HR Digitisation - A Journey through Time

Tausifur Rahman | July 02, 2019

Evolution of Human Resources Management

The Industrial Revolution in Europe was indeed a springboard for the evolution of modern day “Human Resources” function. The power of special purpose machines feeding on the continuous supply of workforce and bottomless capital kick-started the engine of the Industrial Revolution to full throttle. The organisation’s immediate need to administer and control the workforce led to the emergence of “Personnel Administration” function in the factories (perhaps it was the first incarnation of modern day “Human Resources”) with the key objectives of managing the labour relationship, wages, government policies, and trade union (after coming into existence around 1870).

The industrialisation spread and market expanded exponentially, the machines and men multiplied manifold in the factories to match the steep demand curve. In the early 20th century, coinciding with the rise in demand, study and researches about the organization behaviour on productivity and other related aspects started to take shape, accelerating the advancement of the existing structure of “Personnel Administration”.

The Scientific management theory by Frederick Winslow Taylor, Hawthorne studies by Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger about the socio-psychological aspects of human behaviour in organisations and Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory by Abraham Maslow are some of the notable contributions and developments (among many others that are not mentioned here ) during the said period. It provided the necessary impetus for the transformation of a transactional “Personnel Administration” function to a much enhanced, advanced and encompassing framework of “Human Resource Management”

The Journey to Digital Transformation

With the significant rise in the workforce, it became very complex and cumbersome to maintain and manage the employee’s records and employment life cycle events, payroll processing became a nightmare. With the advent of mainframe computer around 1970, many large organisations started using computer systems for processing payroll data, however, the usages were restricted in scope due to technical limitations and usage complexity.

SAP was the first company to launch an integrated Enterprise Resource Planning software (SAP R/2) with key features for managing Human Resources (Module – Personnel) in 1979. The release of HR solution by Peoplesoft Inc in 1988 can be considered as a watershed moment for the automation of HR Processes. Next big push towards HR automation got triggered with the emergence of job boards in the 1990s, that transformed the Talent Acquisition process across the organisations.

In today’s, world, plenty of smart HR Solutions are available for the companies of all sizes and types. The options to select the most appropriate HR solution from the plethora of possible alternatives depends on the organization’s choice of data hosting models (“On Premise” or “Cloud-based Solution”) and pricing models (“Fixed Price” or “Pay per Use”).

The cloud-based solutions are trending buzzword in today’s HR world. All type of companies, Big & Small, Old & New, Traditional & Modern are competing to adopt these cloud-based, SaaS solutions. These solutions provide seamless integration, mobile enablement, powerful analytics, smart & intuitive features and continuous innovation aligned with the best of breed practices.

Workday Human Capital Management and SAP SuccessFactors HR are two of the most comprehensive and cutting-edge HR software available in the market today.

The Journey forward

Over the years, there has been a paradigm shift in the role and expectations from HR Leadership. The HR function in the organizations has also evolved from a mundane support function to be a strategic business partner, significantly contributing to shaping the future of the organization. For the HR Leadership, existing HR Solution is good for performing the HR transactions smoothly and efficiently but lacks the intelligence and intuition to tread the uncertain future in the world aptly characterized by VUCA. For the intelligent enterprise of the future, they have already started investing in more intuitive, agile and artificial intelligence enabled HR software or plug-ins that would work seamlessly with the existing HR Systems. Many boutique firms and start-ups have already started developing AI enabled point solutions catering to the need of large enterprises.

It is indeed difficult to predict the future of next-gen innovations in HR Technology for the longer time horizon, even though the messages coming out of the meeting rooms of HR leaders, are loud and clear. In the short term, it would be fair to state that following technology trends would continue to capture HR Practitioner’s imagination for the next few years.

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
  • Organisations are working to identify and automate the repetitive and non- value adding activities. Automated programs will work on the predefined logic that will create and complete the transactions without manual intervention. This would enable the HR team to focus on the value creation for the stakeholders.

  • AI /Machine learning enabled software /point solutions
  • The HR folks are gung-ho about the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the critical processes. Many of them may not be precisely aware of the areas that can be transformed by using AI enabled tool, nevertheless, below is the list of critical areas where AI can provide actionable insights.

    • Talent Acquisition
    • Profile matching against the vacancies and analysis of candidates (both internal and external) data and recommendation of the best-fit candidate.

    • Succession Planning
    • Identification of Successors based on the data points captured in the core HR system.

    • Talent Management
    • Recommendation of possible career paths for the employees.

    • Workforce Panning
    • The tools can be designed to pull the data from the social media posts and websites accessed by the employee during a specific period to do sentiment analysis using AI framework vis-à-vis employee satisfaction with the work environment. This would be very useful in predicting employee attrition and will improve workforce planning.

  • Chatbots
  • A chatbot is a computer program that conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. The chatbots are already in vogue, the virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa have already entered and intervened into our lives. The most common use case for the usage of Chatbots in HR domain is voice-based HR Virtual Assistant or New Joinee Assistant answering the queries pertaining to Organisation’ HR policies. The scope and extent of usage of chatbots in HR transactions are being widely debated by HR practitioners with great fervour, the next few years would shape the future of workspace where Chatbots and Human beings can co-exist and co-work.

  • Predictive Analytics
  • The colourful dynamic dashboards used by HR practitioners for years, no longer suffices their current and future analytics requirements. The need for intelligent dashboards with the capability of data modeling and machine learning to provide insight for the critical decision making has become a new normal.

  • IoT (Internet of things)
  • The Internet of things (IoT) is the extension of internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. It is relatively a new technical buzzword that has started appearing in the conversations of HR Professionals. Currently, enough data of user experience of IoT is not available for the HR domain, however, the possibility of its usage vis-à-vis attendance management through wearable technology devices and other related areas cannot be ignored.


It is an exciting time for HR leaders, there is a tremendous opportunity for innovative digitisation of HR processes. However, the digitisation process has its own share of issues, there is already a big debate going on globally about replacing men with machines. I wish and hope that a decade down the road, “Human” of “Human Resources Management” would thrive and remain in control of ever-changing technology.