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HR Leaders Struggle to Make the Most of Tech Investments

A businessman looking at his laptop in an office.

​Employers have invested in technology to solve challenges such as gathering employee insights and managing talent pipelines, but HR executives still have trouble benefiting from their technology implementations, according to a new report.

Released in early February, the PwC report revealed that the top three HR technology problems among HR leaders are difficulties with HR insights and data analytics, recruiting and hiring systems, and cloud transformation and modernization of HR systems.

To encourage employees to adopt technology that would drive HR goals, the report outlines measures that could help workers use HR technology more frequently. In reality, these measures aren't being deployed widely enough.

Of note, 54 percent of respondents have adopted leadership communications and 54 percent have adopted training. Half (51 percent) have implemented mobile access to HR software, and less than half (44 percent) offer incentives to encourage HR technology use.

"Another option is combining some of the approaches cited in our survey," the report states. "You can, for example, make incentives for usage and training part of gamification and provide mobile capabilities to 'play' the game anytime and anywhere. Reward employee adoption with spot bonuses, extra time off, company 'swag,' professional development opportunities or many other options." 

Technology vendor relationships are also a concern to HR leaders. More than a third of respondents, 36 percent, said it's somewhat or very likely that they'll switch vendors at the end of the subscription term.

Dan Staley, PwC's HR technology leader, said sometimes it makes sense to switch vendors, especially if you are simplifying your portfolio and buying a product that has multiple modules to handle a variety of different HR business processes. On other occasions, HR leaders need to do a better job of choosing the right vendor.

"Organizations need to make sure they are doing their due diligence when they select a vendor," he said. "Some things are avoidable, such as the organization not knowing their key needs and therefore not assessing the vendor's product appropriately."

As HR leaders look to robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and virtual reality tools to transform their human resource work processes, the report urges HR executives to build a compelling business case for disruptive technologies.

They must convince top managers to support disruptive technology; assess current operations to identify opportunities to drive efficiency, quality and productivity; and implement systems to track and measure results to support the case for further investments.

Additionally, HR leaders should focus on upskilling, particularly in the areas of data privacy and cybersecurity expertise.

Making a compelling business case for IT projects requires understanding the organization's needs first and foremost, said Robert Stokes, faculty member and founder of the master's degree program in HR analytics and management at American University in Washington, D.C.

"HR managers need to recognize that a business plan has to demonstrate that the cost or investment will result in short- and long-term gains that justify the cost," he said. "HR leaders need to develop strong business acumen and project management skills to go along with their knowledge of the HR field. The rise of analytics in all areas of a business to stay competitive has made this need more evident."

Employee Monitoring 

Staley said the biggest surprise was finding out that the vast majority of HR leaders are pursuing ways to track the productivity of employees who are working remotely.

Ninety-five percent of respondents said they have either implemented new methods to track and report on productivity and performance metrics for remote workers, have a plan to do so, or are developing a plan now.

Staley said in order to maintain and grow trust between employers and remote workers, companies should evaluate data that looks at overall employee performance rather than monitoring individual behavior.

"If it gets to the point where employers are monitoring what time did employees log in, what time did they log off, and are they active on their keyboard during the day—those are things that I think erode trust," he said.

He added that the best practice would be to track information about your employees at the aggregate level, such as measuring teaming or collaboration.

"You want to use monitoring tools as a barometer to assess how engaged is your workforce, are people becoming less engaged, are they not teaming, or are they not using collaboration tools," Staley said.

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.


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