How Human Are Human Resource Management Systems?

With the increasing use of technology in human resource functions, many HR managers have begun to raise the valid question: will all this use of technology lead to a dehumanization of the human aspect of organizations? Is there a danger that increasing automation of HR processes and functions will tantamount to human resource professionals selling their souls? This article seeks to address this legitimate angst among HR professionals.

Technology is critical to help increase efficiency of the HR department, enhance the employer brand, increase attraction and retention, reduce administration, cut costs, etc.. It can also help to take away some of the drudgery associated with administration – enabling HR to focus on more strategic issues. However, experts believe the human element will always remain a vital part since HR is all about people management, which requires human interaction and face-to-face contact.

Certainly, there is awareness in the industry of the risk of overemphasizing technology at the expense of the human element. The risks arise when organizations rely on process technology as an alternative to human interaction. There are no software solutions to the quotidian issues of human resource management; to suggest that there may be is to underestimate both the variety of ‘people’ challenges that organizations face and the complexity of the human psyche.

It would be dangerous to start treating people like equipment or some sort of inanimate commodity. When you begin to use technology in place of the human element you run the risk of losing quality talent. It offends good talent to be treated like office supplies. The best of all worlds is a holistic solution that combines technology with the human element to facilitate putting the right person in the right job at the right time. On the other hand, if you begin to equate the hiring and management of people with purchasing of office equipment, you will definitely end up sacrificing quality, the experts say.

Providing that this balance is maintained, and that technology doesn’t usurp the human qualities so central to HR, there is much evidence to suggest that emerging technologies could be a perfect partner for human resources – and could even improve the human element.

Automation improves the HR business process and actually allows for greater human interaction where human interaction should occur. For example, automation facilitates the requisition and search process so that the human element can be introduced into the interview, selection and review processes, where it adds the most value. There will continue to be human interaction within HR processes. The benefit of technology is that it provides the employer with a simple way to quantify, document, store and distribute data for future reference.

In fact, some believe technology actually leaves more room for the human. Technology can help free HR staff from the pointlessness of chasing paperwork. Instead it allows them to use their professional skills for doing more succession planning and staff development. The purpose of HR then becomes spending time with employees for personal development or with the business to help align employees with the objectives in the business. HR needs to evolve as human capital has to be coordinated and leveraged within the organization.

What then is the future of this evolution? With increasing automation of the HR field sure to continue, there are no limits on how technology could influence human resources in the future. People Relationship Management (PRM) is becoming a strategic issue for organizations, and the market demand for solutions that enhance the employer brand and candidate relationships is growing rapidly.

In the future, HR will increasingly demand innovative PRM solutions that provide a high return on investment and that have the ability to evolve along with their organization. The key areas of growth will be around compensation and benefits management (simulations, salary planning, etc.) as well as constantly improving solutions that enable a better execution of people processes.
For example, there is an evolution to support the more mobile workforce with greater use of handhelds such as Blackberries. HR managers who spend time on the road will then be able to communicate and be integrated into the organization’s workflow and involved in processes such as salary and expense administration. Furthermore, with the expected growth of knowledge- and talent-intensive industries, there is predicted to be a shortage of leaders in the future. To address this issue, the HR technology industry is seeing a growth in talent management solutions that help identify top performers and link them to an organization’s development plans. There are tools available from ERP, but some niche companies, such as Taleo, are making headway in this area.

Experts forecast that with greater appreciation of the value of HR technology – as well as, critically, the balance must be maintained between IT and the human touch. In fact, they argue, human resources has reached a new automated and efficient step in its development. It’s accurate to say that the revolution is over and the process of evolution has begun, they say. The revolution was about bringing technology and automation into the human resources arena. Today’s HR technology is encouraging the evolution of labor procurement processes and sourcing mechanisms. Evaluation tools are rapidly advancing, as are the tools that help align the need for talent with the overall business plan. Organizations are becoming more agile, able to adapt more easily based on the availability of data from such areas as headcount, project spend allocation and performance.

Thus, although greater use of technology can blind managers to the importance of the human face of enterprise, to use Peter Drucker’s famous phrase, the wise HR manager will continue to find many ways to contribute to the human side of businesses. As in any other aspect of the great human enterprise, only when we lose the balance between the need to develop and adopt technology and the need for the flowering of the human spirit, will there arise the danger of technology turning against itself and its own creators! This is a danger that permeates most all human activities today and HR is no exception!

Source: “Society for Human Resource Management”: