Q&A: HR Technology to Adopt for the Digital Age

August 15, 2018

Michael Burke, CEO for Aon's Talent, Rewards and Performance business answers questions about the role that technology plays in human resources, especially as organizations create the workforce for the digital age.


Technology has evolved rapidly over the last 10 years and is changing the way businesses fundamentally operate. Why is it important for HR professionals to understand the value-add that technology brings to the modern workforce?

While technology was once just a division within an organization, today it is a strategic need that permeates all levels and functions. For employers, they are seeing improved cost savings, efficiencies and innovation. On the flip side, employees see greater workplace flexibility, changes to their physical and mental well-being and their social experiences. HR plays a pivotal role in understanding and managing the benefits and concerns that arise with technology as it relates to talent acquisition, engagement, culture, employee development, performance, and workforce/organizational design.

Specifically, how has HR technology has evolved over the years?

Before the 90s, HR technology was intended to reduce the time being spent on administrative HR processes, such as efficiently processing employee paperwork. With the advent of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technologies in the 90s, the time needed to perform administrative HR tasks was significantly reduced and HR began to focus more on workforce productivity. HR began to utilize more sophisticated talent management techniques to support key talent decisions, evaluate employees and assess candidates.

With the widespread adoption of internet-based HR systems in the early 2000s, HR technology evolved into a talent management function. With access to data, HR could shift its focus from assisting with employee-specific decisions to ensuring a steady supply of high-performing talent was available for critical job roles.

What we’re seeing today is the use of cloud-based applications that enable HR to spend less time maintaining software and more time actually using the tools effectively. The evolution of highly-scalable, user-friendly and cost-effective solutions incorporating sophisticated decision-support technologies is shifting HR’s priorities to be aligned with the company’s short- and long-term business strategies.

We don’t think of technology as an “Or,” but rather, an “And.”

Can you tell me more about how changes in technology are impacting talent acquisition?

Sure. It’s really about enabling mangers to move beyond their “gut feeling” in hiring. Talent acquisition has improved through the use of Artificial Intelligence and natural language processing as candidate evaluation tools. Augmented reality can also be used to simulate job environments, enabling recruiters to learn how candidates react in proxy environments. These technologies help reduce cost, improve process time and efficiency, and unconscious bias in the acquisition function.

What about measuring employee engagement?

To better understand employee sentiment, engagement monitoring is transitioning from a point-in-time activity to a continuously interactive system. Quick feedback tools with familiar, social-media type interfaces and gamification programming allow HR to make culture more identifiable, customized, and relevant for employees. Engagement and culture tools can provide significant improvements in employee experience, but the kinds of data they collect and the security of that data raise ethical questions.

We hear a lot about firms moving away from performance management to performance tracking. What types of tools are being used to gain new insights?

First, I want to clarify that performance systems and ratings are not going away—they are just changing form. But we are starting to see employers adopt the use of wearables, which offer the ability to track and understand work through the eyes of the employees. This allows firms to identify gaps in competencies like quality assurance and safety. Also, by using people analytics data to customize performance tracking systems, managers will be able to make more informed and relevant judgments about performance.

With an increasing need for flexibility in all aspects of the workplace, how are firms are using technology, such as cloud-based collaboration tools and predictive analytics, to adapt?

The nature of strategic workforce planning is changing. Organizations don’t just have the option of build vs. buy, but also borrowing or renting employees. As the gig economy continues to expand, organizational design must change to accommodate contingent, short time and remote employees. Predictive analytics are essential for workforce planning, and augmented reality can bring to life workspaces they have never visited.

Newer technologies are more complex and more difficult for ordinary people to understand, which could lead to greater degrees of distrust. How should organizations approach this?

We don’t think of technology as an “Or,” but rather, an “And.” There is a lot of scaremongering around technology driven job-loss. And that increases people’s distrust of technology. We see technology as an enhancer of productivity and customer experience. That message should be the communication from HR, that the organization views technology as a partner to, not a replacement for, essential human abilities and activities.

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