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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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IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.


“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans

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Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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