There’s been a whole crop of articles in recent months discussing the future of HR. Academics and practitioners have been battling it out over what direction the profession should be taking, and how it can make itself fit for purpose in a fast-changing business world. As you would expect, the views about what HR needs to do are many and varied – but the one word that crops up consistently is data.

Data analytics – and what it will (or should) mean for the HR profession – is a topic that has been causing ripples for some time now. A recent article in HR magazine predicted that we will even see new data-specific jobs emerging in the HR field. How do you fancy becoming an HR Data Tsar, for example, charged with managing and making sense of all the people-related data organisations now have the ability to collect?

How ready HR is for a data-driven business world? The profession is certainly sitting up and taking notice – witness the CIPD’s forthcoming HR analytics conference. The reality on the ground, however, is that only an enlightened few are really exploiting technology and the data it provides to its fullest extent. The rest are either harvesting information, with little idea of what to do with it, or are still making do with spreadsheets (link to previous blog).

Leaving the issue about state of readiness aside, there is no doubt that technology can play a huge role in helping HR become a more effective business partner. Here’s our run-down of five ways technology can help HR raise its game and win the respect of its management peers:

It makes room for the strategic stuff

The latest generation HR software takes away all the time-consuming admin, leaving HR teams free to concentrate on strategic priorities. There’s no longer any need to constantly update multiple spreadsheets, chase line managers for information about their people, and consolidate information from numerous different sources. All people-related processes are managed from one central place, ensuring information is accurate, up-to-date, and easy to find. It helps HR people make best use of their time, and allows them to focus on how they can add real value to the business.

It provides sound data to support business decisions

An unexpected demand from the board for the latest head count or information on staff turnover. A request from a departmental head on how absence rates in their patch compare to other divisions. Thanks to technology, these no longer need to be time consuming (or panic-inducing) tasks. The latest systems make it easy to pull off reports on pretty much whatever is needed with a few clicks of a mouse. It means HR can respond quickly with the information the leadership team need to inform their strategic thinking – with data that provides valuable insights into the people-related implications of business decisions.

It makes people management more efficient

Line managers spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with holiday requests, managing absence, monitoring performance, and all the other assorted ‘stuff’ that comes with managing a team. Technology can’t replace the conversations they need to have with their people, but it can certainly ease the admin burden and make the task much quicker and easier. HR software systems like Cezanne HR come with a self-service element, which means employees can manage their own holiday entitlement: they can look at how much annual leave they have left and submit a request for approval to their manager on line. The manager can, in turn, access an overview of who’s away when so they can make an informed decision about resourcing at any given time. The same goes for absence. Sickness can be logged onto a central system so that the manager can keep a check on who’s off ill and can monitor absence levels on an ongoing basis, making it easier to spot any trends that may be emerging and nip any problems in the bud early. Processes are transparent and consistent – and the manager has time to concentrate on driving projects forward, and making sure targets or deadlines are met.

It helps the business build engagement

Business is becoming increasingly ‘social’ thanks to developments in technology and the arrival of Generations Y (and now Z) into the workplace. The young people joining organisations now are digital natives; they expect to be able to access information on their smart phones or tablets as and when they need it. They want just-in-time learning, the opportunity to collaborate online with peers both inside and outside the organisation – and overall have much higher expectations of how often (and how well) the business will communicate with them. The social portals that are integral to the latest HR software solutions provide HR with a real opportunity to drive not just engagement, but also innovation and creativity within the business. They make it easy for people to find the information and advice they need when they need it. They provide a space for employees to connect and tap into each other’s expertise. And most importantly, they offer an opportunity for HR to ‘take the temperature’ on a regular basis, and find out how employees are thinking and feeling so that they can adapt communication accordingly.

It supports more effective talent management

In many organisations, performance management is little more than a box-ticking exercise. HR has to constantly prod line managers to make sure appraisals happen – and when they do, the information that comes out of them is often poorly recorded and not acted upon. The latest HR software systems help organisations raise both the profile and effectiveness of performance management. Systems can be set up so managers get automatic prompts when appraisals are due. Information about strengths, competencies, development needs and agreed training can all be logged in one central place. The process is transparent, the information is easily accessible, and as a result the business can make much more informed decisions about where the skills gaps are, and how it can maximise the potential of its people going forward.

Is technology helping you to become a better HR business partner? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below, or tweet us at @CezanneHR

You may be interested in reading: 10 reasons why HR should stop using spreadsheets