Many will recollect the vintage Personnel Departments where stacks of files and reams of forms were stock in trade. The Personnel Officers were busy processing forms and maintaining records, submitting one report or the other almost all day long, intercepted by meeting with union representatives or few employees then again going back to those stack of papers. Senior managers too were doing nothing very different, except they had Assistants to get the reports. Personnel Department was considered a support function by business leaders who called the organizational direction. And those in the erstwhile Personnel department took pride in calling their function “grease that oiled the organization’s wheels”. One day folded into another, predominantly doing transaction work. How times have changed. HR function today stands out as a major strategic partner to business and HR professionals are shaping organization’s destiny.
But has HR become smarter? Has it leveraged technology to make a bigger impact? And have the HR professionals kept pace with the times and become technology savvy? And in doing so, have they freed themselves from service delivery mode and become partners to business?
HR service delivery will continue to assume a greater importance as businesses combat challenges of spiraling cost, demands of global workforce and processes, need for instant and round the clock information, flexible and changing organizational boundaries and of course rising customer expectations.
HR function has been a late entrant into the area of making technology work to its benefit. Technology can provide HR professionals scope to dramatically improve and automate processes and at the same time, streamline delivery services, besides reducing cost of such activities. Decision making process and employee satisfaction can improve substantially as the workplace embraces higher level of technology. In many organizations, HR services delivery has been adversely impacted due to ineffective use of technology.
As per Forrester Research, HR professionals spend nearly 50% of time on administrative activities. Much of this can be saved with implementation of HR Management Systems which would eliminate routine paper work besides reducing costs by automating basic HR activities. It would also facilitate better decision through accurate and timely reporting and analysis.
Hackett Group study found that high-performing world-class companies operated with 16% fewer HR staff than the others mainly by more efficient use of IT. Self-service technology contributed to higher levels of efficiency and productivity and simultaneous reduction in costs. The study also established that HR leaders in these companies had a deep understanding of technology and made a strong effort to derive as much value as possible from the technologies they had deployed.
Use of Second-Life concept to onboard new employees and inducting them into company culture has received favorable response from tech-savvy generation. Besides using technology for basic activities like disseminating information on company policy, benefit enrollment; organizations are now using it extensively for talent Management, skill development, self paced learning and simulations. It has made significant stride in improving communication with employees through simple yet highly effective techniques like e-notice boards, interactive chat forums, share nets, virtual town hall meetings etc. Even use of Podcast as means of disseminating knowledge or information is fast gaining popularity for its simplicity and acceptance by younger generation. Technology is being leveraged to build employees’ skills though ‘Touch Point’ calls or short e-meetings which enable employees to discuss business and technical topics with experts in a small group setting. Use of 'Mail Cast', a five-minute, flash based tutorials is a creative way of spreading knowledge, convey policies and processes and also provide an interactive learning platform, it provides good pointers in those few minutes.
Despite current economic challenges, progressive organizations are continuing to invest and find value in HR technology systems. According to a Towers Perrin's study of HR service delivery and technology, close to a third of the respondents have increased their investment in HR-related technologies, and 55% are maintaining their technology budgets at 2007 levels. For organizations to sustain or even increase their HR-related technology spend in a year of such economic uncertainty and cost-cutting is a testament to the importance companies are placing on managing their talent and having the right systems and capabilities in place to do that well.
The human resources function in its journey of evolution is migrating from an isolated back office and occasionally bureaucratic function to one that is viewed as a competitive advantage helping organizations achieve strategic business objectives. A little help from technology is going a long way …
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