What Now: The Future of HR – Part 3: Technology

*This blog is based on a presentation given by BambooHR CEO, Ben Peterson, at the 2017 Summit about the future of HR. In part three of this three-part series, we’ll discuss the future of HR technology, and why there’s no reason to fear it.

In an always-expanding world of superheroes—where a new blockbuster superhero movie seemingly premieres every week—there are two superheroes who remain fan favorites even though they don’t actually possess any supernatural power: Batman and Iron Man.

Unlike other superheroes who possess supernatural abilities—unfathomable strength or athleticism, the ability to fly, control over the elements—Batman and Iron Man are just regular human men (albeit rich, handsome, and athletic). But because they have the best toys around—or, more accurately, the best technological tools—they have full access to the superhero club and are adored worldwide by children of all ages.

And so it is in the HR world: HR heroes are comprised entirely of normal humans (presumably), but those who possess the best technological tools can accomplish great things and be adored by all who know them. And, just like Batman and Iron Man, with powerful technological tools comes the responsibility for HR to use them to help people.

The blessing and curse of technology

By now, it’s universally understood that HR professionals need technological resources to get their jobs done well. And, through experience, many HR professionals also understand that technology can be a blessing and a curse. One on hand, technology makes us better, faster, and smarter. On the other hand, sometimes technology can cause a lot of pain.

Technology advances at such a rapid rate now that, quite often, one can find themselves implementing a new and exciting technology only to discover shortly later about better solutions. It can feel like trying to keep up with the latest version of the iPhone but at a company-wide level!

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Not only that, but new technology requires change—which, in case you haven’t heard, is hard. Every time a company implements new technology, it resets how work is done, and adapting to this requires constant change (and constant strategy).

This constant change can seem too daunting, but the reality is that we have two options: resolve to stick with HR tools as long as possible—even after they’re obsolete—or decide to embrace technology. (Spoiler alert: Organizations that embrace technology are more likely to succeed.)

Technology leads to disruption and HR needs to embrace that

Take a moment to consider all the ways technology has disrupted your life. Consider apps, the music industry, TV, tablets and smartphones, transportation and travel, retail, healthcare, academia, the financial industry, and the various other ways technology has changed the world around us.

Technology disrupts everything.

We’ve known this for a long time, but we haven’t necessarily gotten any better at keeping up. Far too many HR professionals decide to embrace technology in the sense that they’re willing to use it, but they don’t make the necessary preparation to know how to use it. They jump into the deep waters of HR technology decisions without first learning how to swim. And because these HR professionals don’t know enough about the technological tools they’re determined to use, they become susceptible to the hype of the HR tech world—which, it must be said, can be very misleading.

To navigate the world of HR technology, and its constant disruptions, HR needs to be better educated and more in tune with the industry. The worldwide market for SaaS (where the majority of HR software resides) is approximately $40B, and it is growing 20 percent per year.

We’re not saying that HR professionals should research HR technology until they’re masters of the industry. We know you don’t have that kind of time. However, you should be able to answer simple questions like “What is a platform?” and “What is an API?” And you should set aside some time to keep tabs on larger trends and opportunities (the fact that you’re reading this blog post indicates that you probably already do this).

As HR professionals become more educated on the technological tools available to them, they become more prepared to tackle the technological challenges (which are really opportunities) they face. Rather than fearing the constant disruption, they’ll be able to use it to their advantage.

HR software doesn’t have to replace HR professionals

One common fear of HR technology is that it replaces people. The thinking is that if HR software automates HR tasks, it will leave them with nothing to do. The truth, however, can offer good news for HR professionals. Here’s a typical breakdown of the three major HR role types and their responsibilities:

Yes, there is proof that HR software replaces HR jobs—particularly those who fit into the HR Assistants category—but that doesn’t mean they have to. Sure, if an HR professional is spending their entire day handling tasks that software can automate (e.g. filling out spreadsheets, fielding questions about time off, and printing page after page of paperwork for each new employee), they might be in danger. Here’s what those major HR roles will probably look like in the future:

But, remember what we said about good news. The simple truth is you can’t hire software to do all jobs. So plan on growing your HR people, rather than phasing them out. Rather than losing HR Assistants and other HR professionals handling mundane tasks that software can automate, give them the time and resources to become HR Specialists (or HR Managers or whatever that next step is in their career advancement).

If HR professionals continuously grow, they will remain indispensable to their organizations even as technology makes some of their tasks obsolete. The HR department will get more done through the strategic genius that only capable people can provide. And all the little tasks that software can automate will get done quickly and efficiently.

Just like every new Batman or Iron Man movie will bring with it better and better technology, so will each coming year bring advances in HR technology. And just as our beloved superheroes will surely embrace those technological tools to ward off the evils they face, HR must embrace technology to accomplish its great work.

HR needs to embrace technology, not fear it.