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This year has seen companies turning to artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and robotics to automate time-consuming administration work.
Most companies are still running their human resource (HR) records on outdated computer systems that are difficult to use and do not easily share data with each other.
But more are concluding that it makes sense to give their employees technology in the office that is as simple and intuitive to use as the technology they use at home.
Major business upheavals such as mergers and divestments have been another catalyst for companies to invest in modern HR technology.
For example, Aberdeen Standard Life, created from two of Scotland’s largest financial companies, is moving all of its staff to a single cloud-based HR IT platform, while Agfa-Gevaert is investing in modern HR software to prepare the way for spinning off its healthcare business as a separate organisation.
This year has also seen more companies providing their employees with wearable devices to help them meet their personal fitness goals. Others are running training programmes to encourage workers in stressful jobs to get enough sleep and eat properly despite the pressure of work. Wellness is now a business priority.
Calculating the value of HR technology to a business is notoriously difficult, but Bob van Ierland, executive board member and group HR director of private Dutch delivery service PostNL, has cracked the problem.
The company is crunching the numbers from its staff surveys to find out why some feel more engaged than others, and prioritising actions it can take to help people feel more motivated.
One project uses robotics software to automate tedious and repetitive administrative work, cutting costs and freeing up employees for more interesting work.
“We expect to release €80m of value by investing only €1m,” he says. “That is a great pitch to [to the board].”
British motorcycle company Triumph is developing technology that will allow customers to personalise and change the specifications of their dream motorcycle right up until the day the bike rolls out on to the factory floor.
But Jonathan Parsons, human resources director at Triumph Motorcycles, wants the company to offer its own staff a similar “premium experience” at work, which is why the company is investing in a modern HR system.
In future, managers will be able to approve holidays from their mobile phones, chatbots will answer employees’ queries, and workers will be able to use spider charts to map their skills – making it easier for managers to put the right people with the right mix of skills together in project teams.
Norway-based mobile phone company Telenor knows that the skills its workforce has now will become increasingly irrelevant as the company continues to invest in digital technology.
The company is challenging every employee to spend 40 hours a year learning digital skills that could help them in the future. It expects everyone to spend time each week learning skills from online training courses provided to the company by universities and business schools.
“We are developing people into new future-oriented roles because all our roles will change and have a bigger digital content in the future,” says Cecilie Heuch, Telenor’s chief people officer.
HR technology projects are difficult and it is not unusual for companies to have more than one attempt before they get it right.
Lufthansa has learned lessons from earlier work and is now rolling out SuccessFactors Employee central software to 130,000 employees.
The company worked hard to simplify its HR processes and to identify the most critical HR functions it needed to put in place before it went ahead with the project.
“We learned it is definitely important to have your HR processes as standardised as possible throughout the company, before you jump in on technology,” says Julian Simée, Lufthansa senior manager of corporate HR strategy.
The annual staff survey is an opportunity for employers to troubleshoot problems, find out how to better retain and motivate their employees, and identify why some teams may be performing well and others not so well.
For many companies, the results of the survey are a key strategic tool, but the survey takes effort and resources to compile and analyse.
What would happen if employees could provide feedback to their managers every week, rather than once a year? Capgemini, the €13bn turnover technology services and consulting company, has begun a project to find out.
Dutch Healthcare company Philips is looking to AI, chatbots and learning playlists to help staff learn new skills more quickly.
Philips is working with technology company Cornerstone, which provides cloud-based learning and HR software, to test how AI can improve online learning.
The technology will be able to recommend courses and learning packages, tailored to the needs of each employee, that will allow them to reach the “next skill level”.
Peter Meerman, director of global learning solutions at Philips, says investing in learning technology for its employees will help the company refocus its business more quickly.
Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management merged last year to create Standard Life Aberdeen, one of Europe’s largest asset management companies.
The company faces the challenge of uniting two organisations that have different approaches to pay bonuses, working hours and the way they manage their staff.
Differences in the way data is stored between the systems can mean that normally straightforward tasks, such as producing a report of headcount across different groups in the organisation, are difficult.
Nigel Rogers, global head of HR systems for Standard Life Aberdeen, is heading a project to move data on 3,000 employees from Standard Life’s ageing HR databases to Aberdeen Asset Management’s modern cloud HR service.
Rogers turned an enforced delay in the technology project to his advantage by using the time to work on a standard set of terms and conditions for employees working across both parts of the organisation.
Employers have started thinking about how they can use technology to help their employees stay healthy, with some offering wearable devices to help staff meet personal health goals, including daily step counts and better sleep habits.
Investing in technology to improve staff wellbeing makes business sense. It can improve morale and productivity of employees and reduce staff turnover, at a time when recruiting skilled employees is increasingly challenging. For some employers, it is simply the right thing to do.
Agfa-Gevaert, which makes imaging and IT systems for healthcare, printing and industrial applications, is investing in cloud IT services to prepare for spinning off its Healthcare IT business.
As a standalone business, Agfa Healthcare IT will no longer have access to the economies of scale that come with being the part of the Agfa-Gevaert group.
The healthcare company is moving HR records from its own computers running SAP, to SAP’s SuccessFactors Employee central cloud HR service.
The project will give managers access to information on all of their employees around the world from a single computer screen for the first time, allowing them to see which of their team is working and who is on holiday.
“It is incredible how much time in HR we spent managing this,” says Peter Dignef, global head of HR services. “The big win is at the transactional level, and it’s often a hidden cost. We are doing this in a more efficient way now.”
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will have a significant impact on the way companies manage their workforces within two years.
Research by analyst group Fosway and Unleash reveals that organisations are looking to deploy chatbots and machine learning technology to provide better HR services to their employees.
Technology companies are developing AI, chatbots and natural language processing to make it easier for employers and managers to deal with administrative HR tasks.
“For businesses, it will have a significant impact on productivity – people will spend less time trying to do stuff,” says David Wilson, founder and CEO of Fosway Group. “They have the right information presented to them at the right time. It will impact quality of decisions.”