Is HR technology a help or hindrance?

Technology has relieved HR of some of the function’s more mundane, transactional tasks. In the process, employees are also experiencing greater independence, writes Melissa Yen

Technology has relieved HR of some of the functions more mundane, transactional tasks. In the process, employees are also experiencing greater independence, writes Melissa Yen

HR professionals have, in recent years, been called upon to prepare their companies for a succession of technological developments – both minor and major.

Business to Employee (B2E) systems, for example, leverage e-business approaches and internet technologies to manage the workforce – and B2E is now widely accepted as a management philosophy. Most HR functions can now be performed by an employee via an internet or intranet-connected PC. Moreover, in Australia there is a surprisingly high degree of HR self-sufficiency, with many employees being able to harness smart systems and software and handle their own HR housekeeping, from performance evaluation to processing leave requests.

The benefits of Employee Self-Service (ESS) systems, which have become popular over the past few years, include cutting the time HR staff need to spend on routine tasks, such as changing employee addresses. ESS also gives staff a greater sense of control and ensures that data entered is more accurate, while the use of a web browser interface generally means training requirements are fairly minimal. Most HR software vendors have added modules for ESS to their packages, so rolling out an ESS system has not been seen as a particularly onerous task.

As web-based ESS systems become commonplace, HR professionals are getting ready to cross the next technological frontier into Management Self-Service (MSS). MSS systems are designed to allow managers to take control of well-documented processes such as salary reviews, training allocations and tracking leave requirements across a large department. Software vendors believe MSS will become a key technology issue for HR professionals over the next 18 months. “We’re seeing a big push to management self-service,” says Carl Hubbard, solution architect at SAP. One key motivation for introducing MSS is to ensure that relevant HR information is reaching key executives.

Meanwhile, technology has eased the burden of payroll administration and freed up HR and other staff to perform higher value functions. A common approach to handling payroll within an organisation is to outsource it. While this is not a new phenomenon, improvements in technology have made it more compelling for many businesses, making payroll a prominent example of the benefits of outsourcing. “Over the past five to six years, payroll outsourcing has really grown in popularity,” says Jason Low, managing director of The Association for Payroll Specialists (TAPS). “It’s no different to any other sort of outsourcing.”

John Macy, director of Competitive Edge Technology, does not believe there have been any substantial developments in technology over the past five years. He claims that many of the things that are considered contemporary today, such as ESS, MSS and workflow solutions, have been around for a while. The only difference is the term “human capital management, to describe what we used to call ‘human resource management’,” he says.

According to Macy, the method and expectation of technology “to support the transformation of HR professionals from administrative slaves into liberated strategic planning analysts” has simply not happened. “New products have emerged containing workforce analytics tools to support workforce planning functions, but the technology is under-utilised and that has limited its impact,” he says.

“The objective is to make systems more agile … and better suited to today’s constantly changing business world. The new generation of products about to emerge will transform systems from a closed monolithic, proprietary-based nature, into open and more flexible systems that will be easier to implement, allow simpler integration of multiple third-party products and will be capable of being changed later in response to changes in the business operation,” says Macy.

Technology will have a negative impact on morale and productivity if it is not aligned with business objectives and good people management, according to a recent report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The report singles out the potential for technology to restrict employees’ freedom and autonomy as a particular concern, and calls on employers to limit the impact of the ‘dark side’ of technology by involving HR in the design and implementation of new systems. Employers have one fundamental choice when implementing a technical system, according to the report: whether the technology is a tool to empower employees or control them.

Recent articles & video

Alphabet layoffs later this year to be 'much smaller in scale': reports

Elon Musk: Jobs to be optional in 'benign' AI future

2 in 3 Australians OK with date change for Australia Day

Former security services firm fined for failing to act on Compliance Notice

Most Read Articles

1 in 8 new hires leaving during probation: report

FWC finds early notice of end to fixed-term contract amounts to dismissal

Spotless entities plead guilty to long service leave underpayments