Does HR Technology Define HR Strategy?

HR Strategy HR Technology HRMS Portal

Or does HR strategy define HR technology?

The honest answer is probably both, but I’m going to argue that HR technology leads more often than not.  It isn’t that strategy does not contribute to new functionality, but technology opens so many doors that the end effect is the ability to concentrate on otherwise impossible ideas.

In the 80’s and 90’s when HRMS was in its infancy, Human Resources was completely administrative.  Opportunities to focus on true workforce development and identify workforce activities impacted the bottom line were non-existant.  Several causes from not having the data, time or skills to evaluate these connections between profits and the workforce contributed to the lack of strategic focus.  With HRMS, HR executives gained the data, and some degree of time to focus on these activities.  Unfortunately, it took years for the HR discipline to evolve and the HR practitioners to understand that there might be value they could provide to the business.  It took additional years for the business to accept that HR could provide that value.

Then in the late 90’s, along came the modularized HR system and some point solutions.  These systems like performance, training administration, and recruiting provided solutions to transactional processes that further streamlined and automated once time consuming tasks.  While not adding particularly to the strategic value of HR, they did begin the growth of today’s talent management systems. The core HRMS no longer houses the truly valuable data.  Instead, it houses core information while talent processing occurs in specialized subsystems.  These systems now act to truly shape the workforce and impact profits.
Also in the late 90’s, the emergence of employee self service allowed direct access to employees for updating of employee data.  In the beginning, this wasn’t much.  Today’s portal technologies interact with talent management systems and also give HR direct communications access to the employee.  In effect, these tools have become critical not only to data processing, but also for the communication of the employer brand.

Obviously there’s considerable flow in either direction, but one cannot deny the positive affects HR technology has had in shaping the direction of HR strategy.

8 thoughts on “Does HR Technology Define HR Strategy?

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  2. I feel HR Technology only helps in ensuring smooth acomplishment of strategic HR goals.Technology can at best act as enabler, but can’t define strategy.

  3. I found this to be an interesting post. However, in my experience, too many companies act as if HR technology is a substitute for meaningful dialogue between employees and their managers.

    True, there are some excellent talent management systems available today. However, as the old saying goes — garbage in, garbage out. Information fed into a talent management system that does not come as a result of meaningful conversations on employee career aspirations and company opportunities is often garbage.

    In my consulting practice, I have seen many companies automate their talent planning system with the net result of an automated onerous paper and pencil exercise — one that left employees feeling that they were providing data to which no one paid any real attention. Worse yet, when it came time to fill executive positions, these companies lamented the lack of “qualified” internal candidates.

    Yes, automated systems can enhance talent management. However, they are not a subsitute for meaningful dialogue between leaders and the people they lead. Common sense says that leaders need to have meaningful conversations with their people. They need to learn their people’s hopes and aspirations and then assist them — through teaching, coaching, example, and sharing their experiences and the knowledge gained — in turning these hopes and aspirations into reality.

    An automated system can help track progress, but it is no substitute for meaningful one to one dialogue and conversation.

    Bud Bilanich
    The Common Sense Guy

  4. True statements from all comments so far.

    You’ll notice the definite change in tone from beginning to end of the post. I start with the question “Does HR technology define HR strategy” and I end with “one cannot deny the positive affects HR technology has had in shaping the direction of HR strategy.”

    The message, as Ajit states, is that technology is an enabler. Sometimes (I believe) it is a strong enough enabler that it shapes the path an organization decides to take.

  5. It is true that technology can be an enabler, just as it is true that it can merely create efficiencies by automating paper. That result tends to come from the way technology is implemented, and the level of strategic thinking that is used in designing the technology approach. All too often, HR professionals run from technology rather than embrace it as a useful tool to accomplish strategic HR. As a result, the slow pace of evolution happens as HR is “dragged” into the computer age.

    If our profession would be more “professional” and embrace technology as a tool rather than an enemy, we could well see a more collaborative development effort and more rapid leap into a strategic future. Technology doesn’t replace the personal touch, but it makes broader reach possible and enables a vastly greater population. HR should embrace those capabilities rather than begrudgingly accept them.

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