Companies devoting more to HR talent, techNews added by Benefits Pro on June 10, 2014

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By Dan Cook

The historic gap between human resources and IT might finally be slowly closing.

A survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals by Towers Watson, out Monday, indicates time, money and talent are being committed to HR tech projects in a much more strategic way than ever before.

“For the first time in our survey research, key HR initiatives appear to strike a balance between people, process and technology,” Towers Watson said. “We attribute this shift to smart HR investments in initiatives that matter, like streamlining business process and implementing manager self-service, and to a commitment to running the HR function like a business, with an effective mix of strategic perspective and operational discipline.”

The consulting firm asked respondents a range of questions, including what their top tech priorities were for the last 18 months. No. 1: streamlining business processes, which topped the list last year.

Not far behind that was improving line managers’ management skills. “Implemented and leveraged manager self-service” was No. 3, underscoring top management’s desire to strengthen its HR team.

In fact, the manager self-service category was cause for a modest celebration, Towers Watson said.

“The adoption of manager self-service tools increased dramatically worldwide. Seventy-one percent of North American organizations are using manager self-service tools this year, compared with 61 percent in 2013. Similar adoption increases were experienced in Asia Pacific, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Worldwide, 60 percent of organizations want to increase their use of manager self-service tools in the future.”

“As in years past, there remains a continued emphasis on talent management. We expect to see business process reengineering and strategic decision making figure prominently in HR transformation efforts aiming to keep the HR function focused, efficient and effective,” Towers Watson said. “This is supported by data points that reveal HR’s ambitious plans involving structural changes, continued investment in technology and the alignment of the function with business goals.”
Moving to more specific areas of technology and human resources collaboration, here’s what Towers Watson reported.

HR tech spending

The survey found that companies are committing real dollars to HR tech projects as they continue to attempt to streamline the department and realize new efficiencies. The numbers tended to show that most companies were either spending about the same amount as in previous years, or where spending more on HR tech.

For instance, companies that spent up to or more than 20 percent more on HR tech outpaced those who cut back up to or more than 20 percent by a considerable margin.

“HR technology spending continues to be strong, in spite of some cost reductions in other areas of HR. … These investments are directed mostly toward the implementation of new technology and new functionality, including HR portals, talent management solutions, mobile access services and leading software-as-a-service systems such as Workday,” Towers Watson said. “The trend toward reviewing and replacing the core HR system certainly continues, but we also see a trend toward greater investment in HR data and analytics, portals, and payroll. About one-third of our respondents reported they plan to spend more in the coming year, and 29 percent of them will be moving to a new core HRMS.”

HR portals

HR portals are catching among companies, according to the survey, as corporations realize their value and find new applications for them. Overall, 60 percent said they now have a portal, compared to 53 percent a year ago.

Of the 40 percent who don’t yet have a portal, half of them said they were in the development stages for one. Only 20 percent said they had no plans to use a portal.

Three-quarters use an installed HR portal, with just a quarter of them hosted — not surprising, given the ongoing sensitivity to placing employee information outside the company’s sphere.

And HR is definitely going mobile. The survey found that 46 percent now deploy mobile technologies for HR transactions, up from 36 percent in 2013.

“There is a continued and quick adoption of mobile technologies, with 71 percent of respondents reporting satisfaction with their mobile HR applications,” TW added. However, mobile applications are limited. “Only 10 percent are using mobile access for a majority of HR transactions,” Towers Watson said.

Employee engagement

It’s all the craze these days, and this survey’s results supported the growing interest of finding ways to further engage employees. Fully two-thirds of respondents said they do a regular engagement survey, and most of them said they derive some or considerable value from such surveys. One in five said they occasionally survey employees on the topic of engagement, and just 16 percent said they never do.

Employers are clearly experimenting with engagement surveys, as shown by how often they execute engagement surveys:
  • 33 percent: annually;
  • 29 percent: no set schedule;
  • 26 percent: every one to two years;
  • 7 percent: every three years or more;
  • 5 percent: more than once a year.
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