HR Tech: It is Not Only About HR

By Babu Thiagarajan, Head - Technology, Fidelity International, India

Technology investments in organisations have traditionally focused on the front end of the businesses - customer engagement, customer service, or the backend of the business, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERPs) and recordkeeping systems. Industry thought leadership and guidance on aspects like future state architecture, tools and techniques have all largely been about these areas of the business. HR Tech investments have generally been dealt with a ‘keep the lights on’ approach to make sure the basics of employee management are in place such as appraisal management systems, compensation and benefits systems etc.

Changing business drivers:

Focus on ‘People’

The business drivers are changing now. Employees, or better still, ‘people’ are being accepted as a key differentiator for organisations. If you want to deliver a better customer experience, you need to provide a better experience to your own people. In addition, the omnipresence of digital experiences in our daily lives and high engagement expectations from our workforce (increasingly comprising of millennials) are further driving organisations to increase the allocation to HR Tech in their budgets.

HR Tech: Minimal legacy rubble

This presents an unmatched opportunity to the CIOs. In case of other portfolios or business areas, the CIOs would have invariably inherited a mish-mash of technologies, legacy platforms, spaghetti architectures, onerous data architecture and so on. So creating an impactful technology proposition for those portfolios always meant running difficult change programmes. To make matters more challenging, there has never been a time so far when there have been so many disruptive technologies knocking on the door at the same time across all areas and tiers of the tech platform. E.g. AR/VR on the front end, data virtualisation/ APIs in the middle tier, Blockchain in the backend, Cloud for infrastructure, lateral threats like Security, delivery methodologies are being reinvented so fast, and so on. However, there is a silver lining -in the case of HR Tech, given the traditional lack of investments into space, the mess inherited by CIOs is significantly lower. As a consequence, the ability to learn and adapt to the emerging tech can be far more unconstrained.

Take a holistic view - Don’t be short-sighted

If CIOs narrowly think (‘keep the lights on’) of implementing the next HR ERP then in a few years they would have replicated a similar chaos of architecture in this portfolio as well. Instead, CIOs would be well served to view it as a great opportunity to truly think about a future state HR Tech architecture and start to build out the components aligned with it. For example, instead of just implementing the next Human Resource Management System (HRMS) it would be beneficial to first think about how best to organise and leverage People Data by focusing on aspects such as golden source, mastering, security, analytics, etc. All parts of such a platform need not be built in one programme. At the same time, these aspects should not be an after-thought in the first such programme for HR Tech.

At Fidelity International, this comprehensive approach has indeed helped over the past few years to move from a relatively basic HR Tech platform to having a robust cloud based HR platform, integrated across multiple HR functional areas, and rolled out in a globally consistent manner at record speed. We have been able to pilot newer tech such as chatbot conversational interfaces for FAQs, AI led approach to find the right talent and so on. The speed of delivery is great, the employee experience is enhanced, and the technology team supporting this is at one of the lowest ratios across the firm.

The focus need not just be about the tangible aspects - CIOs could use this opportunity to truly implement the so called DevOps culture and extend that culture into the HR business function as well. This opportunity need not be seen as being only about HR Technology. Given its relative simplicity, it will be a great vehicle to ambitiously reach out for the new Technology options that are now available. And in doing so, this portfolio can become the reference implementation for the rest of the organisation on how to leap-frog into the future - be it technology, tools, delivery approaches, cultural elements, Tech+Biz partnership and so on.

Pause – Think- Take a Strategic View and Be the Gold Standard

It may be tempting to quickly dive into the next implementation, simply to respond to the increased allocation to HR Tech and hence get the proverbial monkey off the back. However, pausing and thinking about the value that can be created for the whole organisation and not just for HR might be more beneficial to both HR and the organisation. Leveraging the spend to learn and adopt new and emerging technologies, delivery methods and culture will be a unique way to truly demonstrate the massive technology potential to the organisation-a unique opportunity not to be lost. 

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