Role of Technology in Transforming the HR Space

By Ekta Vyas, Director, Human Resources, Stanford Children's Health

In the light of your experience, what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening with respect to the HR Technology space?

The HR tech movements in the cloud tech started in the early 2000s, and now the marketplace is enormous and dynamic. These breakthrough innovations in operations have been due to speeding up of the rate of people turning to the change and embracing it. But many of them haven’t made a move yet. Concurrently, lower costs, easy access around the clock and real-time data, faster deployment of systems pose as key benefits of cloud-based solutions. This is paving the way for people to have an action plan and go forward to being cloud-based.

Accordingly, workforce analytics is also picking up rapidly because of the availability of better technologies which can integrate data from various sources and help get people into addressing various workforce concerns. Multi-Generational contingent workforce areas within the HR functions such as trans acquisition, training, and development activities have been the most impacted by the plethora of technology options.

Another facet which I think will continue to develop is solutions for employee self-service. The easiest way to upset a customer is to make them wait. Nobody wants a lot of paper forms and wait in a queue for their questions to be answered. For this very reason, AI has started gaining a lot of attention both for gateway solutions and better learning options and for enhanced employee and customer experience.

Now when one moves from trends to challenges, at times industry trends itself can become the most pressing challenges. For instance AI. There is a lot of talk by technology pros about what AI can do for HR space, but at the same time, there is certain skepticism on the receiving end. There are so many questions and uncertainties that employers have about what and how to use AI in the workplace.

"To make a workplace digital you first have to make its workforce and culture digitally agile"

As an HR leader, another challenge I see is facilitating the digitalization of our workforce. To make a workplace digital, you first have to make its workforce and culture digitally agile otherwise you’re going workplace digital is not going to give the right returns. As a result, change management will become intricate and imbalanced. Hence, organizations need to keep their people and their talent in mind while choosing an HR technology.

Could you talk about your recommended approach to identifying the right partnership providers from the lot?

For establishing any partnership first and foremost objective should be to know your own pressing needs, current gaps, and what is the outcome that you are trying to get through that partnership. With ongoing disruptions and transformation happening there is a requirement for a reality check from a change management perspective. So, if a partner under consideration does not understand where you currently stand and understand your current challenges, that partnership won’t work.

Once the objective is clear then comes in the next factor, i.e., technology. Whether it is about automation as many organizations are still paper-based, or if it is about the shift in your service delivery model, up-skilling the workforce’s capabilities, or implementing key HR strategy.

Also, cost, speed, and quality of solutions have always been key determinants for selecting a provider. It’s important to make decisions on whether to build or buy them with scalability as a key consideration. Another significant component is what’s there service delivery model and cultural fit. There are a lot of technology providers who have excelled in a particular industry, but then they would fail miserably providing the same solution to the client in another industry as they fail to understand the cultural nuances. Thus, when selecting a partner besides cost, speed, and quality of the solution, one has to focus on will they be able to partner with when you have to initiate change and what you could expect from their service model.

How have you leveraged technology to support your strategies?

There are three primary areas where I have been able to deliver technology strategically. When we talk about the strategy, the first aspect that comes to picture is recruitment infrastructure and employer branding, compensation design and administration, and course data analytics.

In my current role at Stanford Health, I had an opportunity and privilege to build a new employer brand which was enabled by technology to a large extent. We successfully established the brand and as well managed a very high volume of recruitment for the opening of our new hospital efficiently which was enabled by an all-encompassing recruitment suite which we integrated with our core HRIS system. Besides that, there was candidate outreach that was enabled by social media and digital campaigns, a recruiting CRM, and marketing platform, and above all, our ability to track and observe our returns on those investments. The technology was just like a foundation to be able to establish that employer brand and that infrastructure. Now for compensational technology solutions that I have leveraged, they include both analysis and design tools such as survey management, market pricing, and the compensation administration tools for goal-based incentive programs and process facilitation.

The third area that I mentioned was data analytics; we recently launched a manager dashboard pilot. I see that continually progressing towards more integrated solutions could give us a holistic insight into our workforce trends and issues.

Can you draw an analogy between your personality traits, hobbies and how they reflect on your leadership approach?

Being into Indian classical music as a vocalist, I relate closely to rhythm and harmony, and my leadership approach is also affected and influenced by these two principals. Leadership has to be about consistency and flow, and when you bring together a diverse group of talent that’s working towards a common goal, it’s my job as a leader to create a rhythm and continually gage my team’s harmony. So when new initiatives come my way and the rhythm changes I should be able to access and manage how my team is responding to the new rhythm and then do the needful to get everybody in the sink again.

Personality wise I seem inclusive and transparent. Being inclusive helps me welcoming a partnership-oriented environment with both my immediate, expanded and cross-functional teams that I work with. Transparency is one of thing that’s most valued and appreciated by my team, and I get that as regular feedback. These characteristics have been very rewarding for me as a leader in how my team connects with me.

How do you see the evolution of the HR Technology arena a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

HR technology is continually evolving to create enhanced employee and customer experiences. This would include creating a seamless experience for employees, employers, and business clients. There would also be a rise in consulting companies systems integrating with their clients’ cloud-based technology. In the pursuit of providing more transparency into the business and its financial performance, cloud-based HR systems integrating with multiple business functions such as supply chain, finance, and HR could be seen in the future. Now, specific to enabling HR strategies, I think talent is one of the key elements that’s going to continue to transform talent acquisition, learning, and data analytics. So, everything that’s coming into the recruitment area with AI, and AR/ VR is going to continue the transformation.

How critical do you think it is for an HR professional to be technology savvy and how can it be achieved?

In the current times, knowledge and use of technology are indispensable as our daily operations are mostly enabled by it. Even people working in organizations that are not advanced with technology; in their personal lives, they are living with technology on a regular basis. I firmly believe that whether or not you directly work in HR it is important to know about HR technologies and they should be a part of every HR professional development and carrier plan. There are a lot of entry-level folks who have still not figured out where they want to go and how they want to progress and this is an area that is so promising now. They could enroll in courses and certification programs that provide a knowledge base in HR technology, talk to colleagues who have been there and understand from their experiences. In a nutshell, I would say go embrace and learn it, and it will set you apart.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field?

From a competency perspective, the human resource function has already come a long way and has shifted from merely being service-oriented, to being considered as a strategic function in most industries. The technology which started with the intent of automating the paper-based processes is now taking the shape of totally facilitating people’s strategies.

However, it’s important for an HR professional to understand how they are being considered, i.e., as process enablers or as strategic partners as it depends to a large extent on us how they partner with the organization. So for any aspiring professional who wishes to grow and be known as a strategic thinker and partner, it’s vital to understand an organization’s business strategy, the industry landscape, and then align it to the workforce trends and the realities of the organization at the end.

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