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What to Expect: 2020 HR Tech Trends

​The HR technology industry will experience continuing growth and evolution in 2020 as new players enter the market, organizations turn to technology for further efficiency and productivity gains, and venture capitalists remain enticed by the promise of HR tech firms, industry experts say.

Industry analyst Josh Bersin wrote in a recent article that HR software continues to be "white-hot," in part because companies operating in "talent-constrained environments" seek to invest in tools to help them better recruit, develop and support their workforces.

Yet despite that promising outlook, there are growing concerns about the expanding use of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the dearth of data analysis skills needed in HR to interpret information generated by new technologies, and the stubborn lack of functionality in some talent management platforms.

Here are six trends and developments that experts interviewed by SHRM Online expect to see in HR technology as we turn the calendar to 2020.

No. 1: Self-Service Technologies

HR functions have increasingly adopted technology platforms that include both employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) tools to make HR information more accessible.

But some experts believe HR will begin to reconsider use of those tools in light of recent data and experiences showing pushback from line managers. Although research from Sierra-Cedar's 2019-2020 HR Systems Survey shows that ESS and MSS tools are still being purchased, they aren't always fully rolled out to the organization.

Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for Sierra-Cedar, said line managers can feel burdened when responsibilities shift from HR to them. Harris knows of one company that stopped using MSS tools after studying the issue for a year.

"They realized that by rolling out MSS, they had placed too much of a burden on managers to accomplish HR-related tasks," which also cast a poor light on HR, she said. The organization decided to shelve the MSS tools and instead open a shared-services center where HR administrators provide services to line managers.

Leah Johnson, vice president of advisory at research and consulting firm Gartner, said organizations would be wise to also rethink their use of ESS tools in areas like learning and development in 2020.

"I think one of the reasons we're seeing the workforce fall behind in certain skills and competencies is that organizations have become overly reliant on self-service approaches for employees," she said. "They have good intentions in trying to empower employees and give them choice by providing cafeteria-style menus of learning and development opportunities. But there is too broad a range of quality in those menus, and the number of choices can sometimes seem overwhelming to employees."

Organizations should better curate their learning options and provide more guidance on how specific courses or experiences help employees advance along career paths, Johnson said. "Choice is important, but more organizations need to do the hard work of figuring out the best options for employees."

No. 2: AI Adoption

HR will continue to deploy technologies with embedded AI and machine learning as those tools mature and pass more real-world tests. But experts have varied opinions on the pace of that growth and how AI will expand beyond its current uses within HR. Harris believes that in the next 10 years, up to 50 percent of organizations will have HR technology that provides daily recommendations and workforce insights based on AI and machine learning.

While AI is regularly used today in recruiting, HR service delivery, and learning and development, Harris sees a broader adoption timeline, in which AI expands into new areas of HR and is used as a common practice, unfolding as HR cloud technologies did, which took about a decade for mass adoption.

"Part of the reason for the longer timeline is that we are beginning to see more pushback against AI and a growing need to enact more ethical standards and regulation around its use," Harris said. "There are still a lot of managers and employees who aren't comfortable with the technology or don't fully understand how it works. We've also seen some recent lawsuits regarding potential bias in the use of AI."

In November, for example, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate recruiting technology vendor HireVue, based on claims that the technology the vendor uses to scan and evaluate candidate faces and voices as part of hiring decisions may discriminate against certain segments of workers.

Other experts believe the continuing talent shortage will force recruiters to grow ever more creative in using the latest sourcing technologies and tools to find in-demand talent. Data science and AI algorithms can help recruiters better understand which passive candidates are open to changing jobs or engaging with recruiters, for example.

"Instead of hoping to find the right candidates in a sea of applicants, employers will be able to proactively target the right people at the time they're most likely to leave," said Jim Burke, CEO of Workforce Logiq, a provider of workforce management software in Orlando, Fla. Burke believes more recruiters will begin tapping AI models that examine indicators like macroeconomic trends, social and news sentiment, stock performance, analyst assessment, and leadership changes to find passive candidates who may be receptive to recruiter outreach.

No. 3: Specialized Tech Skills

As automation and digitalization continue to reshape job roles and skill needs, HR and learning groups will need to create increasingly agile and effective reskilling strategies for workers—including training HR staff in data analysis, AI and other technology-related skills.

A recent study from Gartner found that only 9 percent of chief human resource officers agree that their organizations are prepared for the future of work, and 46 percent of HR leaders report that their employees lack the technology skills necessary to drive future performance.

"The survey found it's not only HR leaders concerned with the lack of skills but employees themselves," Johnson said. "Only 1 in 5 employees in the study felt like they have skills today to prepare them for the future. When you think about the collective anxiety that creates in the workforce, it's concerning."

No. 4: Work Redesign

In a presentation at Gartner's 2019 ReimagineHR Conference in Orlando, Johnson said organizations should consider redesigning jobs as one alternative to trying to recruit from a shrinking supply of "purple unicorn" candidates in the job market.

"Instead of constantly chasing supply, we need to think about changing demand," she said. "Too often companies craft very narrowly defined job roles with very specific criteria in terms of skills and experiences needed. That makes it difficult to find the unicorns that so many companies are chasing." Gartner research shows that 90 percent of the Standard & Poor's 100 are now recruiting for the same 39 job roles.

Johnson said companies can mitigate skill imbalances by redeploying staff continuously across teams, unbundling job roles into specific competencies, and leveraging technology systems and tools to reduce talent dependencies, not to create them.

"This is about redesigning work so it is both easier to find people who can do the work and easier for employees to succeed at what they do," she said.

No. 5: HCM Solutions

Although a growing amount of work in organizations is done in flat organizational structures and teams, many human capital management (HCM) solutions haven't been built to support those structures. Some experts believe that will begin to change in 2020.

"The future of work lies in flat working structures that unlock the potential of dynamic teams," according to Don Weinstein, corporate vice president of global product and technology at ADP, an HR technology company in Roseland, N.J.

As business strategies and teams grow more agile to keep pace with recurring change in companies, HR technology must adapt as well, including providing employees with more user-friendly and efficient experiences. ADP believes these changes will push more HCM providers to deliver improved levels of system uptime and scalability.

Workers in 2020 also will have changing needs about how and when they get paid, according to ADP's research. As a result, the pay experience will become more personalized, with easier ways for workers to be paid the way they want, when they want, Weinstein said.

No. 6: Data Privacy

Cecile Alper-Leroux, vice president of HCM innovation at Ultimate Software in Weston, Fla., said as more data-privacy laws are enacted to join the likes of the General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act, HR leaders and technology solutions will play a growing role in helping to strike the right balance between employee trust and data privacy.

"The expectation of employees today is that internally they'll be treated more like customers, and that includes how their personal data is handled," Alper-Leroux said. "Many expect more transparency and control over their data. To a certain extent it's up to HR to ensure that the policies and technology systems being used will provide the right level of transparency, as well as the right level of protection for employee data."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.