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HR joins the tech revolution

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The technology revolution has swept away most vestiges of the old ways of business. But not all. Now the HR department is about to be disrupted, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There is hardly a mainstream business that has not been transformed by technology, yet the management of human resources (HR) remains stuck in early 20th century mode.

This is ironic, considering the massive emphasis placed on young workers and the new generation of job-entrant. The problem is that buzzword are being used to paper over the cracks in the system. The term “millennial” has become a convenient byword for describing this new kind of employee, despite the fact that the 17-to-37-year-old age group it defines is utterly meaningless.

The result is that, while tremendous effort is made to attract young talent, little is done – outside youth-oriented brands like Google and Facebook – to retain them. Performance measures and reward systems may well be in place, but little is done with the huge amount of data collected in the process, and little effort goes into understanding what makes employees tick, and what contribution HR can make to the business.

Yet, in the age of big data and artificial intelligence, human resources should be given as much emphasis as sales, marketing and the customer experience – currently the obsession of most big businesses.

This gap explains the massive growth of a business like SuccessFactors, which provides human capital management software solutions via the cloud. Listed on the NASDAQ exchange in 2007, it was acquired by SAP in 2011 and now serves more than 6 000 companies and 45-million subscribers across more than 60 industries.

“A lot of people believe on-boarding ends when someone is sitting in their office,” said Stefan Ries, chief human resources officer of SAP, opening last week’s SuccessFactors SuccessConnect 2017 conference in London. “It doesn’t stop there. You need to check it after 30 days, after 60 days, after 90 days.”

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Ries was brutal in his assessment of the failings of HR. But he was equally frank in what needed to be done, providing a roadmap for businesses that are ready to evolve in the way they manage employees. Even those who have moved from thinking of staff as customers had not caught up to the way other areas of their business were being disrupted.

He outlined the five key elements that matter most in the new HR roadmap:

1.

“HR needs to deliver much more experience. Stop calling employers and managers customers; they are consumers. It’s not only about employees, but also managers, contingent labour, the retired workforce, as well as new candidates. They all want to have a consumer experience. It’s all about usability, simplification and performance. We need to think and act as if we’re in a consumer business, and we must be ready for the next big thing: mobile and conversational HR.

2.

“We in HR need to measure much more strongly our impact versus the activities we are performing. Within the cloud environment, you need to deliver HR services anytime, anywhere, on any device. If you can’t do that, you won’t attract talent from the younger generations. We have to understand how cloud services can help us to have high employee engagement and to be a more attractive employer of choice.

3.

“We need to continue to get much more fluent in data analytics. We have the tools available. We are hiring data analysts in HR, and that job description didn’t exist four or five years ago.  Integration of machine learning is very important, but it’s not in isolation or separate; it must be fully embedded.

4.

“How jealous are we of the finance department? Business loves them because they have the numbers that define the business. We need to work hand in hand with them, and our numbers must be seen as an important business metric. Sales, marketing, finance and HR must all come together to enable us to make the right business decisions.

5.

“Social media and social commitment really matters.  In the solutions we offer, we must capture the needs of the younger generation. They are much more embedded in the social media environment. These generations have a clear determination in their minds that they need purpose in their jobs. What can they do to help the company make an impact and improve the way we live on this earth? We must continue to invest in corporate social responsibility.”

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Later, at a media briefing, Ries offered the flip side of the coin: how to look after the older generation that may feel left behind by digital transformation.

“On the one side you’ve got to listen to the younger generation, but on the other side have to pay attention to other generations. You have customers out there with managers and leaders in their 50s or 60s who may say, ‘Why bother?’

“They will bother if they see the benefits, that they have to work for another 10 to 15 years and can experience the advantages of the new approach. And at home they are confronted with the same challenges with kids or in the broader family. The magic word is integration.”

A company that seems to have got it right is the venerable automotive brand, Jaguar Land Rover.

“We thought we would have a lot of rejection of the whole concept, so we geared up for putting out fires, and over-supported people through the change,” said Jon West, the company’s director of manufacturing HR and employee relations.

“Actually, we found that there was a high level of acceptance,” he told media at the SuccessConnect conference. “A significant amount of people in the organisation – forty per cent of employees – are older people who’ve been with us for a long time. But over time we brought in a lot of new people, and they were expecting this new approach. We’re lucky we have such well-established, premium brands, and we have to make sure our HR practices do the brands justice.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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