Digital transformation is bringing more with it than new IT strategies and tools. It requires fundamental business change and new ways of collaborating and delivering services within the business. This places HR leaders and their teams in a business-critical position to become drivers of change. And to do so, they must change and adapt themselves.

Yet, according to a study by Forrester Consulting and Accenture Interactive, company culture and organisation tend to lag behind process and technology when it comes to digital readiness.

Here are just a few examples of how we believe the role of HR leadership will need to change as robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) become embedded in all organisations.

    • Repetitive tasks – including much of traditional HR admin work – will be automated and organisations will likely employ fewer people with more specialist skills. HR professionals need to anticipate how they attract, select and retain a workforce fit for this future.
    • At the same time, they will need to consider how they reshape the service the HR function provides to the business if they are to remain relevant.
    • HR also plays a part in helping employees working in roles that will be automated in future. This means creating a clear strategy. Will the business re-train and redeploy these people? Or should it merely communicate openly and honestly and let employees choose their paths?
    • HR will need to rapidly understand and establish its role in any transformation to quickly design new operating models. Transformation requires close collaboration between the functions such as IT, procurement, HR and finance (see my previous blog). Without this collaboration, HR can become sidelined, resulting in business risks around organisation design and people issues.
    • As digital transformation spreads throughout the organisation so concerns about job losses will increase. HR will need robust employee relations strategies. Building and maintaining strong relationships with employees and, where relevant, unions will smooth the route to implementation.
    • The increased offer of PaaS and IaaS from software vendors open an opportunity for HR leaders to own the development of people technology, and build small but incrementally important solutions for their businesses and internal clients. HR leaders play a critical role in selling the people and organisational benefits of technology investment to the leadership team, to Finance and the wider workforce.These areas of technology often are considered the preserve of IT colleagues or external parties but we’re seeing more and more clients liberated from their dependency on in-house IT teams as service desks provided by the vendors can offer greater expertise. If HR is truly serious about delivering high value to a business it needs to start about building these skills internally, in collaboration with IT if necessary, and find ways to enhance the services it already offers.

All organisations will need to consider the digital awareness and understanding of its entire leadership team and how this can be augmented and developed. We would argue, however, that digital transformation is creating new demands for HR and a new role for HR leadership.

HR leaders we have worked with who are meeting these challenges have done so by better understanding how digital transformation effects extend well beyond technology, and require a radical change in culture and education within the business.

David Cruise