Transforming the Future of HR Strategy

For those that think this is the stuff big organizations with 'big data' (with even bigger budgets) do – or even that this is all very much tomorrow's world – it's time to think again. For there's a new phrase that's starting to encapsulate where IT and HR and business intelligence is starting to go, and it's a concept that if understood early, can really put businesses in the driving seat.

Intelligence organization Gartner has coined the phrase 'Nexus of Forces'. It describes what it believes will be the new business norm of the next few decades – the convergence and mutual reinforcement of social, mobile, cloud and information patterns that will be used to drive new business intelligence, talent-based decision making and cross-functional collaboration. Organizations are entering, it claims, an almost unique point in time – one where individually disruptive technologies are actually coming together to potentially create intertwined and progressive outcomes that can be used as an unstoppable force for change

Real-time Decision-making

The Nexus of Forces promises to provide organizations with real-time decision-making, and the bedrock of this is optimized staffing models, able to react ahead of enterprise capability changes or business transformation. Using devices of their choosing staff will interact with one another creating a wealth of information. Whether employees realize it or not, the seamlessness of their experiences and access to data will rely more and more on an underlying cloud infrastructure. Access to information and insights created from it will grow wider and deeper. Technocentrism (absolute faith in technology alone) will give way to much more human-centered procedures and innovations.

By putting the human firmly back into technology, but also using technology to drive organizational design, Nexus of Forces puts human resources directors squarely in the driving seat.

It's an opportunity many see as HRD's time to shine, and be able to project the people-agenda in information-driven, and predictive (rather than 'gut feel') ways.

Doing What the Rest of the Business Has Done

"Marketers have already invested £millions in working out how they grow external customer relationships," says Jane Young, futurist, and founder & CEO at social media advisor firm, Kanbee. "Nexus of Forces is saying now is the time to turn these skills internally – to learn how to keep and grow employees.

Historically, a problem has been that HR has been under-resourced, so the challenge for HRDs is to create a compelling case for what I call chaotic networks – things like social networks, blogs, chats, and means for internal knowledge share/capture because these move faster and create a better sense of where the organization is."

Creating Enterprise Intent

Although HR technology has already been an enabler for smarter working for many years, the conflation of technology, social and the cloud is taking this to the next level. But as much as Nexus of Forces is an HR opportunity, commentators believe the success of implementing this thinking is in not perceiving, or presenting it to the board as a specific HR issue. "What we're really talking about is hosted technology becoming more accessible and useful to interpret," says Karl Robinson, chief commercial officer of Access Group's hosting arm. "HR is only part of the organization. However, it's important that the technology that underpins this is enterprise-wide."

This does, he suggests, involve HR 'letting go' of tools they believe are specific to them, in preference for ones that provide the broader, organization-wide view: "HR has historically developed legacy systems, tinkered with and customized along the way." He says: "Often HR professionals will cling onto the last 5% of functionality unique to them, but that's unhelpful to the business when 95% of functionality, optimized for the whole business, could be much better.

Nexus of Forces Isn't Solely a Technology Issue

Technology is inextricably part of what Nexus of Forces is about, but this too should be put into perspective. Says Robinson: "Sure, create a SAAS (Software As A Service)-style infrastructure – because why wouldn't you want to automatically get updates, from providers whose business is based on servicing the technology? But really, the cloud is becoming less and less a technology conversation, and more and more a business model. While some applications are still unable to be delivered through a SAAS model, vendors are working on 'SASSifying' their tech, so this isn't the problem. What is, is when people still get hung up about the technology itself."

Move the Conversation to Service Levels…

HR's role must be to move technological conversations more to how the business can improve internal service levels. "At its most fundamental, HR's role is about acquiring, retaining and improving staff ," says Young. "The social aspect to technology is about adding instant feedback, recognition systems, being able to see what colleagues say, making the internal brand the same to staff as the external one, and adding learning and training conversations. This is all stuff that drives organizational improvement and improves engagement."

Nowhere is this more obvious than in recruitment and the role social is playing here. New generations expect to be reached out to in a way that is meaningful to them. Research by the Aberdeen Group finds 73% of 18-34 year olds found their last job through social media.

HRDs need to be able to accommodate this into their business structures or risk being left behind. The key, says Young, is not see to see this as a cost. Giving service to job seekers (through mobile connectivity to recruitment) actually enhances your brand, but ultimately benefits the recruiter too. Drop-out rates through the application process drastically reduce when users feel 'involved.' Young says: "When people are engaging in this sort of stuff outside work, that's the dream, because it's not 'work' or 'recruitment', just an interaction, an experience. Social media is all about the power of immediacy – instant feedback, recognition."

…But Don't Forget: Data Is Where You Need to Be

What commentators do agree on however, is that while Nexus of Forces may not wholly be a pure-play technology issue, it most certainly is a data issue, and not just this. Specifically, it's an analytics one too – but it's 'business analytics' not 'HR analytics.'

"Big data might be the current buzz phrase people know about, but most organizations aren't anywhere near having 'big data'," argues Tony Rockall HCM product architect, Access. "What they all do have, however, is data collection to some degree, and Nexus of Forces is the phrase that is creeping in and starting to explain what people need to think of when it comes to their data."

He adds: "To move from administration and more to an organizational strategy, HR need reports. Most organizations do collect data – after all there's only a set number of data sources out there – but what Nexus of Forces is about is collecting data from a wider net," he says. "This is the stuff that's more subjective – like engagement levels, and potential versus performance – and turning this into predictive data that suggests employees will do this, or that, based on the current information, or interventions businesses make. That's where real organizational knowledge comes to the fore."

Too Much Data Isn't the Problem

Like much of the thinking about Nexus of Forces, the problem isn't where people expect it to be. "Thinking you'll suddenly be handling too much data isn't the problem," says Young. "Those that say they'll be drowned by a deluge of data do so because they haven't asked the right questions of it in the first place. The key for HRDs is that analytics isn't just about getting all the tools, or the technology, but asking what they want to get out of it before they start."

She explains: "You don't buy a hammer, and then decide what you need to bash. It's the same here. You don't buy the technology, then work out what you want it for. You need to work out what you want to ask, and then buy the technology appropriate for this. HR professionals need to find the tools that will answer the questions they need to set as a business – such as whether the power of making connections works; whether it produces better leaders; or whether social sets the right context for the organization."

Boil It Down via Analytics

What information is collected certainly needs boiling down – to something like a dashboard-style interface that HR professionals and staff alike can access and look at via whatever device they choose – be it desktop, laptop, but more commonly demanded – through their tablets and smartphones.

For HR professionals, the information they collect needs analytics to turn it into something meaningful

"This is the point where HR and data becomes interesting," says Rockall. "This is the stuff that looks at correlational reporting. We can start to unlock prediction-based modeling in a business rather than just use pure HR data." He continues: "This is about a change of mindset rather than anything else. The problem with lots of HR software is that it simply reports what has happened already.

The bit we're trying to add – through the umbrella of Nexus of Forces thinking – is the predictive element, that says if training is given to a particular set of people, that demonstrate particular characteristics, then a specific level of commitment, or productivity, and less likelihood to leave, can be quantified." This is the type of technology Access off ers – intuitive, but HR specific software that tells HR practitioners exactly the sort of information they need to know about the people in their organizations.

You Don't Need to Be a Geek

The value-add such systems provide is immense. But the beauty of best-ofbreed analytics providers, says Rockall is that HR doesn't necessarily need to know how the predictive algorithms work; they just need to be confident that they do. And, by doing so, they can significantly improve their standing in an increasingly ROI-aware boardroom.

"I would say that at the moment, the sector is just about getting to the root of the problem – which is working out what good data is, and what good they need, and how it is collected and hosted," says Rockall. "Analytics really is phase two. It means anyone thinking about this now can really start to get ahead of the curve."

Hot Areas

Beyond this, he forecasts that the hottest new areas will be simpler versions of predictability, particularly in areas including career planning and career and career pathways. "Analysis on absence trends should be dead," he says. "That's the lowest level of predictability – the world of analytics is far more advanced now. It's more about correlations about what people do, for instance linked to training days. For some firms already doing this, it's saving them thousands of pounds." He says: "Social is the more complex part of the mix, but we plan to look at how this can become useful too, and most commentators agree it really comes into its element in the engagement side of things – where software can look at the sorts and types of messages people are making in work, about work."

Starting from Scratch or Developing Old Systems?

Rockall believes companies without a long history of legacy systems potentially have the least resistance to implementing Nexus of Forces–inspired thinking. But he advises HRDs to stop calling them 'HR systems' entirely, and to think of them instead as 'business management tools.' He says: "Do this, and that's when HR data can become company data." He adds: "Don't under estimate this subtle change. CEOs want to see dashboards that are easy to understand; tablet technology is the way they want to see people-based data. This is the direction of travel that needs to be taken."

Work Out the 'Why' and Then Just Do It

For those HRDs still unsure how to precipitate change, Young says it's all about working out why change is needed in the first place: "Ultimately what we're talking about isn't a purely a business problem, and it isn't even purely a technological problem either. At its real base, it's a psychological one." She says: "HR needs to think more about goals. We're always in periods of change – that should never be the issue. The problem is not the amount of change, but the perception of what change is and what you need to do to filter out the stuff you don't need to worry about. Without an idea of how you want change to be, you see and hear everything, and don't have a purpose."

Ultimately, she says the challenge HRDs face is clarity one. But the Nexus of Forces is a way of understanding how to approach change. She says: "The cloud and clever analytics can turn organizations away from looking at the past to looking into the future. Internal social strategies can help HRDs identify who the infl uential people are in organizations – the people who may not have a job title that says they are – and analytics can help show what these people need to expand your business even more. Work out the questions you want to answer, and you really will be able to achieve more of what you want."


Access is a specialist supplier of HR and Payroll software, established to meet the needs of organizations requiring innovative solutions for business improvements. We will give you the advice, tools and clarity to make effective decisions, quickly and with certainty. Our modular suite of functionality includes talent management, absence management, learning and development, employee and manager self-service, online recruitment and more. Click here for more information.

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