The benefits of digital HR

If you still use paper-based processes to run your HR department, then you may be missing out on a world of efficiency and convenience, not to mention better security and decision-making, as Breakthrough Technology Editor Guy Matthews explains

Many of an HR professional’s responsibilities require a personal touch, such as hiring new recruits, terminating the contracts of existing employees, and liaising with departmental managers. However, there are many other duties in the complex world of HR that can now be accomplished with the click of a mouse. Those HR managers who have yet to embrace the benefits of automation need to consider what may be gained from shifting the burden of their more repetitive tasks to a software platform or web portal of some kind.

There are dozens of software-based or internet-enabled HR management systems on the market, ranging from the archaic and inflexible to those that lend themselves well to easy integration with other business management tools. There are options that cover many different HR tasks in the one suite, and others that specialise simply in one area, perhaps payroll or employee record maintenance. Tasks like time and attendance, performance appraisal, benefits administration, learning management and absence management are all perfectly suited for automation.

“Not only does automation lift morale and increase what can be done in the time available, it also has a positive impact on accuracy and precision.”

This is not the place to review specific products, but it should be noted that if your business is small to medium-sized then an automated HR solution that describes itself as for the ‘enterprise’ is probably going to be expensive to buy and maintain, and difficult to get the best from. There are relatively inexpensive options on the market that can help ease your manual workload.

Why go virtual?

But why is automation such a benefit? If your manual HR department isn’t broken, why fix it? The biggest argument in favour of automation is that it frees up the time of HR employees, allowing them to concentrate on more productive and valuable work. It doesn’t mean you need to get rid of anybody, but it does mean that everybody gets to do their job more efficiently and enjoyably. Where they may have spent hours or even days typing in payroll information, an automated solution can do the same job in minutes.

It won’t be long before a general increase in productivity is clearly noticeable. When employees are relieved of their least rewarding and less interesting tasks, they become more motivated. But not only does automation lift morale and increase what can be done in the time available, it also has a positive impact on accuracy and precision. Having exactly the right information at your fingertips is crucial in HR: knowing what health insurance each employee has, and how many days of annual leave they have remaining, for example. When somebody suddenly needs a precise bit of information on an annual bonus, you don’t want to be scrabbling through paper files hoping everything is up to date.

Security and accuracy are vital attributes of any HR department. Human errors or loss of personal employee data can lead to legal troubles and problems with the tax authorities. Strict laws govern personal data and mete out unpleasant consequences for improper handling. Rates of error will tumble when you automate human resources, and you will soon be wondering why you ever entrusted such mission-critical information to a poorly protected filing cabinet.

Universal accessibility

Side benefits of automation include the possibility of ‘self service’. This trend means than employees have some responsibility for upkeeping their own employee records. A truly modern HR system lets employees access certain data online for the purposes of consultation or amendment, while acting also as ‘gatekeeper’, preventing them from seeing other people’s confidential data or improperly adjusting their own records. A good digital HR solution will also allow departmental heads and C-level executives to access data on their teams whenever they need it. Simple but useful management reports can be generated in minutes, viewable on a dashboard for easy assimilation and quick action.

The biggest challenge of HR is unpredictability. You never know what problem may come through the door next. Why not allow an easy-to-use, secure and powerful solution to be your first line of defence and your strongest ally?

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK