Brave New Digital World for HR

Brave New Digital World for HR

This article first appeared in DNA India on 20th October, 2016.



Anjali is a new joinee at a top IT organisation. The day she joins, a suite of applications is installed on her phone. Her onboarding documents are all digital and require her to provide only a single digital signature to complete the process. An app connects her to her virtual team with members sitting in multiple remote locations. A companion video conferencing app places her in a video conference where her boss, with a click of a button, flows down her weekly goals to her. She and her boss quickly agree on the deliverables for the week, and the signoff is a simple click of the “Accept” button. As her work week progresses, the networking app connects her to folks who can help her come to grips with her responsibilities. She uses the same app to e-thank people who have helped her, boosting their ratings as well as garnering points for herself as she starts to mesh into the organisation. She has also been given a wearable device that helps to track her daily health and well-being and is pleasantly surprised when two weeks into the job, she receives some personalised advice on correlations between the time she has put in at work and her health and what she needs to do to achieve some balance in her life.

A month after joining the company, she realises that she is not really happy with some of the processes in place. It is then that she discovers the anonymous feedback groups where she can talk about her problems and concerns without the threat of retribution. She quickly gets feedback and help from other employees to solve these issues. It is then that she realises that she hasn’t really seen any HR people helping with the onboarding. She knows that there is an HR department in the organisation, but where in other companies they would have been running around dealing with the little operational details, she sees them working on plans for what the company calls the total employee experience.


Seems futuristic? Well, yes and no. This scenario is one that could be coming to a company near you fairly soon. Organisations the world over are struggling to come to grips with the rapid digitisation of every sphere of our lives. Some industry segments, especially the knowledge industry, are better equipped to deal with this trend than more conventional industries. However, this difference is not limited to industry segments but also to functional areas within organisations. More data-centric functions such as sales, marketing and finance have been able to adapt themselves much better to this rapidly unfolding digital change than less data-centric functions like HR. But things are starting to change.

A recent study by Accenture and SAP identified three key trends that are going to enable this digital push for HR. The first is the use of mobile tools, social media and digital services to help deliver HR services. Given the ubiquitous use of smartphones, HR can utilise this medium to reach out to employees on an individual basis and really automate processes, thereby allowing HR professionals to focus on core employee needs rather than be bogged down in minute operational details.

The second trend is what the study termed “the democratisation of talent management”. In other words, instead of a top-down approach to managing employees where HR was seen as an evil, brooding presence overseeing every minute detail of the employee life cycle, talent management is now being seen in a federated fashion where agile, self-managed teams abound within organisations and managers are given greater autonomy in the way they manage their employees.

The third trend is the use of individualised and targeted marketing techniques by HR to manage talent. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, the new way is to utilise multiple lines of data to enable individualised, prescriptive solutions for employees.

A look at what’s happening in the industry shows us that the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article is not that far off. If Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn was the opening gambit, the announcement of a global strategic partnership between Microsoft and Workday is the next move in this game. Integrating Microsoft’s Office365 platform with Workday’s finance and HR applications and then enabling LinkedIn’s networking piece on top of that will create a powerful platform that will, in their words, “enable customers to simplify day-to-day tasks, foster collaboration and increase productivity”. Welcome to the brave new world. 

The writer, Dr. Arun Krishnan is the founder and CEO of HR Analytics Start-Up nFactorial Analytical Sciences and PGP Alumunus from Class of 2013