Taking a competitive technology advantage

by 01 Nov 2006

Technology is revolutionising the practice of HR within many companies. Melissa Yen explores how HR related technology can assist organisations in establishing a competitive advantage

In the midst of a war for talent, HR needs an effective understanding of the information systems that can give them an edge in analysing workforce data about their company. Such data can make or break a company when it comes to having the necessary labour and skill sets to meet future productivity targets, and a strong understanding of the implications of such data can also assist HR in being taken seriously at the table.

Various HR technologies can assist HR departments and their companies in understanding strategic people issues such as workforce planning and talent management. One of the key drivers of workforce technology is the changing labour market, according to Ari Kopoulos, national sales and marketing manager for Employee Connect. As a result, Kopoulos believes HR will need to focus on knowledge worker initiatives and strategies.

“The high turnover among generations X and Y, and the rapidly approaching retirement of the baby boomer generation, creates a challenge for HR,” he says. As such, programs need a balanced mix to meet the needs of a highly skilled, employable and mobile knowledge workforce, while maintaining the favourite HR principles of consistency and precedent.

Other key developments have been in the area of HR metrics. Business intelligence means that most HR solutions are now delivered with advanced reporting tools, effectively managing HR process compliance through configurable control and indicator metrics, says Kopoulos. Such tools offer a platform to forecast and project demand based on skills and competencies.

With a trend towards keeping key competencies of staff on record, workforce technologies can help organisations to identify top performers and potentials. They also offer a corrective pathway for underperformers by drilling into their core competencies and behaviour, Kopoulos adds. “This real-time access to data is changing the way in which deployment decisions are made.”

Keeping the competitive edge

The key to such technology is viewing its deployment as a strategic lever that will provide the organisation with an advantage over competitors. Most organisations view technology as simply “keeping up with the Jones”, according to Mathew French, national sales and marketing manager for Snowdrop Systems. Furthermore, while organisations may claim people are their most important asset, many struggle to provide evidence that this is the case, and even less actually make use of this advantage in the marketplace.

“Unless it is clearly identified in the strategic plan, backed by some strategies and actions, it simply does not happen,” French says. In order to maximise the competitive advantage of technology, HR must receive sufficient support from the senior level.

“Like everything else, it all starts at the top. It is up to the CEO to drive the values of the organisation, take a personal interest in how the technology is used and what benefits that the organisation derives from it. Too often, HR managers are left to their own devices without much interest and support from the top.”

Traditionally, Kopoulos says HR has often been thought of as a follower of business technology rather than a leader. With technology changes driven more by the likes of finance and IT, he says HR has merely has peripheral input to system scoping and selection. “With the shift to a value added HR consulting model, an understanding of technology and the benefits it can bring will be critical in delivering competitive advantage.”

Having a system in place that identifies, measures, develops and retains talent while reducing the cost of acquisition and management of your talent is where true competitive advantage lies, according to Kopoulos. Developing a workforce with talent and skills specifically targeted to the business objectives directly impacts the overall success of the company.

A workflow-based, enterprise-wide system, with an integrated approach to recruitment, development, performance, succession and retention functions can provide a competitive advantage, Kopoulos says, through its ability to help identify and communicate a company’s performance objectives as well as attract, identify and recruit key talent from a number of talent pools. Furthermore, such systems also enable the management of development plans that link individuals to performance objectives and regularly evaluate performance and development results against consistent metrics.

Bugs in the system

The main downfalls of such systems lie in the areas of time and resources, French says. “Most HR professionals significantly underestimate both. For most, it is their first experience, so they have little to fall back on. The trend is always for as quick an implementation as possible. In reality, this rarely works.”Too often, he says HR managers forget how busy they are, and while technology may be a high priority, they still have their day-to-day job responsibilities.

Managing expectations is also important in delivering a successful technology project, French adds. It is important for HR to create realistic internal expectations that they will be able to deliver to their customers. Producing a detailed project plan is also critical, he says. “This is where time delays are most likely. Develop ‘what if’ scenarios around these.”

Most importantly, French says all HR departments should be realistic in their implementation. Speed has its risks, and he says quality and its lasting effects must be focused on.

Workforce technologies can also be expensive to maintain, according to Kopoulos. “There are some solutions that demonstrate exceptionally well, but require significant resources to maintain the various components that drive their very intelligence.” As such, HR should be aware that employees may not welcome the new system, and approach this accordingly.

HR practitioners can also run into problems with how the systems are used and integrated with different business functions. Kopoulos says there may be inconsistencies in how individual organisation units define, apply and measure the role of talent management, which can cause a lack of cohesion amongst business units. Within the HR function itself, Kopoulos also notes that integration compatibility with existing HR information systems must also be taken into consideration.