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The Digitization of HR: Equipping Employers for the Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Transformation

by Johanna Van Herreweghen, Counsel, Osborne Clarke & Member of the Human Resources Committee

New technologies are transforming nearly every aspect of how we do business today with an unprecedented velocity. Digital transformation is not just a matter of greater connectivity or bigger storehouses of data; it also demands that businesses transform and adapt their products and services as well as their core operational processes.

HR is a strategic point for digital transformation

Digital transformation is not an IT project, it’s a business strategy. This means that crafting a plan for your business's digital transformation shouldn't just happen in the IT office. A variety of key stakeholders should be involved, and the Human Resources (HR) team has a significant role to play. At least one representative from HR should be part of the organization's larger discussions about digital transformation. This representative should be enthusiastic about the possibilities for technology in the workplace, but not only. (S)he should also assess the potential impact of new technology on the workforce and the related costs for retraining and reskilling or even hiring new talent and eliminating redundant positions. In addition, HR professionals have an important role to play in encouraging the workforce to embrace new working methods.

Which elements of HR are impacted by digital transformation?

There are various ways in which your HR activities can be affected by new technologies.

Perhaps the most straightforward way is in the digitalization of HR-related documents itself. Technologies and (trusted) service providers make it possible to have documents signed with a qualified electronic signature, which is automatically assimilated to a wet ink signature. 

Because of the volume, variety and the multiple-sourced data collected in an HR context, many technological solutions are emerging in this area. These can be particularly interesting for recruitment and workforce management.

Traditional modes of recruitment can be both laborious and impacted by implicit bias. Certain automated programs can identify strong talent that might have been overlooked using old-fashioned recruitment tactics. However, technology is not a simple panacea: AI and algorithms based on machine learning can replicate human biases or create biases of their own. This is why it is vital to carefully consider the parameters and data used when designing algorithms and to follow legal advice in time.

New technologies help process and organize data from many different sources. An important role for HR is to create intelligence from all this data. Of course, HR specialists must be on high alert when processing this much data as it inevitably brings with it the challenges that accompany any digital transformation: issues of privacy and cybersecurity.

The impact of digital transformation on collective bodies in your company

Introducing new technology anywhere in your workplace is an HR matter because it has an impact on the workforce, as they will face changes in their working methods. Employees will have to be retrained and reskilled. Changes to positions and/or contracts (or collective dismissals) may have to be made.

These sorts of broad changes can easily trigger a series of legal obligations to inform or consult with the Works Council or other collective bodies. This shouldn't scare employers away from implementing the appropriate new technologies, but it means they should be prepared to inform collective bodies and investigate their responsibilities towards workers in the event of restructuring. When implementing a new system or technology, it is always best to have the "buy-in" of the employee representatives.

No time to waste

Above all, know that in this era of rapid technological change, you can't wait for the perfect plan for digital transformation. You need to be experimental, responsive and okay with making the occasional mistake. Knowing this and being aware of the legal hurdles means that instead of shying away from change, you can creatively accommodate these issues and more when moving forward.

To learn more about how to adapt to digitalization in HR, consult the interactive guide prepared by Osborne Clarke: https://www.osborneclarke.com/insights/digital-hr-interactive-guide/.

About the author

Johanna Van Herreweghen

Johanna Van Herreweghen is Counsel at Osborne Clarke  and a member of the AmCham Belgium Human Resources Committee. She specializes in a wide variety of employment matters and has a particular interest in employee privacy and business protection. She also handles employment disputes and represents her clients in the Belgian labor courts.

 

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