May 23, 2019

Obstacles and Opportunities: For HR, Digital Transformation Is About Much More Than Job Automation


When the terms “digital transformation” and “human resources” come up in the media, the focus is often on the possibility that automation will eliminate jobs, with negative consequences for workers and communities. While that is a serious issue, it is also a shiny headline that takes attention away from more pressing concerns that HR teams handle every day. The fact is, digital transformation’s implications are much broader for HR, and these teams have a lot on their plates.

HR is already dealing with change related to critical functions like security, automation, and collaboration. In an effort to understand how HR pros feel about these changes, my team at Wrike commissioned Atomik Research to conduct a survey. The survey revealed three major obstacles and opportunities the current state of digital transformation (or lack thereof) brings to the people management function. Here are a few of the key findings:

1. Data Security Is a Big Concern — for Good Reason

HR teams handle some of the most sensitive data in your company, including information on compensation, performance, and employee discipline. It is no surprise that 40 percent of the professionals we surveyed expressed strong agreement that security is a major concern.

Despite the sensitivity of this data and the processes you might assume are already in place to protect it, only 37 percent of survey respondents strongly agreed their organizations have the right tools in place to secure sensitive data. Given that this year is already off to a bad start with high-profile data breaches, now is a good time to address these types of vulnerabilities. Our survey shows that most companies still have a long way to go.

2. There Is a Huge Opportunity to Improve HR Productivity

Nearly a third of HR professionals said they could increase their productivity by around 30 percent if they had better technology to automate repetitive and administrative tasks. That represents a big opportunity for HR organizations, which often struggle to gain a seat at the strategy table.

This problem is illustrated by the tedium of copying and pasting information between systems. A quarter of survey respondents said that consolidating feedback and communication across multiple emails and spreadsheets is their biggest work challenge. This result, paired with the first, suggests that companies looking for a quick way to improve HR productivity should consider technologies that streamline communication into a single source so that professionals don’t need to spend their valuable time searching for the information they need to do their jobs.

3. Communication Breakdowns and Bottlenecks Are a Significant Challenge

It probably won’t surprise experienced HR professionals that nearly a quarter of those surveyed reported that communication difficulties or delays are their most significant challenge on the job. It is unsurprising because HR is uniquely dependent on organization-wide communication to resolve issues since it handles employee relations across business units.

When HR is unable to get answers in a timely manner, it results in frustration within the department and disgruntled employees across the whole company. That hurts HR performance metrics, since a sizable percentage of HR personnel (38 percent) say that customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score is how their success on the job is measured. This result again points to a need to streamline communication channels to improve productivity and performance.

Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

Digital transformation is accelerating, but the new tools and processes aren’t yet evenly distributed within organizations. One recent report on the state of digital transformation suggests that may be changing. According to Altimeter, IT is still driving digital transformation at most companies, but 85 percent of organizations are working to expand the benefits across the organization. It is important for HR leaders to make sure their departments get the transformative tools they need to operate effectively in the modern business world.

The significant percentages of HR professionals reporting challenges in basic functions like security, automation, and collaboration suggests that digital transformation is lagging in too many HR departments. That is a problem for HR professionals who need to ensure that sensitive information isn’t exposed, spend more time on strategic tasks, and communicate with colleagues seamlessly.

However, these challenges also represent the potential for HR organizations to improve by adopting tools and processes that lead to better data protection, greater efficiency, and expanded collaboration. As HR leaders contemplate the effects of digital transformation on their organizations, they’ll have a unique chance to turn these obstacles into opportunities. If they succeed, not only will the HR organization be more effective, but the company as a whole will become more competitive as talent grows more satisfied with the employment experience.

Megan Barbier is vice president of people operations at Wrike.

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Megan Barbier is vice president of people operations for Wrike.