickly.

But if the next day I go and try and search for the expense policy, and it's in a 20-year-old finance portal, and it takes you 15 minutes to find it, and the one I've got is for a different country and is out of date, my experience is still fundamentally broken because me as an employee, I'm not really to fussed where that policy lies. I just want to be able to get it quickly and make sure it's the right one.

So HR having a role in everything that influences that employee experience is something that we're seeing them take more and more of an ownership of.

PT: Just the idea that they are able to access a portal and be able to get advice and guidance on how to add a dependency to… They're being directed to the right information for an expense [?] will allow them to be more productive with their day. Therefore, it does directly impact their employee experience, directly impact how an HR technology would impact a business objective. Again, just agreeing with Tom, it's all connected in that way.

DH: What should organisations think about as they step into this technology journey within HR? What are the considerations?

PT: Typically, when we talk to clients they want to hear about what the trends are. They want to hear what other people are working on. What are their other pain points? Which is fine. We're happy to share that. We have a general idea of that. We have insight, but it's really about the company understanding their true pain points and what their priorities are to be able to help them with their technology journey.

Again, the vendor landscape is so large, and there is great technology to help with… Whether that's onboarding, digital signatures to whatever you can think of… But it's really trying narrow down that priority list and understand what will make an impact to their workforce, what will make an impact to incoming talent for that organisation.

TH: Just to echo that, and I think I said it before in my previous point, was that this is a great opportunity to try things and understand what works in your organisation and what doesn’t. This situation has only accelerated our clients' digital transformation agendas and future work agendas.

Coming out of this there'll be an expectation that functions are plugged in and ready to go to start to deliver that at probably a pace of change that we didn't see previous to the situation we are in.

So really starting to understand what works and what doesn’t is a real enabler in your organisation. We've seen organisations start to use VR in learning to go through health and safety courses. If you are a warehouse operative, and you're tasked with lifting heavy boxes and heavy pieces of equipment, you can do that as part of a very learning course. So actually you're not putting any stress on anyone's body doing the learning, and you're trying to promote wellness and health at the same time.

For me, it does… Those clients are starting to look at… For me, the couple of pieces that will really start to set the foundations for that acceleration into some of that new types of innovation is the foundational data that you have in your core platforms is absolutely… And working through what is essential foundational data and how clean and how up to date is that data and making sure that that is a consistent process with effective governance.

Because when you start to get into more complex reporting and start to use technologies that use the job architecture of your core platforms for things like skills and competencies, if that isn't as good as it could be, those technologies aren't going to be used at the level that they could.

Then the second piece for me is a standardisation of your technology landscape. We've seen clients over the last couple of years start to buy lots of different types of technologies for lots of different point pieces within that HR ecosystem.

We all come to clients, and we'll talk to their employees, and they'll say, I'm not sure what platform I'm supposed to go to for learning because we've got three or four different ones. Or I'm not sure where to go and get a policy or a process because we've got a portal, we've got a knowledge management and we've case management system.

So starting to standardise those technologies will start to drive a better, more consistent employee experience and stop the confusion of where things like and start to become more productive with what they're doing.

DH: I think that nicely brings us to the end of this episode. I'd like to thank you both for joining us, and I look forward to talking to you both again in the future.

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