How can HR use Technology to Drive Business Impact?

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Our guest on this week’s episode of the Digital HR Leaders podcast, speaking to David Green, is none other than Dave Ulrich, the renowned university professor, author, speaker, coach and co-founder of The RBL Group. Throughout the interview they cover a multitude of topics, ranging from how HR can increase its impact to leaders, organisations, and workers to the qualities that make up a great chief HR officer.

If you’re interested in learning more about the how the role of the HR Business Partner is evolving in a digital age, then this episode is a must. You can listen to the full interview on the podcast or watch it here. Be sure to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

In this extract taken from their conversation, which you can watch in the video below, they discuss how HR can use technology to drive business impact and whether the hype that surrounds Digital HR is just that – hype.


There is no denying that technology has and continues to change our lives:

technology is a means to create digital information. And what digital information does, it allows us to make more informed decisions. If I have an analogue watch, I can tell time, but if I have a digital watch, suddenly that watch becomes a communication device for the world. It measures my health, it measures my intake, it measures my steps, it allows me access to e-mail. The digital world just opens up a world of information that we never had before, and that's not going to change.”

Unprecedented and fast innovation in technology provides digital information that increases and enables customisation, underpins predictive analytics, and redefines boundaries. Which all sounds great, but what does this mean for HR?

It's not about putting digital processes, or digital technology on analogue processes, it’s an opportunity for HR to both adapt and change current processes, in order to allow us to give some of that data we’re now collecting back to the people providing it - The workers. This growth in digital should allow us to give them insight that can help them improve their wellbeing, their performance and their career while allowing the organisation to drive great business outcomes.

As we consider ‘digital’ we realise it has a huge business impact, and that is primarily why it's not going to go away.

“Every industry I know is being shaped by digital information, from automotive, obviously the driverless car, to taxis, to lodging, to entertainment, to education. Everything is digitised.”  

In the field of HR, there are four phases in the evolution of digital that Dave Ulrich has identified, these are:

  1. Efficiency  

  2. Innovation

  3. Information

  4. Connection

Phase One – Efficiency.

Dave describes efficiency as “the digitisation of your HR processes” . We see this happening with the big players creating technology platforms like Oracle, with PeopleSoft, SAP with Success Factors and Qualtrics, and Workday with Workday Human Capital Management. These platforms often construct the technological backbone for automated shared services, enabling administrative work to be completed faster, at a lower cost and far more easily.

Phase Two – Innovation.

This focuses on how we use technology to innovate our HR practices. Currently innovative HR applications are upgrading every aspect of the HR practice areas, from the recruitment process to managing employee performance, right through to doing the actual work.  Dave describes innovation as the phase in which “80-90% of digital HR currently resides”. However, he notes during the interview, that this is a phase that HR needs to move beyond if they are to continue driving business impact.

Phase Three – Information.

This phase focuses on the extent to which we use technology to mine a greater amount of information about our people and performance. In research conducted by Dave and his team, they found that information management is the most critical capability to deliver business results. Historically more information equalled more power, however with open access and a larger amount of information it’s more about the ability to leverage that information to make better business decisions. When discussing the third phase, Dave Ulrich describes the need to “create a guidance system to determine what we require in terms of talent, leadership and organisation to win in the marketplace” And to do that we need information.

Phase Four – Connection.

How do we use technology to create connections? While major advancements in technology are thought to make the world a more connected place it can often have the opposite effect, and isolate individuals. During the interview Dave shared the findings of a research study carried out among adolescent teenagers. The study found that the more time these individuals spent on social media platforms such as Snapchat or Instagram, the more depressed, isolated and anxious they felt.  Thus, one of the issues that we overcome in HR, is how do we use this incredible technology, that should be connecting us, to ensure that it does not isolate us? HR needs to leverage technology to help its employees build personal connections, not contacts, in order to create a sense of belonging through personal relationships and a sense of meaning and identity.

The HR function is predominantly situated in phase one and two – efficiency and innovation. While this has led to some great advancements in streamlining of processes and development of new HR technology and applications, we must advance as a function and delve into phase three and four. Phase three, information, will provide guidance around strategy and goals and phase four will provide connection in that experience space, to allow technology to create more meaningful relationships.

Online training on building a digital HR strategy

If you’re interested in learning more about how to build a digital HR strategy and what to include in your roadmap, then you might be interested in our online training courses that focus on digital HR. They cover a range of topics that walk you through the critical areas to include in your digital HR strategy in more detail.



Ian Bailie is the Managing Director of and an advisor and consultant for start-ups focused on HR technology and People Analytics, including Adepto, Worklytics and CognitionX. In his previous role as the Senior Director of People Planning, Analytics and Tools at Cisco Systems, he was responsible for delivering the tools and insights to enable and transform the planning, attraction and management of talent across the organisation globally. Ian is passionate about HR technology and analytics and how to use both to transform the employee experience and prepare companies for the Future of Work.