2019 HR tech trends: which ones deserve the hype?

HR technology expert Kate Wadia assesses the trends HR professionals need to focus on in 2019 – and the ones you can afford to overlook for now


Future of Work HR transformation Technology


HR technology expert Kate Wadia assesses the trends HR professionals need to focus on in 2019 – and the ones you can afford to overlook for now

The tech industry loves hype and buzzwords. For HR professionals, sorting out the real direction of travel from the trend-setters and thought-leaders creates a kind of ‘parallel universe’: we end up stuck at a desk, paralysed by a plethora of choice and complexity. We have little clue about how to move our people strategies and tech capabilities that one next step closer to their optimum state.

These are uncertain times: technology is changing rapidly. The expectation of the end user is accelerating. Budgets are hard to bid for in an economic and political climate that creates a lack of safety. The conundrum for people leaders is that the very same set of circumstances make it business critical that we should no longer lag behind business when it comes to our adoption of cloud-based, self-service people applications. Research suggests that barely 20% of business leaders are ‘very satisfied’ with the people systems in their organisation. For HR, that’s sobering.

Three HR tech trends that deserve the hype

1. Integrations and partnerships

Business leaders lose patience with pleas that people functions add strategic value unless we can draw a direct line of sight between how people strategies directly affect performance and the bottom line.

This means a push out into the organisation with systems that join up. Cross-functional networks are enabled by tech that’s capable of joining up people and processes. This means seeking solutions from providers working with app partners, offering a choice of ways to integrate, from the sophisticated API to the hard graft of manual co-operation. Support these complex networks with service partners, internally and externally.

2. A focus on the user experience

Next year is the time to take seriously the chatbot, automatic booting, and the on-screen visual experience of your employees and would-be employees.

Often a new trend doesn’t mean ditching the old HR library and there are related concepts that make it easy to get to grips with the business case you’ll need to make. What does employee engagement mean? What’s McKinsey’s ‘war for talent’? What did the concept of the psychological contract have to tell us about matching consumerised appetites with our experiences of being at work?

At a recent masterclass with CIPHR customers, we looked at how a quantitative return on investment (ROI) can be difficult to stack up unless these qualitative benefits are well set out. Again, it is the line of sight that is crucial.

3. Data-driven HR practice

As a profession we’ve been slow to catch on to the message that ‘this is the year for HR analytics’, so instead we’re seeing a re-badging of people analytics that is encouraging business to understand that HR strategies are evidence based, digitally minded, and data driven.

This is more than a passing trend: it’s a real need to contribute people information. Again, that imperative towards a greater focus on productivity is helped by an increasing mandate when it comes to reporting. Gender pay gap reporting looks set to be followed swiftly by the same for ethnicity and reward. In many industry verticals, the compliance agenda is not about to abate.

So whether it’s for social meaning, strategic value-add or legislative mandate, HR systems need great visualisation of information for managers, ready feeds to business intelligence tools and early adoption of employee feedback mechanisms. We are noting for mid-sized business a very current investment in forms, survey and pulse tools. Get feedback in; get information out.

Three agendas that trend-setters are overlooking

1. Payroll

Advancements with core HR systems will force some questions about changes to payroll technology. We need to understand why payroll is not just the click of a button and what this means for cloud-based systems and adoption on a global scale.

2. Data and cyber security

As HR teams aspire to greater ownership of their people systems and closer working relationships with their IT partners, we won’t be able to divorce questions over ownership of data from changes in technology. It’s politics, opportunism, and an acceleration of technology capability that catapults questions about our personal data into sharp relief. HR leaders need to be prepared to step up to own that agenda. The GDPR doesn’t require a project team, but a steering committee.

3. Upskilling of HR teams

A broader implication of the emerging ‘digital mindset’ is the need to upskill HR teams around technology. At a headline level, the CIPD’s newly launched profession map includes analytical ability and an appreciation of the need to champion change through technology. A newly defined HR technology skillset will emerge.

Three fashions that are more futuristic

Sometimes it’s better to be a follower rather than a leader where the tech is in its infancy and where the appetite is a little unknown.

The first fad that I’d leave to Twitter is blockchain. It is a vital direction for the future, and there will be applications for HR. But, for 2019, you’re safe to think only about its use for CV verification. I’d recommend you play a similar waiting game with the internet of things, and machine learning.

In 2019, as you seek to bridge your own gap between the parallel universes that are the HR tech trends and your own organisation’s adoption of people systems, it is hard to sort out the fad from the long-term strategy. I’d recommend you take one step towards integrating your HR and business systems, make a move to improve employees’ experience of the HR system you ask them to use, and begin to turn your people data into real, business information. Make progress in these three areas and by this time next year you’ll be as pleased as Christmas punch.

Kate Wadia is managing director at Phase 3, a specialist independent people technology firm. For more information about HR technology trends in 2019, look out for content from Phase 3 Insights or follow Kate on Twitter.