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Why HR must lead in evolution of business

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HR needs to become better equipped to lead an organisation’s people through change as they need to build a more agile workforce that is ready to adjust, writes ANJA VAN BEEK of Sage International.

Most organisations are under pressure to evolve their businesses at a faster pace as they try to get in step with rapid changes in the business landscape, technology and customer behaviour.

That means HR departments, too, need to become better equipped to lead the organisation’s people through constant and rapid change. They need to build a more agile workforce that is ready to adjust to the evolving needs of the market. This goes beyond offering people flexible working arrangements such as flexible hours or the ability to work from home.

It is about helping to shift the organisational culture to one that embraces learning, change and innovation. It is also about recruiting, developing and retaining people who thrive in a changing world – chameleon workers who can adapt to change, learn new skills in a short space of time and seamlessly move from assignment to assignment.

The HR department of the future must thus shift its focus from reducing risk and managing red-tape towards a highly strategic role of guiding change, improving agility, and ultimately driving higher performance.

Here are a few ideas about how HR must evolve in the years to come:

 Accommodate a more fluid workforce

The way that businesses structure their workforces is changing as they begin to source more of their talent through freelancers, crowdsourcing, and other approaches that give employees and companies more flexibility. What’s more, we can also expect to see a further churn in the workforce as more young professionals join an organisation to take part in a project or achieve a specific career goal – and then leave after two to three years.

Even within the walls of the business, we can expect to see teams become more fluid as people are brought together for specific projects and initiatives, and then disbanded so they can move to other parts of the business. In a sense, many parts of the business will follow the same sort of ‘gig economy’ model as movie studios and agencies, building bespoke and sometimes virtual teams of in-house and external skills for each project.

HR teams will need to facilitate this shift, making it easier for managers to source and develop the talent when they need it and where they need it.

For example, they might build databases of skills that they share with managers and facilitate talent exchange programmes between different business units and departments.

Create flexible career options

In an agile workforce, HR will need to rethink how it develops career paths, salary bands and job descriptions. It will need to support managers and their teams as they organically develop their own roles and tasks, often on a project-by-project basis. This will also mean new ways of measuring performance and rewarding employees that meet the needs of a changing workplace.

For example, tech companies like Google allow engineers to spend some of their workday working on passion projects and innovative ideas rather than making them spend all their time on a narrowly defined scope. This has the benefit of creating new ideas for the business and keeping employees engaged – in turn, helping with talent retention.

Facilitate a culture of innovation

HR departments play an important role in shaping organisational culture – from helping to source talent to supporting change management and designing rewards and incentive programmes. To support a more agile business, they need to look at how and where they source talent; how they reward and incentivise the right behaviour; how they support managers and employees through their tools and processes; and how they measure performance.

Develop a learning organisation rather than a ‘training strategy’

One of the major challenges HR face is helping the business and the workforce keep up with the rapid pace of change in today’s digital world. With mobile technology, the cloud, analytics, blockchain and the Internet of Things changing the world so rapidly, companies and their workforces need to learn fast.

This means that HR departments need to look beyond rigid learning programmes towards creating a culture where continuous learning is valued. This is all about creating opportunities for mentorship, providing on-the-job learning opportunities, and responding quickly when new skills are needed.

Closing words

Integrated HR management systems play an important role in helping HR departments become more agile and to provide their businesses with strategic support. They automate red-tape so that HR professionals can focus on where they can add value, and they provide data and analytics tools to support agile decision-making.

In a time of seismic technological change, Sage is focused on using the smartest technology to reinvent and simplify HR processes and this has made us an indispensable business partner to our customers.

* Anja van Beek, Vice President for People, Sage International

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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