Does the digital age make HR obsolete?

The digitization of HR continues and increases in strength. I was fortunate enough to visit Traefpunkt HR last month, the largest HR fair in the Nordics, held annually in Copenhagen, Denmark. My estimate is that 80% of the exhibitors were in HR tech of some kind – a tell-tale sign as good as any.


Accenture released a report in August this year where they line up examples of companies being able to achieve more in traditional HR with less people using digital HCM systems. So, is that the future of HR? Streamlined HR departments with hollow-eyed, under-stimulated HR professionals pushing buttons?

This may actually be true for some of the more mundane tasks performed by HR today – digitization and robotization of HR will make administrative tasks less burdening for HR. But, future organizations will require much more from HR and challenge the traditional perception of the function in ways we probably can’t imagine. But, let’s make a try and see what the future may hold by looking at some of the early adopters.


Prediction no 1

Human Resources gets the responsibility AND the mandate for true employee satisfaction.

A famous example of this is Airbnb who no longer has a Chief HRO but rather a Chief Employee Experience Officer. In short, this means that they extend their “contributor experience” to their employees focusing on making work at Airbnb a memorable experience. This ambition includes but goes beyond making attracting, recruiting and retaining employees a great experience for the candidate/employee. It’s also about creating the culture and physical environment that supports the kind of experience that they want to create. This sounds pretty much like most forward-looking HR departments of today so what’s different? At Airbnb, the CEEO(?), Mark Levy, does not only have the accountability but also the mandate to actually get things done. He has control of not only the basic HR processes but also facilities, food, celebrations and culture enhancing events.


Prediction no 2

Human Resources does not only provide good data. They provide analysis.

Sure, digitization of HR makes life easier for line managers and employees alike. Not a bad thing at all. But the true value is HR’s increased ability to mine employee data for business insights. SaaS HCM systems, being complex behind the scenes and user friendly front-end, has allowed HR to take control of the support systems from the IT department. From my perspective, and I admit being biased, HR has always been business critical. But, put the data at the fingertips of HR and they will become business critical in the eyes of everybody. This is enhanced by the fact that it is generally onlyHR that has access to the data given the sensitivity of the information. Today, some HR departments are good at providing data for other departments for analysis. This is great but my prediction is that future proofed HR Directors will have their own workforce of analysts employed – that’s the only way to be really proactive.

Prediction no 3

The “War for Talent” is insourced and recruiting becomes predictive. For real.

I was about to state that the “War for Talent” historically has had too much of an external focus in my perspective. That is, it has been too much about talent acquisition rather than talent retention. However, this is unfair to all the skilled HR people and line managers I know are working hard to not only attract but also retain and promote the right employees. But still, the internal struggles to keep talents motivated has been performed with little more than gut feeling and informal internal discussions not supported by real-time data. With the help of digital tools and a sound handling of master data – HR can more accurately and effortlessly predict future recruitment needs as well as gaining access to a full and always updated map of talents and their competencies. But maybe even more important – HR has insights into the present and future competency needs of the organization. How’s that for predictive recruitment?

To sum up, the relevancy of the HR departments will increase rather than decrease with digitization. But, this will require HR Directors to not only purchase the tools needed, but also to select staff that has the analytical skill sets necessary to not only be the provider of facts – but also providers of analysis and prognostic advice.

Sources: “Digital HR technology comes of age” (Accenture, Aug 2016), “Airbnb Chief Human Resource Officer Becomes Chief Employee Experience Officer” (Forbes, July 2015)

Do you need help? – Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Rickard Hellner

Rickard Hellner, 14 November 2016

Senior Consultant & Project Manager, CatalystOne Solutions

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