‘Organizations are pushing harder on how to measure productivity, how they know who will show up for work, and what trends they are seeing in their workforce. The key areas right now continue to be people analytics as far as adoption of HR tech is concerned. Organizations are also leaning more heavily on AI-based solutions.’
In his role as President, Global Solutions and Services, Colin Brennan leads Alight’s value engineering capabilities, strategic advisory, and global human capital and business solutions. Colin and his team are charged with partnering with clients to design and implement solutions that drive better outcomes for their people and their organizations. Bringing together data and analytics capabilities across the full suite of Alight’s solutions, Colin and his team derive critical insights and help clients take action to respond in the present and prepare for the future.
During his more than 20-year career at Alight and its predecessor organizations, Colin has held a variety of roles across the business. Most recently he led Alight’s cloud and payroll business. Colin was instrumental in successfully navigating some of the company’s key acquisitions including OmniPoint, Kloud, Future Knowledge, Carlson Management, Appirio, and NGA HR.
Colin has deep expertise in the ERP business and regularly speaks at major industry events, including Workday Rising and HR Tech. Colin enjoys working with clients to solve complex problems, enabling them to transform for the future.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
With organizations worldwide grappling with mounting business and people challenges amid this pandemic, how do you see the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and people?
From Alight’s perspective, we see COVID-19 impacting organizations in three main ways:
First, none of us can dispute the basic health and safety requirements for our people and the need to balance that with the very real demands on your business to grow?
- It costs money to put new safety protocols in place
- It costs money to continue to pay for corporate offices that sit idle.
- It costs money to re-configure to meet social distance standards in the office, not to mention the loss of space
Next, companies are having to completely adapt their business models in the short term and in the long term. Many companies are through the initial shock of the immediate disruption and are finding their way in this new normal.
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Top companies, with adaptable cultures, are coming out on top. Organizations that shifted their models quickly, whether it was moving workers to virtual work or retailers and restaurants that moved quickly to delivery-based models with easy to use ordering are thriving.
Alight’s State of HR Transformation study found that those organizations with strong HR governance and a focus on employee engagement are orders of magnitude more capable of making these changes. Gartner also noted in recent studies that smart companies can no longer just design for the most efficient way to get things done – they have to design for efficiency AND resilience.
And finally, of course – people. We know that they are craving connection, culture, and inspiration, while also embracing the flexibility they now have. It is the responsibility of leaders to find the right ways to keep people connected both now and once we’re on the other side of this pandemic
How are and talent leaders across large organizations globally stepping up to the mounting business challenges amid this chaos? How do you see the larger Landscape amid this uncertainty?
If there was ever a realization that people are at the core of what we do and who we serve, it’s now. CEOs are realizing that the mantra “people are our greatest assets” just doesn’t cut it because employees are in fact, people.
Of course, HR practitioners have understood this for some time but under the strain of the pandemic, leaders know it can’t just be lip service anymore. We are seeing that those companies that had the foresight to declare and live by a purpose or mission have had the guideposts they needed to navigate the crisis.
Additionally, employees are demanding more ways to engage and collaborate in the remote environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to go back to the Monday through Friday 9-5 routine in the office, but it does mean they want to still feel like part of a community and a culture they can be proud of.
Do you think the economic uncertainty of the pandemic has paused organizations from spending on HR technology? Can you share some numbers?
We largely see organizations in two situations—they’re either pausing on investment because of ongoing cost pressures, or they’re moving forward. Those companies that are continuing to move ahead with HR technology investments aren’t just those that are financially stable. Companies are looking at the long term and understand that making an investment, such as moving to cloud-based HR and finance technology, will ultimately be a greater benefit to their organization. Access to data and analytics is one of the key drivers for moving forward with major transformation work right now. We’re helping companies tap into scores of data and information that will allow them to make better business decisions.
What's your assessment of the service provider landscape right now? How are vendors stepping up their games to address new market needs? What are the key areas of HR function have you seen maximum tech implementations in the last few months?
The landscape continues to consolidate with Kronos & Ultimate plus purchases by Ceridian and others. HR is moving to enterprise software from best-in-breed and the software players are struggling to cover all the bases for employers. With Work Tech under focus and a lot of areas overlapping with HR, we will continue to see consolidation. On the services side, some organizations are slowing down and letting people go while others are investing through the cycle on new products, AI, and Analytics.
In terms of new-gen technologies, which ones among AI, people analytics, and blockchain are being leveraged most, and why?
The key areas right now continue to be people analytics especially with everything going on in the world. Organizations are pushing harder on how to measure productivity, how they know who will show up for work, and what trends they are seeing in their workforce. Organizations are also leaning more heavily on AI to offset workplace volatility and automate as much as possible. We are seeing good discussion around blockchain, with initial use cases getting deployed.
With the majority of workers working virtually across organizations globally, businesses have had to embrace some new realities like flexibility as part of their culture. And this necessarily means HR has to demonstrate a whole new breed of agility! Do you see a synergy in terms of how talent leaders are raising the ante?
I see the flexibility going both ways. Workers want more flexible work arrangements, which include when and where work gets done and flexibility in how and when they’re paid. On the flip side, many companies are also seeing the value in flexibility in terms of employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. In addition, organizations see the value in having a more flexible – or gig-based- workforce so that they can easily scale staffing up or down based on need or based on their specific talent needs.
What role can leaders play to ensure a better alignment of HR technology investment and business goals?
One of the biggest mistakes we see is the under-utilization of data and analytics. In fact, by some estimates, more than half of the data collected and stored by organizations goes unused. Tapping into people and organizational data can allow business leaders to have hard data to inform and support business decisions that can directly impact business goals.
Is this the right time for businesses to invest in HR tech given that organizations are facing a lot of challenges?
In order for companies to survive and thrive, they need to look ahead. The decisions they make now will impact the health of their business and their people in 2021 and well beyond. Access to the right technology, data, and importantly, the right partner that can provide meaningful insights, will allow companies to make better business and people decisions that will drive better outcomes now and in the future
What are your priorities and new focus areas as we come out of this pandemic?
First and foremost, we’re focused on caring for the health and safety of our 15,000 colleagues around the world. And we’re focused on delivering greater value for our clients and their people through our continued investment in technology, AI and analytics capabilities.
Read more such stories from the November 2020 issue of our e-magazine on 'The State of Digital HR’