Technology is something that often scares HR professionals, but we need to be mindful of the fact that it is a tool that enhances, harnesses and sometimes replaces human effort (physical/manual) or thought work (knowledge/process). From the dawn of time, we have developed tools to suit our environment, our work and to help us get things done – so why should it be different for HR as a profession? Although we need to understand people, we need to use technology as a resource to help us do our work effectively and make the working lives of others more productive and engaging.

Giles O’Halloran – freelance HR Professional & Digital HR Strategist, freelance HR consultant at go2-work, a freelance associate at CIPD.  You can contact Giles via e-mail or his LinkedIn page.

Most HR teams or departments will have some form of HR system in order to manage employee data. These systems vary in size and capability, mirroring the businesses that use them. Some are simply databases, some produce reports/MI and data packs, whereas others are more complex, providing analytics/metrics and are deployed via mobile platforms. They vary from a system based on a simple spreadsheet to a mobile app with functionality based in the cloud. The simple truth is that technology is helping create a new type of HR – Digital HR – but HR systems are just the first step in the journey…

Digital HR:

Digital HR is about enhancing HR capability via social technology, apps and HR systems. These maybe three key areas, but they are not standalone and should be integrated, e.g. Apps can provide access to HR systems, social technologies can be deployed via Apps, and social technologies can be part of an HR system. It is the power of the three combined that adds value to both the employee experience and the HR service, in order to create a truly networked HR capability that dovetails with the modern, networked organisation.

Social HR:

Usually, when I talk about social technology (social media being the main one people understand) to fellow HR professionals, they are more likely to understand the policy that controls access and use of the technology, than the value HR can derive from using it and training people to use it effectively. Social networks and platforms allow people to connect, collaborate, share and innovate. They allow talent to be networked to do the most good, to connect knowledge with users that need it most, and engage all parts of the organisation to break down functional barriers that do more harm than collective good. HR should be a social technology facilitator, providing guidance, creating confidence, capability and communities, and then acting as a connector of talent.  Here are just a few ways HR can achieve this:

  • Use social networks to recruit – creating talent networks and relationships with active and passive candidates across a variety of media and platforms;
  • Embedding social intranets that help people connect and feel more engaged – sharing updates, creating communities or providing guidance to new starters during onboarding;
  • Building social learning communities that bring the proven  70:20:10 principle to life through encouraging self, peer to peer (P2P) , and mentor led learning, alongside access to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs);
  • Utilising social performance tools to help people learn and develop in an organisational context – providing peer reviews, learning tasks and regular feedback to help people realise their potential.

Social HR can be and is a powerful mindset that creates real value, not just for individuals, but for the culture and capabilities of an organisation.


HR Apps:

Apps allow technologies to be deployed to all users via mobile and other devices. They are often easy to download, quite cheap to create and deployable via multiple platforms. For instance, they could:

  • Provide access to the company HR system allowing staff to view the employment handbook, bid for working hours or book holidays all via their smart phone;
  • Create a recruitment app providing information about the company, the process, tests using gamification, job opportunities and employee profiles;
  • They could provide controlled access to the organisation’s social intranet to  allow employees to share work, updates and other information on the go;
  • They could even provide new employees with a company induction programme, using products like Google Streetview to allow new staff to orientate themselves to their new work locations (with meeting spaces, conveniences, fire marshalling areas etc.).

Whatever the use, apps allow HR to deploy knowledge, help and advice across a variety of platforms, including the mobile device that most people possess – the smartphone.

HR Systems:

HR systems now do more than just record employee information for reference and records. Many provide valuable analytics, “chat” functionality to allow employees to engage with HR specialists, or are self service, SaaS, deployed in the cloud with access via mobile devices. This means employees have more control over their data and the access they can have to HR for help or guidance. In the same light, HR can provide valuable metrics and intelligence led assessments to leadership that impact workforce blend, budgets and employee engagement. HR systems are evolving and it will be interesting to see the additional functonality that is being developed.  However, HR needs to step beyond simply HR systems and embrace both the social and apps elements to be truly Digital HR. It is the integration and development of the combined capability of all three that adds value to an organisation and the modern HR proposition.

Innovative HR:

The more HR is able to combine these elements (social, apps and systems), the more it will be able to adapt new technologies to help improve organisational capability. The application of technology to improve human work should become a future HR competency. Whether it is training a remote based, national sales team to use social tech like Whatsapp to share information, or simply training staff to use Linkedin so that they can effectively engage with stakeholders or potential clients – HR should be able to look at technologies and understand how people can use them effectively to improve communication, collaboration, create communities or tap into the collective intelligence both inside and outside the organisation. Through doing so, HR will add strategic value by helping build collaborative cultures, engage people wanting play a part in the wider organisation, help change communication behaviours, as well as create a working environment that helps people feel connected. This is where technology is a tool for success.

Creative Destruction:

However, technology can change and destroy human work or the jobs that do the work. This has been proven time and time again, and something HR should also be wary of when it comes to where we invest their skills in the future. We are not immune to the march of the machine. How long will it be before we adapt the Siris and Cortanas of this world to provide HR policy statements or simple HR Q&As? How long before cognitive assistants become pre- programmed avatars that feel like you are speaking to a virtual HR person? And how long before HR administrative systems are automated to either update or remind self service users to complete tasks or schedule HR processes via the touch of a mobile device screen or by a simple voice command?


I would argue that much of this is close to or already possible. Jobs, work, technology and how we live is constantly evolving and at a faster pace. Many of the typists and secretaries of yesterday have upskilled to become specialist administrators or analysts using the technology that changed the work they do. HR therefore needs to consider how it evolves to become not only Digital HR but a future HR that understands, embraces and uses technology, without losing key human competencies that machines are not capable of doing.

To put it simply, the first part of HR is Human – understanding, encouraging and developing people – and we should never lose sight of this capability. The second part is resources, and this is about using knowledge, technology and other tools to help people (including HR itself) work in a productive, engaging and collaborative environment. We therefore need to consider this as profession and how HR will create new opportunities or competencies for the future.

As you can probably tell, this is something I am genuinely passionate about, so please feel free to comment, share your experiences, ideas and consider connecting with me if you would like to discuss further.