Cloud technology in the HR operating model

'Technology is bigger than gas and electricity – it's going to turn our world upside down'

Technology is changing the world we live in as consumers and as employees. In a world where consumers want access to anything, from anywhere, at any time, businesses have to offer services, whether they be products or other services, to meet the customer demand. In addition, there is a new type of employee, one who is more concerned with whether there is a woman on the board of directors and what they can wear to work than with compensation, which would probably feature as priority four or five on their list. It's this digitisation of the world that is changing the expectations of people. I believe that the customer and employee experience should be aligned: the omni-channel consumer at some point has become the omni-channel employee.

What does this technological-driven change mean for HR?

Many organisations are increasingly automating traditional HR and people management activities, particularly through the implementation of cloud technologies.

The first thing that organisations have to get right is the operational basics: HR technology can support the delivery of seamless processes that are automated. Organisations, regardless of size, should try to put as much standardisation as possible into operational HR business processes such as administration, payroll and recruitment. If you don't get the basics right, you do not earn the right to play in any other space and you shouldn't try to move up the value chain. Service-level performance metrics and qualitative feedback will help you recognise when you know you have done enough and you are ready to move on.

In my organisation, I now have the team supporting the cloud technology solution that runs the optimised operational HR processes in my team, in the centre of excellence. I have IT business analysts, technology development and a technical architect: I'm the CIO of HR. I'm not dependent on IT anymore. It's a team that focuses on continuous improvement: how do you improve the technology? The user experience of the technology? And the service proposition around technology? The benefit of using cloud is that it is highly adaptive and changes can be made within seconds. Even the team working in the global shared services centre, reporting into the centre of excellence, are experts in cloud computing within HR.

HR technology also changes the role of HR people in the business. In my organisation, the HR managers who support the business leaders and the HR partners who are the generalists supporting the business both go to work armed with technology.

The HR managers, responsible for the execution of programmes driven out of the centre of expertise and partnering with the business, have seen the implementation of the HR cloud technology solution allow them to leave the ‘non-sexy' HR activities to technology or to the shared services team. It's put them up the value chain in that partner-to-player-type model. Via iPads they have access to mammoth amounts of data about employees and they are able to play around with this data, form hypotheses and start to make decisions about how they can optimise the workforce in the business to which they provide support. Alongside this they are able to provide a coaching and support role to line managers in the business.

The HR partners are using case management technologies to help manage business HR issues through their lifecycle; basic documents such as grievance letters or evidence for a case are centrally stored in the case management tool. We did consider putting case management into our offshore shared services but decided because of previous learnings not to do so. In a global world where culture is a big part of some of the issues you face in disciplinary and grievance cases, it doesn't work trying to manage them remotely.

The role of line managers has also changed with the implementation of the technology. Line managers manage everything, including basic leavers, joiners, analytics for their teams, holiday requests, talent performance, all compensation and payslips via their mobile devices. The mobile adoption rate is 80%; India and Bahrain are leading the way but there are no other significant demographics around usage. What is also interesting is that we're seeing more and more people do their workflow management and their basic HR processes outside of their core working hours. To accompany this change to line managers' roles, we are changing the way we measure performance and next year we will be introducing self-assessment on performance and forcing teams to give their leaders feedback. We recognise the criticality of first-line managers. They are in the single most important leadership role and they need to be educated on good people management skills: how to have honest conversations, how to differentiate performance, how to look at data and use technology. With this population, you can't just put in the technology, even with an excellent change management strategy; you need to have a plan for sustainability which includes the upskilling of the line manager role. There is no question that technology has been the driving force of fundamental behaviour change of our line managers.

In the last three years the role of HR has fundamentally changed. Three years ago they were doing payroll, high-level basic administration, issuing contracts, recruitment, operational grievances and disciplinary work. It was different in every country and there were different capabilities in the HR team. We were a regional operating model and we have moved to a centralised operating model.

When asked about the future of the HR department, which I have been asked a few times recently, I say I passionately believe that HR is beginning to play a huge role in business. I think the function in the future might be larger but with lower operating costs. I think the centre of excellence model might change as the head of HR and HR manager roles supporting the business evolve and the basic operational activities are either automated, streamlined or aggregated. The HR roles supporting the business will take on more of what would have typically been done by the centre; they are thought leaders in their own right.

Analytics is going to disrupt HR, particularly predictive analytics. HR people are going to have to get comfortable with data, deriving insight and translating these into interventions. These interventions will be strategies that enable HR to optimise the workforce. I also see HR people evolving their skills into those that might have traditionally been seen in a marketing discipline. With talent management still being at the top of the agenda, HR will have to think about developing attraction strategies and a value proposition in the world of a talent war that turns much of what has been done traditionally on its head. The new types of employee that we are seeing have different priorities and place demands for creativity on the HR function.

The HR function at Travelex was recently congratulated by the chairman after winning the NimbusNinety Cloud Innovation Award, which recognises the most innovative application of cloud in the enterprise, for becoming the enabling function of the business. In my view, the HR profession has a real opportunity to get out there and add value. HR directors need to be courageous, prepared to take their teams into the unknown and be prepared to adopt this agile methodology of the combination of technology, human capital and data to move the success of their function into the future.

About the author

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams was appointed to the Travelex Executive Committee in March 2013 as the global HR director, representing the critical role our 7,000+ colleagues play in making Travelex the business that it is today. He is accountable for the global people agenda and leads the generalist HR team, the L&D team, the centre of HR excellence and the HR shared service centre across the world.

Prior to Travelex, Gareth held a range of HR and business transformation/change roles at Goldman Sachs, Sainsbury's and, more recently, BT. Gareth holds an MBA from London Business School and is also a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD. He holds a non-executive role at London's Guy's and St Thomas' Mental Health Foundation. He is also a volunteer telephone counsellor for the Terence Higgins Trust.


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