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Historically, HR departments have been assigned time-consuming tasks ranging from oversight of onboarding, benefits administration and policy development, to organizing internal training and maintaining employee files. But in the last 20 years, thanks in large part to technology advancements that now automate these tasks, HR professionals are dedicating their time to business-growing efforts like career pathingemployee engagement and talent retention.

“We've moved from the idea of HR being focused on efficiency and back office administration to HR being a tool that helps achieve business outcomes by ensuring that our workforces and their management teams have the information, tools, and environments needed to get the job done," explains Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for IT service company Sierra-Cedar. “Today, it's about engagement and the experience. Even something as mundane as payroll has become about the experience an employee is having."

When employees recognize the value in new HR technology, and actually use it; self-service HR can help increase job satisfaction, improve costs and give HR professionals the freedom to focus on meeting more critical needs for both employees and the business.

We spoke with Harris about some of the latest and most interesting recent trends to come out of Sierra-Cedar's annual HR Systems Survey White Paper in the last few years. Here are four self-service HR developments to keep in mind. 

1) Technology Is Helping People Make Real, Strategic Decisions

As the use of cloud-based technology solutions in HR increases, businesses can create better data repositories, tailor the employee experience, and achieve improved talent and business outcomes thanks to more informed decision making.

But Harris doesn't credit the cloud and technology alone for these fundamental shifts: “What's really changing the market is that employees, business leaders, managers and HR itself even, are expecting so much more from their technology."

Rather than seeing technology just as a tool for gathering data and providing analysis, people are expecting it to provide an experience that goes beyond the mundane work of expense reports, data entry and emails, she explains. When technology can help businesses move beyond busy work, it gives both leaders and employees the chance to focus on achieving larger company initiatives.

2) It's All About the End User

People today expect more out of their employer—particularly in learning. Rather than creating a just-in-time curriculum, employees are increasingly asked to define what they need to know and why.

“The big evolution that's taking place now isn't just about how you deliver content or what kind of content you deliver. It's about the end user. What they need, when they need it and what format they want it in," Harris says.

Rather than assuming what the end user wants or knows, more customized delivery solutions paired with individualized content can help organizations create a better user experience. We’ve talked about personalized learning for ages, but now with the most recent innovations in micro and machine learning we are on the edge of true personalized learning.  

3) Technology Adoption Isn't Always Easy

The large majority of organizations — over 60% for the last several years —are planning some sort of major initiative around business process improvement. But while these changes can lead to several benefits, such as better HR and talent outcomes, employee adoption can be a challenge.

While the majority of employees don't have a problem adapting to new technology for a process that has been around for a long time, such as a change to payroll, adoption levels drop dramatically when it comes to using new technology for things like career management or succession planning, Harris says.

It's not that people aren't interested in these topics, she explains, rather, there needs to be a defined value proposition on any new piece of technology organizations put into place—a good reason for them personally to use it on a regular basis. The value can’t be defined by what is good for the business or management if they want higher levels of adoption.

“With every piece of technology that we have in our business, we have to ask ourselves: why does the end user want it?" Harris asks.

4) Simplicity Is the Way of the Future

Looking to the future, HR technology will become even more integrated in organizational processes. A few of the Top ranked emerging technologies include predictive analytics, gamification and experience API—all forms of technology that capture big data on human performance and learning.

Already, over 5 percent of organizations are using some form of machine learning, wearables or sentiment analysis tools as strategic parts of their HR systems.

“People are always going to try and figure out how to simplify their lives," Harris says. “As we do more with our phones, wifi and the cloud with our business systems, we're going to expect our HR systems to get simpler and easier to use, transparent to the work that needs to be done. "

Photo: Creative Commons