Digital HR brings HR to people: Bersin by Deloitte

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In an interaction with Dataquest, Josh Bersin, Principal, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, shared his views and vision on today’s scenario of continuously changing technology landscape in HR industry and how the department uses technology to tackle the challenges in a global environment. Bersin will be coming to India for speaking at ‘SHRM India Tech’17, happening in Hyderabad on 20th and 21st April 2017.



What are the key development areas for HR technology in recent years? How is it different from the past say, 5-7 years?

The world of HR technology has radically changed in the last five years and is about to change again. Ten years ago, we started the shift to integrated systems, as companies began replacing their standalone talent systems with suites. In last few years, we entered the world of cloud, where companies started to shut down their internally run software to move to cloud-based HR and ERP. Today, we are shifting to a new architecture, focused on what we call - Digital HR.

In India, where mobile phone usage is so high, this trend is likely to happen fast; because traditional browser-based tools are no longer useful or productive for people. I believe we are the early days of a radical shift away from cloud-based systems to end-to-end mobile experiences, complimented by intelligent analytics and AI. This shift is already revolutionizing learning and recruitment and almost every company I talk with is building employee apps for feedback, goal setting, time tracking and almost everything else we do at work.

The role of AI is coming and not yet here, but it’s clear to me that HR systems will be predicting what we need to do next, recommending our next job, the training we need, and who we should be spending more time with.  We will soon have intelligent agents and bots to talk with, and our HR teams will spend more time on value-added solutions and less time answering questions. The whole shift is a move towards “making work life better,” which is ultimately what HR is here to do.


Can you tell us about the HR Tech Landscape in Asia, especially in India and what are the challenges?

The two big issues in Asia and India which vary from other countries are:

A) the massive growth in mobile application usage, and

B) the rapid growth of small and large businesses with more limited budgets.


In the US and Europe, companies have been around for decades and most have a lot of legacy investment in HR technology – so they are re-engineering, upgrading and replacing their tools. Here in India and Asia, many companies are growing at a rapid rate and while they may have existing HR systems, they are quickly shifting to mobile apps and innovative new management tools without wasting time re-engineering what they have.

The other issue in India is the fact that HR technology budgets are often smaller, driven by the cost of living and the general nature of business in India and Asia. So, as Indian companies grow quickly (many starting small), they are looking for agile tools which can be implemented inexpensively, forcing some of the large ERP vendors to price lower and offer lower priced systems for everyone.

Finally, here in India the use of mobile devices is so widespread, I would warn almost every company buying new technology to focus on the mobile experience first and make sure the tools and systems you design are built for app deployment, so you can immediately meet the needs of candidates, employees, managers, and leaders where they spend most of their time – with their phones.


How can HR leaders develop a digital HR strategy for their enterprise?

We define ‘Digital HR’ as ‘bringing HR to where people work’ – which often means deploying apps, AI and intelligent systems that just ‘feel natural’ in the flow of work.  It’s not just a matter of buying app-based systems, it also means using design thinking to study and understand the ‘journeys’ of your people. This gives them goal-setting, feedback, wellness and other tools which feel natural and useful in the flow of work.

One of the biggest new areas here is Digital Learning, which represents a new marketplace of tools that helps companies deliver video and micro-learning directly to people as they need it at work. Only a few years ago, we purchased expensive learning management systems and built huge libraries for people to take. Today, much of this is being re-engineered as employees tell us they simply will not use the old model, forcing nearly every company to ‘think digital.’  The same is happening in recruiting, employee engagement and performance management.


Finally “Digital HR” means that HR must “act in a digital way.” It means being more experimental, trying new ideas, using A/B testing and using analytics to understand what’s really happening in your company. I believe there is a new generation of HR solutions being developed. HR has to be more experimental and innovative in its thinking to make sure we are not just buying old software and hoping it will work.

How can the HR department use technology to tackle the challenges of a global workforce?

Virtually every company is global, so it’s important to buy tools that support multiple languages and have the scale to operate on a global basis. A global workforce thrives on connectivity and relationships, so it’s important to build things like an integrated employee directly, tools for security and badge readers around the world.


Career management is now one of the biggest areas of need, driven largely by the fact that companies operate as networks and people want to move from role to role. I believe global mobility, global career assessment and building tools /systems to help coach people around the world are critical.

Finally, we have to make HR systems easy to use. Any global company must invest in globally consistent HR self-service systems, so people can administer their pay and benefits, read and learn about what is new and stay connected to the company globally without feeling they are part of a small silo’d organization. In fact, another growing area is the domain of employee communications which is all digital now and is more important than ever in a global business.

Why HR and business collaboration so important today and what are the ways to make it happen?


Much of our research shows that knowing people and understanding how to work in teams has become two of the most important factors in business performance today. This means we need tools and a culture that promotes collaboration and people to people relationships. Of course video conference, email and employee directories are needed – but it goes much further to include meetings, global conferences and tools to help people get acquainted.

The new world of performance management also helps: today companies need to get away from top-down goal setting and empower people to set their own goals, collaborate, and work with managers as “coaches” and “sponsors,” not just “bosses.” This forces and encourages people to build their own networks which in turn create collaboration.

Finally, I believe we are entering a fast-growing market for ONA (organizational network analysis), which is a set of tools that studies how people interact at work. These tools will help us improve collaboration, reduce bottlenecks, and redesign teams so they can work together in more productive and collaborative ways.

What is the future of HR technologies?

As I described above, HR technologies of the future are going to look more like “productivity tools” and less like “HR tools we have to use.” Everything we do in HR has to focus on making employees life easier and more productive, and they have to operate in the flow of work. So technologies like apps, AI, cognitive systems, and soon wearables will bring HR systems into a more ‘intelligent’ light, making them more predictive and even fun.

Today I have seen systems that recommend where to spend time, recommend what courses to take, predict your time and expense problems, as well as automatically train you for a new job over a period of many months. These intelligent systems are here and this is the way we should think of every new HR program and technology we buy.

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