Take a human focus to your HR technology strategy

If like me you became a HR professional to help people and your organization meet their potential, the HR technology agenda might not be your happy place, but I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.


With the proliferation of innovations and new emerging capabilities, it’s a critical time to embrace and leverage technology to ensure you are meeting the needs of your respective organization and of course the people who work there.

Yes, you’re busy – I get that. A heavy strategic agenda that already gets cannibalized by the steady stream of short term, ‘oh so important’ deliverables, but your HR technology architecture is the key enabler of that strategic agenda and therefore your success.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report identified the need for ‘organizations to move beyond mission statement and philanthropy to learn to lead the social enterprise – and reinvent themselves around a human focus’. HR cloud was identified as one of the 10 trends in the report and Deloitte notes that ‘…while cloud systems have gone a long way towards integrating the messy back office of HR, they aren’t all that’s needed to better support innovation…’. They point to the need for organizations to rethink their HR technology strategy in 2019.

When it comes to technology, I’m going to purposely take a simple view of technology. In this article, I’m not so concerned about the merits of specific pieces of technology but more how you decide what’s right for your organization and your people. Essentially you have your core system (think Workday or in RSA’s case Ultipro) and then you have an ever-increasing choice of platforms, apps, automation, and AI-based tools that support the delivery of the employee experience. Yes, I appreciate that there is some overlap, but let’s keep things simple for now.

The core system is your system of record used to manage time and attendance and ensure people get paid accurately and on time. It’s critically important and the foundation for all the other things you want your technology to do. The increasing choice of platforms and apps are a layer sitting above the core system that either standalone or pull data from the core system to create an integrated experience. There are lots of options out there. CRF reported that in 2017, $1.1 billion was invested by venture capitalist firms in HR technology start-ups. This can create a ‘kid in a candy shop moment’. So much choice. So little budget! Sound familiar?!

This plethora of choice married with the constraints of resources can present an unhelpful tension for CHROs often resulting in no progress and technology stagnation. I have a number of insights from my experience managing the HR technology agenda at RSA that can help.


Start with the people, not the technology.


It’s more than a cliché. Your technology strategy should be rooted in the needs of your people – and let’s not forget they are a diverse bunch with unique and personalized needs. The creation of a workforce experience that meets the aspirations of your business and at the same time creates a human focus that can only be enabled by technology if you start with the people.

In your assessment, I would include your employees (remembering those who don’t work for you directly), your leaders, your senior leaders, and of course your team. The decision around your technology strategy should be informed by input from all of these stakeholders so you don’t underestimate or overshoot what you need. At a recent CHRO roundtable, a colleague talked about their new HR system and ‘being chucked the keys to the Ferrari with no instructions about how to drive it’.

Have a plan – It sounds obvious, but as mentioned building a HR technology strategy is hard to do and I have seen it often get pushed down the long list of priorities. Your plan will be informed by a thorough assessment of where you are at supported by diligent needs analysis. This will allow you to develop a set of principles to inform the development of your technology roadmap. You will find yourself needing to answer lots of questions: what functionality do you really need? How can you integrate the core system into existing and new platforms? How quickly do you need to go? What are the benefits? What resources do you need?

At RSA it was a long-term project and while the goal was clear, there was a lot of non-technology-related work to be done first. Alignment and simplification of our processes across the business. Harmonization of our reward framework. Scrub after scrub of our date. And perhaps most importantly building credibility in the HR function so decision-makers had the confidence we could deliver the program effectively.


It’s your job to get what you need.


Very few, if any, organizations have bank vaults full of money to invest in technology and there will always be tough decisions to make across the enterprise architecture. It’s your job as the HR leader to get what you need for the HR function. Of course, you will be the right corporate citizen and make a balanced decision for the business – that’s how we roll – but at the end of the day you need to advocate what the business needs to build an enterprise that’s going to keep up with the new world of work.

Your plan is a huge enabler for this as this will create your business case and inception plan. You also need to educate yourself on the ever-changing technology landscape so you have a good sense of the functionality that is being created by the start-ups.

There are endless possibilities with technology, but without a plan and your own conviction, the work on your technology strategy can be fruitless resulting in frustration for you as the HR leader and missed opportunity for your people and your business. What’s stopping you?


Mark Edgar is currently SVP HR at RSA and co-founder of Toronto based community for CHROs www.futurefoHRward.com.

Mark Edgar

Mark Edgar – a recovering CHRO and Founder of Goat Rodeo Project, a consulting firm designed to help you predict and avoid train wrecks. For the avoidance of doubt, we’re in a goat rodeo. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HR-related ramblings. It would be great to catch-up.