HR using technology to lead in the boardroom

Richard Holden

Published October 2016

How are HR leaders playing their part in planning the strategic direction of the companies of tomorrow? For those dynamic HR professionals already enjoying greater influence in the boardroom, the answer has been to harness the power of technology. In particular, HR is going through its version of the big data revolution.

IT provides the template for the shift from functional support to strategic partnership. While three decades ago, IT managers focused primarily on maintaining their businesses’ systems – making sure the lights stayed on – every large company now regards its CIO as a key strategic leader. That transition reflects IT’s role as the provider of the data and, crucially, the actionable insight hidden within that data, to the rest of the enterprise – management information.

HR leaders now have the same opportunity. Throughout the HR function, better use of data and analytics provides the opportunity to transform the business – from driving productivity gains through continuous employee performance data, to improving talent retention through analysis of staff surveys and assessments, and even their comments on social media. Big data tools provide a way to assess the effectiveness of training and development, and offer quantitative methods for better recruitment that over-ride the traditional instinct-based hiring processes on which many employers still rely.

Indeed, at every stage of the HR cycle – recruitment, onboarding, assessment, training, development, incentivisation and even exit – HR leaders increasingly have access to data and analytics tools. These promise to take much of the subjectivity out of the task of recruiting and managing the single most important asset that any organisation has, its talent.

This is not to suggest technology will reduce HR to a purely algorithmic practice – it would be a mistake to take the human out of human resources. However, the tools now available are delivering tangible gains at businesses that have adopted them. Xerox, for example, has used big data analytics to improve staff retention in its call centres by 20 per cent.

Given such valuable dividends, those technology providers able to equip HR functions with these tools will become increasingly highly-valued – and attractive targets for M&A. All the more so if they are able to find delivery mechanisms that provide access to such technology to organisations of every size, whether through, say, bespoke software or via an as-a-service model.

For HR professionals, such technologies represent an opportunity to claim their place at the heart of the C-suite. Expect to see a growing number of deals amongst the businesses best placed to help them achieve that.

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Richard Holden
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