An Introduction to Digital Human Resource
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled, “Digital HR for All.” In it, Prashanth M. Kumar, the Associate Director for HR Services Delivery of IBM, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in the implementation of different ideologies of HR.
Simplifying before Automating for Efficiency
Digital transformation in human resources is not a new concept. By definition, it refers to transforming HR services and processes using technologies such as robotic process automation, chatbots, cloud, mobile, and more with the key objective of improving employee experience and efficiency. Many organizations have already adopted this approach, even more so in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of digital disruption and the need of the hour is for organizations to be agile and adaptive.
Of course, what better company to be at the forefront of this HR approach than IBM, one of the most iconic technology companies in the world, which has been around for more than a century and reinvented itself multiple times during the way.
Prashanth Kumar is just one of the many employees in IBM who have been part of this journey, as the organization adopts new ways of working. He has been with the organization for almost 17 years as of writing, starting as a quality specialist before rising up the ranks across many HR functions, as a HR leader first in Bangalore, India, to relocating to Philippines where he managed a large team of Internal Mobility experts managing global assignments. He now primarily drives digital transformation within HR Services functions. On the subject of the digital transformation journey, Kumar said, “There is a lot to discuss in this area which is changing at a rapid pace, but I am going to keep it simple and talk about three principles and how technology drives experience and efficiency.”
According to him, the first key principle of digital transformation was to “simplify first, before automate”.
“We don’t automate from the word go. We focus first on simplifying the processes by eliminating non-aligned or non value-added tasks, reducing complexity before we embark on the automation,” Kumar explained.
IBM HR Services’ vision was to transform processes, enabled by technology and underpinned by skills evolution of the employees. The method that Kumar applied to drive end-to-end process transformation were the following key phases: simplification, standardization, centralization, integration, and finally, automation. All these phases have data as their basis, design thinking as the approach, and clear success metrics defined.
The second key principle of digital transformation was “incubate and scale”. Kumar pointed out that every transformation had to be “agile” at heart. For IBM HR Services, this means they keep the end customer experience in mind, starting small by creating proof of concepts or minimum viable products through sprints, fail fast, iterate, and finally scale. This approach, once fully understood, mitigated so much of the risks that the traditional project management methods have.
The third key principle of digital transformation was “zero touch”. This is a radical desired state where human interventions in process executions, which are repetitive in nature, are completely eliminated or kept at an absolute minimum. This provided the HR workforce the ability to focus on their skills, as well as create enough capacity to support the organization better by focusing on more complex and value-added tasks.
There are different technology offerings that cater to different types of automation requirements in HR functions.
“We use robotic process automations to automate end-to-end process execution in processes like payroll, compensation, EDM, and more,” Kumar said. This is a technology that has exponentially grown over the past years in terms of capability and now looks more and more feasible to automate any process, irrespective of complexity.
IBM HR Services has built so many digital workers that they have created their own internal BOTStore, which catalogued all the robots for the entire HR organization to access, customize, and replicate to their own processes.
One of the key innovations that IBM HR Services has created for their internal HR employee services is the AskHR Chatbot. It not only resolves all HR queries for employees and managers with information at their fingertips on time, every time irrespective of time or day, but also serves as a system of engagement for all HR tasks.
“The key differentiator of the AskHR ChatBOT is it not only provides accurate and complete information, but employees and managers can use the bot to execute a whole lot of HR tasks, like requesting leaves, viewing compensation details, transferring employees, and more,” Kumar said.
Prior to this innovation, employees had to go through multiple layers and numerous physical contacts or phone calls for their inquiries. However, by having a digital interface that converged all HR information on company programs, policies, and processes for all of the countries, HR employee support teams now spend far less time on simple query resolution and attend more to higher-level and value added tasks, and are aligned to more strategic priorities.
The AskHR Chatbot has also expanded into other mediums like internal messaging applications within the organization. It also has an internal mobile app, available for all IBM employees on both Android and iOS platforms. This massively improved the adoption and usage of the bot, when it’s available in multiple ecosystems.
“We do a lot of user experience reviews, soliciting feedback from our employees. This maniacal focus on employee centricity means we get a lot of end user perspective. There is no feedback that is insignificant. It could be a matter of providing a huge capability or something as small as adjusting a button or giving a new theme, font color change, and more,” Kumar explained.
The capabilities of the bot are boundless, as more and more organizations are using digital workforce in areas that have never been used before. During the COVID-19 pandemic, where almost all work collaborations were done virtually, IBM HR Services found it extremely important to provide tools to their employees that provide them a seamless HR experience and enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.
With the advent of technologies such as 5G and the internet of things, the world can expect a lot of artificial intelligence being embedded into all HR workflows.
When asked about the reactions of the workforce for this digital disruption, Kumar shared that IBMers saw the value that this transformation brought to them around simplifying HR and this, allied to a strong change in management process, instituted in ensuring the changes were communicated, and enablement sessions were conducted to further reiterate the capabilities and benefits.
“All this digital disruption is futile if it doesn’t add value to the employee. This means there is a lot of focus on employees acquiring new skills, adapting to new ways of working, and bringing an overall shift upwards to the skills capability of the workforce,” he said.
Kumar added that digital transformation is not only limited to big corporations, noting that small and medium enterprises can also embark on this journey given that technologies are scalable to size.
When asked about the future of the digital transformation experience, he said that transformation is never ending. He believed that everyone would probably be dealing with a different suite of technologies with improved capabilities in a few years from now, but the core intent to transformation for the better will remain forever.
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Prashanth M. Kumar, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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