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Redefining the HR Function – Disrupt or Be Disrupted in the Digital Age

Transcending the gap between knowing and doing can be tough for many companies


Disruption, as the saying goes, is the mother of opportunity, and nowhere is this truer than in a company’s human resources function. Some 65 percent of executives in KPMG’s 2017 HR Transformation Survey said technology disruption is an opportunity – but transcending the gap between knowing and doing can be tough for many companies.

Simply plugging into cloud systems, for example, will not deliver data-based insights, smarter decision-making, real value for the bottom line or anything resembling cloud computing’s vast capabilities to engage more effectively with employees. Traditional HR operating models and processes must be redesigned by fully integrated change management strategies.

By the same token, investments in intelligent automation are expected to deliver improved performance and free resources or staff to perform more strategic work. Focus areas for intelligent automation efforts are talent management (61 percent of HR executives surveyed) and talent acquisition or onboarding (57 percent). However, nearly half of those surveyed are troubled by costs for IA initiatives.

HR data and analytics is another top investment priority for one-third of respondents, but redefining the HR function by making it use data savvy to help with decision-making is not without its challenges. Half of survey respondents cited weak data and analytics capabilities in existing HR information technology systems as their biggest challenge for adopting, deploying and exploiting predictive analytics focused on both HR and business outcomes.


Taken together, these technologies – cloud, mobile, data and analytics and cognitive computing – are transforming business. These digital tools require a holistic approach, not piecemeal changes, to propel HR forward.

Businesses positioning themselves for successful transformation in the digital age need a clear destination and a strategic roadmap to get there.

Here are some practical steps any company can take:

  • Develop a new HR mindset that understands the accelerating speed of change in the digital era and how this is dramatically rewriting the rules for future success.
  • Redefine the HR function and its value to the business by making it evidence-based. Acquire technology and critical expertise needed to interpret and act on signals that today’s data can deliver for greater business insights and smarter decision-making.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of employees’ skills, strengths, goals and purpose and create custom-made employee experiences.
  • Tailor the workforce to meet evolving workplace demands rather than fitting people into fixed organization-chart structures.
  • Consider employees as customers, embracing technology to increase connections and supporting an overarching people agenda. Redefine tasks and roles to include not only individual employees and line managers but also IA, modern cloud HR solutions, third parties, global business services entities, and more.
  • Understand how future talent management will demand a change to design thinking for the many rather than managing and problem solving for the individual.

Regardless of where you are on the journey, there is no time to waste. You can either help architect holistic workforce change for your organization, or sit on the sidelines and watch others get it done. HR leaders who view today’s disruption as a unique opportunity will transform their operating models and drive new levels of growth and success.

Michelle Kent is an advisory principal, people and change in the Denver office of KPMG LLP. 

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