HR leaders are grappling with identifying the right innovations for their business to level up learning and development.
And while nobody has a crystal ball, few are better placed to take the long view than Stacey Harris.
Chief research officer at Sapient Insights Group, Harris also oversees the longest-running annual HR systems survey on the market, the Annual HR Systems Survey and White Paper – about to embark on its 25th year.
She’s also published a book, Introduction to HR Technologies.
A true view of HR tech
Running the survey, she says, gives her “a more realistic view about what’s happening in HR technology”. Speaking to UNLEASH from North Carolina, it’s clear she is not starry-eyed about the tech stack.
“I think if you were to look at all the hype from the vendors, and all the exciting stories from Forbes or Wall Street Journal, HR will change the world with Artificial Intelligence (AI),” she says.
“The market is completely focused on how technology will replace human beings.
“In all reality, 40% of the market is still working on some sort of HR technology that’s in an on-premise environment. We have about 10% or so on what you would consider in-house developed software.
“The market is a lot further away from, I think, the vision that we often get from vendors.”
A change is going to come
Considering changes in the seven years Stacey has led the survey means she has “seen fads come and go”.
Like many in the industry, Harris has observed the pandemic as accelerating changes which were already taking place.
“It is not going to rewrite the way we think about work,” she comments. “It is going to accelerate areas that probably would have taken maybe a decade to get to where we now might be able to get to in two or three years.
“That includes hybrid work environments, cloud access to data, skills management focuses.
“We’ve been talking about skills for about three years now as sort of a new primary component of your HR database, but I don’t think people had quite figured out how to do it and it wasn’t quite as necessary yet.”
Harris also believes: “The pandemic made some of the shifts that were trending for more emerging HR functions, or for organizations that had figured out how to leverage their human data more effectively, it just pushed the envelope for everyone who was thinking about it but hadn’t got there already.”
Not sexy but essential
There are, however, two areas for innovation which HR leaders should strongly consider, says Harris – and they’re perhaps not the obvious ones. While not “sexy”, she admits, time management and payroll need tech TLC too.
“I think that a lot of the time HR professionals are very aware of what systems are being used for talent management, what systems are being used for their core HR mass.
“What tools are being used for your time management areas? And what tools are being used for payroll?”
She adds: “You have a payroll system and paychecks get made. And you know somebody’s tracking time and that’s important. But when [companies] think about doing a big HR transformation, those two areas are often left either as aspects for [simple] integration, or as more operations-level conversations.
“My experience is that those are the two applications that have the most important data for really important functionality like workforce planning, or skills management.”
“Wellness – all those things – they’re sexy, and they’re very easy to talk about as something that will engage an audience,” Harris says. “But none of that works effectively if the data inside your payroll or time system isn’t appropriately managed. And that’s the place where the employees in your organization are impacted the most.”
Choosing the correct HR tech
Harris is reluctant to be drawn on which particular software such companies should be using. It’s “a hard question for any analyst to answer”, she says. “There is a software solution for every company and for every company there’s software solution.”
But what all HR leaders need is an adaptable HR system strategy in place, she insists.
“Which means you’re in continuous maintenance mode – you have mechanisms set up that are catching the early winds of change.
“The idea that you will do these big projects and then move on to another big project is dead. Project management-based HR is a thing of the past.”
Were she to write a new edition of her book in 10 years’ time, Harris envisages that “at least 75%” would have to be completely rewritten – that’s the speed at which HR technology is changing.
“I anticipate that we are going to have a whole new approach to service delivery that will include a lot of our work tech,” she says.
“I envisage that we will have a whole new approach to time, time management, time in attendance, absence and leave, because organizations and employees will require more flexibility.
“So we’re going to have a lot more tools in place that recalculate those aspects, the options employees have.”
She concludes: “The world of talent management today will be reshaped by [new] skills and ideas about how jobs are more fluid and open. AI will require every HR professional to think more broadly about the decisions they’re making.”