Not All HR Pros Ready for Digital Transformation

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

July 12 — Human resources is being transformed by digital technologies in a scope and to a depth that many professionals haven't fully grasped, according to a new report and interviews with consultants.

A July 12 report from the Conference Board lists seven different kinds of “business impacts” technology is having, with corresponding effects on HR—closer customer relationships, customization, collaboration and co-creation, disruptive business models, transparency, blurring organizational boundaries and democratization.

As to the human capital effects of these radically changing business models, for example, the report says to expect that:

  •  there will be a need for more training and change management;
  •  automation and related technologies will reshape the workforce;
  •  HR will need new strategies to deal with changing business needs;
  •  training and development needs will grow;
  •  people's jobs descriptions may change, along with the structure of the organization; and
  •  “new leadership capabilities will be required.”

“HR has to make sure it really understands what digital transformation is,” and that it goes beyond using technology to do things faster and more efficiently, Mary Young, principal researcher at the Conference Board, told Bloomberg BNA July 5. Four “essential elements” of digital transformation mentioned in the report are technology, connectedness, data and analytics, and digital strategy.

Boost for Recruitment

Employment implications are wide-ranging, Young said. For example, she said, it's not just “data scientists and software developers” that employers will need, but “also people who can interact with customers through social media, become brand ambassadors and think of opportunities for companies to meet unmet needs.”

Employers should also look out for “people who are skilled at developing and maintaining networks,” and marketers and talent acquisition experts who are adept at social media, she said.

Employers shouldn't forget the demand side of this equation. “In addition to employers’ need to secure and retain top talent in a competitive job market, HR’s digital transformation is driven by the new generation of job seekers,” Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at Matawan, N.J.-based talent acquisition software provider iCIMS, told Bloomberg BNA in a July 7 e-mail.

“Modern job candidates are looking for a simple and quick job application process, such as having the option to use their mobile device and social media platforms to search and apply for jobs,” she said. “Recent iCIMS research shows an uptick in mobile job seeker behavior, with 72 percent of job seekers researching a company, 70 percent searching for a job and 40 percent applying for a job directly on a mobile device.”

“Savvy hiring companies should adopt technology that responds to these evolving job seeker behaviors, in order to attract top talent,” Vitale said. Examples she offered were recruiting software and video screening of job candidates.

Greater Data Sharing

Nor is the impact of digital transformation in HR limited to hiring. Data sharing has become easier, which in turn means talent can be moved more easily to where it is needed, Kevin Martin, chief research and marketing officer at Seattle and St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), told Bloomberg BNA in a July 7 e-mail. Martin wasn't involved in the Conference Board report.

Martin cited human capital analytics as another area of deep impact when it comes to digital transformation of the field. A recent i4cp study showed that high-performing organizations were twice as likely as low performers “to indicate they collect data for strategic planning purposes,” 96 percent versus 47 percent, he said.

“Additionally, the ability for knowledge workers to share their collective know-how with the entire enterprise has made companies significantly more agile and effective,” Martin said. “A continuous learning culture is a strong trait of high-performance organizations.”

Employers should note that digital technologies are a double-edged sword. Employees will gain “much greater transparency” through technology, Young said. “Companies will not be able to control, in the way they did in the past, the information flow. They will have to become savvier about operating in that environment.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

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