Many HR leaders report missing opportunities to drive tech adoption, resolve cloud challenges early and build a business case for disruptive tech.
The need to track and monitor remote work may require not just new technology but a new approach.
If you’re a human resources leader, you’ve likely invested in technology to help solve your biggest challenges — enhancing data analytics for your HR team and the business, winning the war for talent, modernizing HR through a move to the cloud, managing remote or hybrid work and more. These investments may also be part of a broader transformation of your function as you do more and more on cloud.
This centrality of technology in general — and cloud in particular — to HR today is why it’s so critical to make these investments wisely: Choose cost-effective systems and tools that can help address your challenges, partner with vendors who deserve your trust and roll out skills and processes that drive technology adoption and a better employee experience. Such investments are also needed for HR to help others in the organization with their technology challenges. An organization’s move to cloud, for example, typically requires rethinking its people strategy.
To help HR leaders make the right technology decisions, PwC’s Human Resources Technology Survey asked 688 HR leaders based in the US about their technology aspirations, accomplishments and challenges. The survey revealed that HR tech is delivering the goods overall by meeting expectations and creating value for both HR and the business. But the survey also found ways HR leaders could do better on encouraging technology adoption, choosing the right vendor partner, getting leadership buy-in for a truly cutting-edge tech transformation and more. Here are the five top takeaways.
It’s an eternal challenge when you roll out new technologies: getting employees to embrace and use the new tools effectively. When it comes to solving this challenge, our survey found a major disconnect. Respondents on the whole reported that multiple methods were effective, but many — and in some cases a substantial majority — said that their companies haven’t adopted these methods.
Not every HR function deploying new technologies needs to use all of these methods, but most functions would benefit from emphasizing mobile options for technology. With remote and hybrid work now more common, employee demand for anytime/anywhere access to technology tools has surged. Another option is combining some of the approaches cited in our survey. 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.
HR leaders almost unanimously agree that remote work is here to stay. Ninety-five percent 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. In our experience, the best such plans give employees the freedom to do their jobs when and where they wish while measuring results and engagement.
It’s usually unwise, for example, to attribute too much importance to how often remote workers log in. That may encourage “gaming the system” or “busy work.” Instead, measure the quantity and quality of their output. At the same time, consider tracking how often remote workers are interacting with others, whether through online collaboration tools or conference calls. Results may indicate disengagement and the need for a check in or more frequent in-person meetings. Also consider tracking overall productivity for remote workers compared to on-site employees to guide possible changes in remote work policies.
There’s great news about moving core HR applications to the cloud: Survey respondents who have already done this overwhelmingly report that it met or exceeded expectations for each of ten possible outcomes. Still, satisfaction doesn’t always mean a smooth ride. Cloud transformation is the third biggest human capital challenge for HR leaders, our survey found. And the top human capital challenge — data analytics — further suggests a less-than-perfect move to cloud. But when deployed well, cloud can put the right data and data analytics at HR leaders’ fingertips.
To succeed at cloud transformation, it’s critical to address cloud’s security and skills challenges early. Over one-fifth (21%) of HR leaders cited concerns over the security of critical HR data stored on the cloud as a top technology challenge. Recent ransomware attacks on cloud vendors may have further increased concerns. In a separate survey, chief human resource officers cited difficulties in attracting cloud talent (44%), retaining cloud talent (42%) and upskilling existing employees (40%) for cloud.
Despite widespread satisfaction with the move to cloud in particular, many HR leaders aren’t thrilled with the vendors who helped them do it. More than a third (36%) say it’s somewhat or very likely that they’ll switch vendors at the end of the subscription term. Only 20% call it very unlikely. Some of this tendency may come from the desire to minimize the number of vendors overall, but the question remains, why change the cloud vendor? The answer may lie in the two top challenges that HR leaders report in technology projects, budget (cited by 28%) and integration with other technology solutions (27%). Some vendors may be overpromising on both counts.
To avoid these and other potential problems with vendors, focus on a few critical capabilities when evaluating vendor proposals. Most companies have a few important practices or policies that can’t be changed. Make sure these take center stage over the hundreds of common requirements that the vendors all handle in largely the same way. Consider the self-service processes and transactions that your employees and managers will use most often. Also assess each vendor’s cost/ROI, user experience, integration with FIN/SCM, references/history of client satisfaction, technology architecture and tools, industry market share, alignment with your culture, global capabilities, and partner ecosystem in light of today’s tight market for talent.
Technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and virtual reality (VR) can transform human resources. They can, for example, drastically reduce time spent on repetitive and nonstrategic tasks while enhancing employee security, data analysis, verification of credentials and remote training. Yet HR leaders are often unable to adopt these technologies. The top two reasons — implementation costs and lack of a compelling use case — are different sides of the same coin. If you have a compelling business case for a technology deployment, you’re more likely to get a budget for it.
To build this business case and win top management’s buy-in for disruptive new technology, a gradual approach is usually ideal. Assess current operations to identify and quantify top opportunities for gains in efficiency, quality and productivity. Focus on these top opportunities, starting with a proof of concept to build skills and confidence. Deploy systems to track and measure results that can help make the case for further investment.
You may also need to focus on upskilling, with particular attention on data privacy and cybersecurity expertise. Many HR leaders lack the internal resources or independent partners who could verify their vendors’ security and privacy measures and then establish an end-to-end security and controls framework for enforcing these measures.
The survey results are clear: HR tech deployments can meet or exceed expectations — with satisfaction especially high for cloud — but problems persist and disappointment with vendors is common. To more effectively use a tight budget (and help justify a higher budget, if needed), we suggest five measures.
Apply proven solutions for technology adoption. With so many effective methods to encourage employees to learn and use new technology tools, there’s no reason why adoption challenges should hold you back. Combining mobile capabilities and embedded training with gamification and incentives can be especially useful.
You’re using tech to manage remote work. Be sure to use it right. With 95% of survey respondents using or planning to use technology to manage work, make sure your tracking tools strike the right balance in measuring engagement and results without eroding trust.
Address cloud security and skills challenges early. Even if nearly every HR leader who moved core processes to cloud is pleased with the move, problems will likely persist and new risks may present themselves. Acting swiftly on cloud skills and cloud-specific cybersecurity can make the move more successful. Consider closer integration with your cyber and privacy teams so your people are trained in leading security practices, top-notch security policies are established and followed, and sensitive HR data is protected against both internal misuse and external threats.
Avoid vendor regret. Focus on what really matters. Don’t be one of the many HR leaders who chooses a technology vendor only to switch as soon as the subscription term ends. When undergoing a selection/evaluation, assess your future vendor partner across multiple dimensions and take a long-term view, even though subscription terms may just cover a few years.
Take a gradual approach to win support for disruptive tech. HR was a technology first mover 20 years ago, leading on cloud/SaaS deployments for talent management and recruiting. HR can be a leader again with today’s disruptive technologies — if you make a strong business case and move gradually, consistently producing results that prove the need for further investment.