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Business automation and HR technology implementation pitfalls

Updated Dec 2020.

HR technology and business automation is thriving.

In fact, in 2015, it was thriving to the value of $15 billion according Josh Bersin.

Most organisations look like they really have it all together when it comes to implementing HR tech and business automation within their workplaces.

Conference presentations are filled with analytics, cost savings, efficiencies gained, workflows improved, and on and on it goes. 

Wouldn’t it be refreshing (and so useful!) to see someone stand up and present, “This was a terrible project with terrible outcomes and this is what we learnt and how we fixed it?”.

Coming together to share experiences and insights is a great way for industry experts and HR practitioners alike to learn from one another.

In that spirit, based on what we’ve seen, here are some of the pitfalls to look out for when implementing new HR and business automation solutions.

HR tech and business automation: what are you overlooking?

The truth is, most HR organisations are still working hard to enhance and find more capability, which includes looking for more proficient business automation and HR technology solutions.

When seeking these solutions, there are a long list of factors that should be considered, here are a few that often get overlooked:

1. Taking a mobile-first approach

What I have learnt is, at the very least, HR processes must be so integrated into our corporate lives they can be completed as part of our daily work.

And just like our personal lives, while we sit at our desks, or run our errands or go to meetings, our mobile phone is never more than an arm’s distance away. 

The mobile device will soon be the primary interface to all HR-related applications.

When I first wrote this article, I noted, the focus of new applications should be ‘mobile first’.

Now, several years later, despite this still being very true, so many organisations neglect mobile, perhaps inaccurately believing desktops will remain ‘first’ due to the way we do our work in our offices.

The user interface, experience and design should be built around this pretence of ‘mobile first’.

Look for solutions that don’t just enable a great user experience on desktop, but have been designed to enable your people to use the software and complete their work from anywhere, while the are on the go!

2. Data-driven decisions

As HR and business automation software becomes just another corporate commodity, the potential associated with the data, decision-making capability, and analytics can drive real value.

When investigating a solution, you should not only use any data you have available to inform your choice, you should look for a platform that provides accessible data that can be used to drive informed and insightful business decisions. 

Consider the following fact. Most companies spend 30% to 60% of their revenue on payroll (people).

This huge expense goes into salaries, benefits, training, facilities, and all of the people-related services the business provides.

If we want to improve profitability, customer service, revenue generation, or product quality, shouldn’t we look at one of the biggest expenses we have in more detail?

It bemuses me that while other management disciplines have been reaping the benefits of analysing data and presenting data-driven solutions for years, HR is now just starting to see the advantages.

Bersin’s 2015 Technology Report states that 4% of large organisations have any ability to ‘predict’ or ‘model’ their workforce; but more than 90% can model and predict budgets, financial results, and expenses.

So the problem is not ‘lack of skills’; it’s more a historic problem of lack of investment, poor data quality, and an underfunded talent analytics team.

In the future, inevitably, HR will catch up, and investment in this space, and a preference for experts who can analyse and interpret data, will emerge. Without looking to closely, we can already see this in practice.

The solutions you invest in now, should reflect where our industry and our businesses are going in the very immediate future.

3. Recruitment technology

Recruitment is one of the most important and sometimes, one of the most time-consuming aspects of HR.

There are some great initiatives in the HR technology space and recruiting is still considered a hot area.

The New York-based company ConveyIQ (formerly Take the Interview), was one of the first to release an app designed to let companies conduct video interviews via mobile devices.

At the time, it was an exception.

Few organisations were being as proactive as they could be in mobile recruiting.

When I first wrote this article, LinkedIn’s 2013 Global Recruiting Trends Survey reported 49% of 3,300 talent-acquisition leaders in 19 countries said mobile recruiting “is not a priority for our company” and only 13% said they had invested in making their careers sites “mobile friendly.”

Now, just a handful of years later, in 2019, Glassdoor reports 58% of its users now look for jobs on their mobile. Thirty-five percent of them actually prefer to do so.

Companies need to invest in technology that caters to the needs of job seekers, and that means mobile recruiting.

Implementing new technology

One of the major obstacles to companies implementing new technologies, is the size and the scope of the associated project. Some common issues include:

1. Internal human resources

The dedication of internal resources to the project’s implementation for the duration required can often be a challenge. I have personally been bitten by this one. 

When the project is long and the stakes are high, it is important businesses build in redundancy resources as a back-up. People get tired, particularly if the implementation project is in addition to their day job.

While the availability of internal resources is always a hot topic, it’s high risk to get wrong.

These people are your subject matter experts and crucial to making important decisions about system configuration, deployment and end user adoption. You need to have these people on board!

My advice to HR leaders is, have this fight with gusto. Full time, dedicated commitment from people who understand the detail is worth the blood, sweat and tears.

Most HR technology projects will not succeed, or at the very least, will be significantly compromised without these experts involved early and often.

2. Scope creep

Once the project gets underway, it is not uncommon for definitions to be expanded or morphed to include either new technologies, additional process areas or more users. 

These expansions in the project scope are usually not met with the same scrutiny or due diligence with which the existing parts of the project may have been evaluated. 

What this can result in is the requirement for more resources, not just financially, but in terms of people. 

Rather than this being assessed strategically and thoughtfully as it may have been when originally designing the project plan, often its impact on the project, other projects and the rest of the business, is overlooked. 

3. Change management

Another big area overlooked is change management. 

Some system implementations will touch every single employee in an organisation in some way. 

Careful planning, communication strategy, stakeholder analysis and project management of the change needs to run in parallel with the actual implementation. 

Again, the use of internal resources will help inform where issues in adoption and adaptation are likely to occur.

What about a Project Manager? – yes, yes and yes again, BUT it needs to be an experienced Project Manager.

While HR technology and other kinds of enterprise technology projects share some fundamental elements common to most types of technology roll outs, there are plenty of aspects specific to HR technology.

For example, HR workflows, user acceptance and change management.

While a dedicated HR Project Manager is a costly investment, it is one that will pay for itself in the long-term by keeping the project on time and on budget.

The Project Manager should also manage your vendors and the handover from the ‘sales team’ to implementation team, which is often a tricky task.

It is a gross over estimation that as the HR Leader and principal stakeholder you can also manage the project.

Don’t be offended, it’s a discipline all of its own – you need subject matter expert support as you would for any other type of big initiative.

What is the right business automation and HR technology solution?

A Project Manager can also help you here. Someone who knows the industry, the vendors and their products and pitfalls is invaluable.

Of course, there are industry-leading solutions everywhere you look, supporting every HR process you can conjure up.

Areas such as performance management, learning management, onboarding, pre-boarding, payroll, recruitment are all covered.

But just because a given solution has all the bells and whistles, including awards and clients of note, does not mean it is the ‘right’ one for your organisation.

Frankly, I have had vendors blatantly lie in the requirements gathering phase of a project to get the ‘gig’.

By the time you realise the truth, tens of thousands of dollars, man hours and other ‘fix its’ are in play. Not to mention the legal stoush, the dive in morale of the project team, and ultimately, the reputation of the Project or HR manager.

The only way to ensure your organisation arrives at the solution most likely to be the best fit, is to assess your specific combination of requirements, existing technology infrastructure, integration with other platforms, culture, budget and strategic objectives.

It requires careful, thoughtful and disciplined research and evaluation.

Good Project Managers will come armed with templates to assess your requirements and to match the product to the solution.

Keep in mind, you may need multiple products requiring multiple integrations to achieve the right end user experience for you.

The right business automation or HR technology can act as a potent force, freeing HR of mundane administrative tasks, so they can focus on more strategic, higher-value work. However, we need to recognise technology alone isn’t going to solve our issues.

Remember the old adage – rubbish in, rubbish out.

If you have terrible processes now, they will just become terrible automated processes and workflows if you don’t clean them up in the first place.

But the power of technology can maximise efficiency once you have the right data and processes in place.