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Why has HR tech failed to deliver?

Source | : By Chitra Narayanan

“For all the technology we are buying, we are not making the workplace better. It is time to rethink HR Tech.”

Josh Bersin, Principal & Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

“Why do we need to lift and shift everything from the US?”

Suchitra Rajendran, VP, HR – India Region, Pepsico

“Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink. Similarly, systems technology everywhere in the office but not one of use to employees.”

Abdul Jaleel, VP, People-Resources India, Adobe

These were some of the comments one heard at SHRM’s (Society for Human Resource Management) recent HR Tech conference in Hyderabad. Considering that HR tech is already a $400-billion marketplace and an average company spends about $2,000 per employee per year on various HR tools and services, what is going wrong? What has caused such disillusionment with HR tech? How can it be set right?

Hurting or helping?

Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, the opening speaker at the conference, set the tone for some deep soul-searching when he said technology had not made work easier for employees. Instead, it had made things harder. Most employees today, he said, are overwhelmed by e-mail, and by the new tools their organisations have introduced. Over 25 per cent of an employee’s time goes in dealing with e-mail.

As for the new tools that have been introduced to increase collaboration, they end up being used only by a fraction of the employees.

According to Krish Shankar, Group Head, HR at Infosys, “Tools like Yammer are deployed. But only 14-15 per cent of the people in an organisation use them.”

As Bersin pointed out, “Often times the tech being sold is not improving productivity at the workplace.”

In fact, the contrary seems to have happened. From 2011 to 2016, productivity slowed to a crawl, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

And things may get worse as according to Bersin, 70 per cent of HR professionals admitted in a survey they don’t have the skills to deal with robotics, artificial intelligence, automation, and so on – technologies that are threatening to disrupt the workplace.

Are we shopping right?

Part of the problem seems to be the way firms have bought technology. The method used is what one speaker termed as “spray and pray”. “HR is simply providing tools and praying these will be used,” pointed out Krish Shankar. “Are we thinking about what jobs people can get done with these tools?” he questions, warning that there will soon be a graveyard full of HR tech products that are good but don’t meet any of our needs.

Christopher Arnold, Head of Knowledge Services, and Data Whisperer, Wells Fargo, says, “Companies are buying technology because it is fun, cool, interesting and not because it will help people work better.”

Bersin’s advice to the HR folks: “Look at the tech you are buying carefully and make sure what you are getting is actually adding value to employees. Before you buy these technologies, give access to employees and buy them based on their feedback and ease of use.”

Product vs Process

The other problem many people highlighted was that companies go shopping enthusiastically for new tools but fail to introduce processes that will lay the ground for adoption by employees. There is also a mismatch in HR’s expectations from a technology and its eventual delivery.

As Nishith Upadhyaya, Head-Advisory and Knowledge for SHRM India points out, “The problem today is that a lot of vendors in their oversell of product capabilities highlight the possibilities of their platforms but do not highlight the fact that organisations require a significant amount of process maturity to be able to harness the true potential of their platforms.”

The result, he says, is that clients pay through their noses for high-end products but end up disappointed when their existing processes do not fit in.

The vendors, for their part, have complaints too. Pankaj Bansal, co-founder and CEO of People Strong, an HR tech startup, says, “Organisations do not understand the difference between traditional ERP and new-age HR technology. There is a lot of education needed there.”

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