Three fundamental laws of HR technology

Thanks to the popularity of ‘I, Robot’, many of us are now familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics*

I would like to propose Three Fundamental Laws of HR Technology:

Three tech rules for HR

Let’s be brutally honest; 2018 isn’t the year that managements and HR woke up to the fact that we need information. More like 1998 and earlier, so why is it such a big deal now?

Savvy managements and HR managers have been using data from their HR systems for decision making ever since it became available. Now, of course, modern software enables much easier access to that information, and this is important; automated schedules, self-service gateways and simpler report writers make it all possible.

So, for the First Law, I would state that “HR will take responsibility to ensure that their organisation has an HR system configurable to meet its process and information needs.”

Following on from the perception that HR analytics were invented ten minutes ago, are we saying that managements have been flying blind all these years? Well, yes, at least partially. I’ve seen the turmoil when an urgent request for employee information is handed down from above. Panic. The inaccurate and un-updated info in the system they have is exported into excel, and then hours of tweaking and manipulation, as unprocessed leavers, starters and changes are changed around. The report that eventually ends up with management is still strewn with inaccuracies at the end of it all.

From this arises the Second Law: “HR will be responsible for the accuracy and timeliness of information held in the system, providing a single source of truth and real-time reporting.”

With the first two Laws functioning well, it’s necessary to understand that HR’s role is no longer to act as gatekeepers for the data. The data is organisational data, and needs to be available to all those authorised to use it.

Even now, a client HR director or manager will say to me “Great! Now we’ll be able to give them those reports when they ask for them.” Wrong. Those internal requests will disappear, because those needing reports will access them directly from the system whenever they need them.

Hence the Third Law: “HR system information will be freely available and in required formats to all in the organisation authorised to have access to this information.”

Part of the blame for all the disorder described above can be laid at the door of those same managements who insisted that Information Technology folk drove the selection process, on the basis that HR were not qualified to make these decisions. Well, looking over the years at the systems that IT selected, it seems they weren’t too darned smart either, and their selection criteria completely discounted the user experience; sexy architecture, the ability to sit on their existing mouldering infrastructure, and compatibility with other outdated in-house systems were the keys.

Some of the problem also stemmed from HR being over-optimistic about what was to be delivered, and expecting vendors to configure the software with the minimum of input and time resource that they could make shift to provide. And, occasionally, to compound the problem, when the system didn’t work as intended, they sourced a new one without correcting the previous approach.

That has now changed significantly, as the technology gets simpler and more intuitive, and the need for data has driven its own learning process. HR are now acutely aware of the needs of management, and are suggesting enhancements where these have not been specified.

My Three Laws aren’t really anything revolutionary (or should I say disruptive) but I think it’s time that the responsibilities were formally accepted. If HR has abdicated its role in ensuring that a functioning system is in place, if the data in the system is decidedly dodgy and if HR is still acting as a gatekeeper for management information, then it’s time to change – and change now before change is imposed on you.

The Three Laws:

1. “HR will take responsibility to ensure that their organisation has an HR system configurable to meet its process and information needs.”
2. “HR will be responsible for the accuracy and timeliness of information held in the system, providing a single source of truth and real-time reporting.”
3. “HR system information will be freely available and in required formats to all in the organisation authorised to have access to this information.”

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

*A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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