HR Digital Transformation challenges and a Vision of Simplicity

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Twenty years ago, or so, HR Services were so simple. If employees needed to find something out, get something done or get something fixed they either called a single phone number or sent an email to a single address where everything was sorted for them. It was a brilliant, one stop, personal service.  

The problem was it was labour intensive and expensive – even if the agents were in a call centre somewhere low cost (with apologies to those brilliant people), they were managed by expensive people in expensive places. 

So, the move to digitise began – and that’s where things started to go wrong for employees.  

What it’s like now...

The simplicity of the single-contact Service became the complexity of multiple bespoke systems, each for a different element of HR (recently Sapient Insights stated that the average organisation has 10.62 HR systems. 2020-2021 Sapient Insights Annual HR Technology White Paper, 23rd Edition) 

No longer can an employee just go to one place and say: “I need to…”. They need to know where to go to. And they quite likely need to go to different places for each of the following:  to change their address, to add someone to their health insurance, to query their payslip, to check the value of their pension, to give a team member a bonus – the list is endless. 

Once they’ve found the right system, employees then need to know how to use it because all the systems use their own “self-service” journey. If this were a retail system, the company would be bankrupt within a week. 

A Vision for Digital HR Services 

It’s clear from our conversations with clients that HR Services want to return to the simplicity of a one-stop shop but without the labour-intensity. They also want to capitalise on the investment that has already been made in various systems of truth. 

This means that any technical solution must include an Experience layer. That could be an intranet site or a chatbot, but it must be a single place that people go to when they want to find something out, get something done or get something fixed. The systems of truth then sit underneath and are linked by APIs, RPA, and AI, and people need to be part of the mix as well so that issues can be escalated to them when they can’t be resolved by technology. 

The important thing is, whatever technology you use, the experience layer becomes the sole HR Services entrance point – just like old times. In fact, it’s not just HR – increasingly Shared Services are all using the same interface. 

The problem with bringing about Digital Change 

However, taking the route of implementing an experience layer often meets strong resistance – and one of the biggest groups to resist the Transformation needed is HR itself  – because part of the problem is that HR has become siloed.  

The list of tasks outlined previously would be handled by Core HR, Benefits, Payroll, Pensions and Reward; each of which would have developed their own systems, own processes, own set of policies, own support team, etc.  

If you are going to introduce an Experience layer, the people, processes, and technology are all going to have to be integrated into a unified experience. That doesn’t mean you get rid of the various pillars within the HR function but, from a Services perspective, all solutions need to be aligned into one interface. Bringing about this change is not as easy as it sounds and requires true leadership as huge emotional investments have been made within each of those siloes. 

Learning to do things differently 

Another inconvenient truth is that, when developing the multiplicity of systems, HR learnt a way of working which pretty much ignored employees’ needs. In fact, most seem to have been developed to make HR easier for HR whilst reducing employees to mere steps in an HR process.  

So how do you become Employee Experience focused? HR Services must learn how to do things differently, and that means it’s imperative that they learn how to use Design Thinking. Why? Because during the first two stages of the Design Thinking process (Empathise and Define), you talk to your customers (in this case employees – all types of employees), discover and aggregate their insights and problems and present them as a series of Needs to be met by the new way of doing things. 

Unlike previous HR technology programmes, you don’t start with the system; you start with the Employee need. This completely changes your perspective and ultimately, because what you deliver meets their needs, your employees embrace the system.  

Photo of Keith Williams - consultant - HR digital transformation, digital employee experience and HR chatbots

About the Author

Keith Williams is ex-HR Services Technology Director @ Unilever and is a Director at KMW3. He uses his global experience to help organisations with HR Digital Transformationdigital Employee Experience and conversational Chatbots.

You can contact Keith at or +44 (0)7876 252278


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