In this article, Scot Marcotte discussed how companies can better grasp their specific HR needs and begin to put in place the technology and processes that foster long-term engagement with employees.

How can HR decide what technology will work best to help them meet their goals? We look at three key areas — Employee Experience, Workforce Analytics, and Predictive Analytics — and how HR leaders can begin to evaluate the many technologies and services on the market.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, and organizations are spending trillions on digital transformation. This includes cloud computing solutions, hub technologies, artificial intelligence, people analytics, process automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and predictive analytics. How individuals interact with technology, along with the new tools at our disposal, is changing how we work. HR can’t sit idly by; it must help drive the transformation. Yet making sense of the implications for HR is no simple task.

Walking the floor at the 2019 HR Tech Conference and Expo, we overheard some consistent themes from HR professionals in attendance. The overwhelming number of vendors and point solutions meant more, not less, uncertainty when it comes to determining where they should invest. Many struggled to find value in the human capital management systems already in place; there were questions about what solution would work best given their circumstances, and who within the organization was making the decisions. In many instances, it seemed that the entire process of deciding on the right technology was in the hands of IT, rather than HR.

Conference attendees express a consistent need to do a better job of taking the multitude of disparate, inflexible platforms that make up current HR service delivery and find ways to tie these together to create a more compelling employee experience and to make it easier for HR teams to integrate platforms so they can be more productive. It’s about simplifying the complex. This need for a consistent employee experience – every touchpoint between HR programs and the individual employee – aligned with the employer’s distinct Employee Value Proposition, seemed to be the Holy Grail of the conference experience.

So how can organizations make sense of this bewildering technological market? I believe the answer is to focus on the three most useful and promising technologies that HR can use to make smarter decisions faster.

Hub Technologies: Centering the experience around the individual

To keep the “human” in HR, technology should focus on helping individuals make informed decisions about the rewards and development programs available to them.

Organizations clearly want the best talent possible to deliver on their mission. When done right, that mission is tied directly to its unique employee value proposition (EVP). There’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter approach for developing an EVP – every organization must differentiate its strategy based on its unique brand and a sense of purpose. Likewise, there’s no such thing as a “best practice” for adopting HR technologies relevant to specific organizations.

No two employers have the same talent goals, so the right ecosystem for one organization may not be right for the next. A global software developer has very different HR needs from a mid-sized Midwestern manufacturer. While there are plenty of behind-the-scenes processes and transactions that are similar for both, the need to entice and motivate talent requires a very organization-specific mix of employee-facing technologies.

Along with creating a unique EVP, there are millions of distinct employee expectations. The best employee experience is designed for every individual we serve, which demands that we treat each one uniquely, using communication channels, content, tone, and data aligned with each person’s expectations.

Human-centered design, the process of building out the full user (in this case, employee) experience based on the people you’re designing for, and ending with interactions that are tailor-made to suit their needs, helps to achieve this audience-of-one focus. A generic approach can be valuable for top-down communication, but not much else. Even persona-driven models that help narrow the ideal experience still run the risk of being overly stereotyped. Personalized models assure individual data, including past interactions, is used to create a meaningful employee experience with the right messaging and tone, delivered via the right channel.

Contextual experience – serving up the right content at the right time – provides the added benefit of drawing only on relevant work and life events for a hyper-personalized approach. The more contextual, and therefore more valuable to the individual, the more likely the communication will deliver the desired results, for both the employee and the organization.

The advent of hub technologies, coupled with tailored employer branding and back-end analytics, helps both employers and employees stay the course for improved performance and better outcomes for all. As artificial intelligence systems “learn” more about the individual’s preferences (through machine learning), the technology adapts to the personal preferences of the individual regardless of the systems running in the background. This is where companies can best adapt their vendor selection strategy: keeping the employee experience relevant while maintaining consistent process flow and metrics.

People Analytics: Improving people and business performance

People analytics is now the lifeblood of HR’s role in workforce planning. Measuring and analyzing this slice of “big data”—data on performance, compensation, demographics, career history, benefits, employee behaviors, time utilization, and attrition—can help identify workforce patterns and talent risks, forecast productivity, address recruitment and retention challenges, capture ROI from HR initiatives, and uncover leadership opportunities that could otherwise be missed.

People analytics is also collapsing the narrow siloes of talent, benefits, wellness, or population health, bringing them all together to intersect and impact the employee experience and benefit the individual.

Predictive Analytics: The power of insight

Closely aligned with people, analytics is the power of looking into the future: predictive analytics. Workforce data gives HR and business leaders the ability to make evidence-based decisions to address and improve turnover trends, retain high performers, forecast talent needs, and even anticipate legal risks with poor performers. More the predictive analytics guide the organization in selecting and developing its talent, rewards, and HR programs, the better the results for both the company and the individual.

Organizations that took our Global Wellbeing Survey released earlier this year rated the effectiveness of predictive analytics at an incredible 84%. But given the high cost of this investment, it’s critical that HR and IT work together to include a number of scenarios across the full range of business needs, not just predicting isolated hiring and development needs.

Cutting through the noise

There are many HR technologies and services on the market. It’s critical never to lose sight of the goal: technology should be able to help companies – and their employees – make smarter decisions, faster. Administrative platforms running behind the scenes should have as their goal improving business decisions and corporate outcomes. Employee-facing systems need to support the ways people actually use their benefits, track progress in meeting their career goals, and engage with the ways the company bolsters the employee experience across the health, wealth, and career spectrum.

But there’s never an off-the-rack approach when it comes to engaging with employees, and HR leaders need to evaluate their infrastructure and unique challenges continuously. Each organization has distinct needs that, once clearly identified, should point to the technology that will best address those needs.

Many of the conference attendees we met embraced the model of pulling the entire HR tech landscape together for the organization, through the powerful analytics tools we’ve been talking about. They hold on to the dream that people and business decisions can be made with all relevant data aggregated. That speaks to the need for HR to take the lead in helping IT see the value of full people data analysis.

Aligning the personal needs of employees with the business needs of the organization – the social contract – is indispensable to achieving success for both workers and employers. For HR in the throes of figuring out the best technology to use, it’s the only strategy that will pay off.

By Scot Marcotte Chief Technology Officer, Buck

This article originally appeared at https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/hr-analytics/making-sense-of-hr-tech-in-2021/