For many companies, working from home and digitalization have suddenly become part of their day-to-day operations. Despite this, many HR departments still lag behind when it comes to digitalization. In this interview, IT experts Michael Buttmann and Christian Schmitz highlight the key issues for Human Resource departments today and the forward-looking technologies that could help.
Norderstedt, June 5, 2020 – The corona crisis affects the entire economy. What are the greatest challenges for HR departments during the coronavirus crisis?
Schmitz: First and foremost, the biggest challenge lies in adjusting from purely office-based work to mobile working. All systems and functionalities that only operated via firewalls and on internal networks to date have had to be transferred to laptops in next to no time.
Buttmann: The topic of reduced working hours has also kept us busy day and night – quite literally, in fact. We have had to adjust time management and payroll systems to make them capable of tracking and handling reduced working hours, which involved a lot of effort and programming.
For many companies, working from home and digitalization have suddenly become part of their day-to-day operations. Will this continue once the lockdown is lifted?
Schmitz: I think so. This positive experience will lead to a lasting change in the world of work. Even before the crisis began, mobile working was a major topic.
Buttmann: There is a particular need for HR departments and managers to support their employees when structuring mobile working. Staying in touch with employees and promoting collaboration within teams are aspects that require clear arrangements and modern collaboration tools. However, to ensure that HR employees are also able to meet the requirements of this new world of work, it is essential to remove the burden of purely repetitive, administrative tasks. Using IT to optimize and automate processes can make this happen.
How far has digitalization progressed in the field of HR?
Buttmann: It differs from company to company but, generally speaking, there is only a low level of digitalization in the field of HR. A large proportion of working time is still devoted to administrative tasks – or, to be more precise: looking for, finding, processing, and storing paper documents. That being said, some companies have already adopted modern cloud-based systems, of which SAP Success Factors is a good example.
Schmitz: Added to this is the fact that IT systems in HR departments have often evolved over time and lack integrated solutions. Consequently, many companies only use elementary master data management to control payroll processes. Alternatively, they might have a diverse landscape of solutions made up of different tools and processes. However, these solutions are usually unable to communicate or interact.
What are other pain points for the digitalization of HR?
Schmitz: The classic example remains the digitalization of personnel files, though switching between platforms is also an issue. Another key topic is sending pay slips that, rather than being mailed physically in the post, are sent to employees’ individual mailboxes in an electronic format that allows them to be accessed, saved and printed anywhere around the world.
Buttmann: Not only wage documentation, though – this also relates to all other documents that employees need to be given, such as forms to claim travel expenses. Replacing this paper-based process offers great potential to make savings and also represents a significant process improvement, of course.
How exactly do you approach projects for clients?
Schmitz: We start by getting a picture of the current situation. What infrastructure and systems are in place in the HR department? What processes need to be performed? What are the requirements of a new system? After that, we can develop and implement a concept and a plan of action in collaboration with the client. We upgrade new systems, redesign processes, and gradually implement everything during ongoing operation. What’s more, we look at where the pain points are and how we can help as quickly and effectively as possible.
Buttmann: We provide support in determining the strategic orientation of the HR system landscape and the IT architecture, guiding the client through the overall transformation of HR IT and helping their journey to cloud computing. We address all HR-related topics, such as conventional time management, self-service solutions, mobile apps, detailed workforce forecasting and challenging aspects of workforce scheduling, as well as strategic capacity and requirement planning. By working together with our clients, we identify the software provider best suited to their needs.
How important is employee self-service (ESS) for HR?
Buttmann: ESS solutions are an extremely important part of making companies fit for the future. Processes have changed and employees are now the focus of attention; instead of being resources administered by the HR department, employees are at the heart of matters. This means that roles are increasingly and rapidly shifting from a centralized to a participative approach.
Schmitz: Employees are increasingly being integrated in HR processes. HR software solutions today include employee self-service portals – plus manager self-service portals for their superiors. These solutions give employees direct control over some HR processes that were previously the preserve of HR departments. For example, they can input and manage their own personal data, instigate vacation approval processes, find information on advanced training opportunities and register for such sessions.
Looking to the future, can new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) also play a role in HR?
Buttmann: Certainly. AI can optimize and simplify processes and boost efficiency. This can help with repetitive HR tasks in particular. Our first AI projects in the field of HR, for example, covered topics such as chatbots and configuring automatic replies to emails with common questions.
Schmitz: AI can also simplify the work of recruiters – by using automated reading to filter resumes, for example, but also simply by assisting with scheduling. When it comes to sourcing, AI can integrate numerous data sources and assign the most suitable experts to specific client projects. In addition to conventional skills databases and job descriptions, AI can also take into account personal profiles that employees draw up for themselves. Such profiles allow employees to enter their aspirations and objectives for their own professional development. In this way, automation not only simplifies the work of the HR department but also allows employees to focus on their own career plans.
To sum up, then: What is the most important aspect of HR digitalization?
Schmitz: It is particularly important to support the pivot to the modern world of work. For this to succeed, it is absolutely essential that cloud solutions find their way into the HR sector. They open up new opportunities, not only for mobile working but also for staff retention. It starts with recruiting – HR can offer virtual tours of the company and offer applicants the opportunity to get to know their future team. From a staff retention perspective, it is important that companies offer interesting training courses and make it possible to submit travel expenses claims without being in the office.
Buttmann: In a nutshell: the digital transformation of HR is not some distant, pie-in-the-sky idea – it is already a reality and a necessity.
About Lufthansa Industry Solutions
Lufthansa Industry Solutions is a service provider for IT consulting and system integration. This Lufthansa subsidiary helps its clients with the digital transformation of their companies. Its customer base includes companies both within and outside the Lufthansa Group, as well as more than 200 companies in various lines of business. The company is based in Norderstedt and employs more than 2,100 members of staff at several branch offices in Germany, Albania, Switzerland and the USA.