It takes the right mix of People, Process, and Technology to make today’s organization function successfully. This has been true as long as the workplace has existed, but what has changed is how fast technology is disrupting the way we live and work. Technology impacts all of us personally in how we communicate, make purchases, plan travel, find love, discover a great restaurant, or get a ride across town. The disruption to how we work has been just as profound, and it has led to changes in the very nature of work and the skills that HR Technologists of the future will need.
Today’s HR practitioners are beginning to ask themselves questions such as: Will robots provide a new way to do skills-based testing during the hiring process? Will predictive algorithms tell me who to hire or promote? How will improvements in telecommunication infrastructure affect our reliance on contingent and global workers? What decisions and jobs will be replaced with technology — and what will this mean for my workplace?
If these are the questions we’re asking now, imagine what we will be asking a year from now. How about in eight years? Fortunately, there have already been strides to find the answers.
In September 2013, a group of top HR leaders, together with CHREATE (the global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise), gathered together to envision the HR profession in 2025.
Among their findings were five forces that shape the future of work, and technology featured prominently in at least three of these forces. According to Dr. John Boudreau, professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations, these three forces are:
- Exceptional technology change: This includes technological breakthroughs that produce exponentially accelerated disruptions in markets and business. They include rapid adoption of robots, autonomous vehicles, and AI. To respond, organizations will engage flexible, distributed and transient workforces that adapt to rapid cycles of business reinvention.
- A truly connected world: Inexpensive mobile devices, personal interfaces, virtual collaboration and new media will enable global and real-time communications that accelerate ideation and product development. Work will be engineered through newly defined talent management systems that support a distributed and global workforce, high-trust cultures, and purpose-built networks, empowered with big data.
- Human and machine collaboration: Adoption of people analytics, algorithms, and big data will accelerate and enhance productivity and decision-making, and automate and abolish tasks previously performed by humans. Organizations will augment their capabilities beyond regular full-time employment by creating and maintaining external partnerships that manage workforce transitions without hurting their reputation as a fair and attractive place to work.
As HR faces the challenges and opportunities brought on by these forces, there will be an increasing demand for the role of the HR Technologist and the skills required of this role will evolve from today to those required in 2026.
What Skills Will An HR Technologist Need in Eight Years?
The HR Technologist of today is a highly technical role, one that will be increasingly so as new breakthroughs have a larger disruptive effect on the workplace. However, the CHREATE teams saw this role as going beyond the management of technology. In the future, HR Technologists will be focused on better integrating technology and people in order to design a better system of work.
This role will continue to be critical to the success of the entire business as it will be the fundamental means by which companies outcompete each other.
Already today, we see the market moving away from organizations who simply reduce costs in their supply chain or lower production costs through offshoring to those who can outsmart the competition.
With the increase in the amount of information collected, and the ease of communication, those who leverage these advantages will increasingly win. Today, we have already seen early evidence of this through the emergence of wholesale new economies such as the gig economy.
Employers must take steps today to ensure HR Technologists have the necessary skillsets to ensure success in a future where the speed and quality of decisions is what matters, and fact-based decision makers — including those in HR — are how you gain advantage.
These are the skills HR Technologists must posses in the next eight years:
Innovative Reasoning Based on Data
Already, there are more devices connected to the Internet than people. A decade from now, the Internet of Things will create massive amounts of data on the workforce as everything from the office water cooler to meeting room light switches become connected. HR Technologists will need to be able to find novel ways to funnel and interpret this information effectively. You must be a master of analytics, able to tease out the most important details from increasingly bigger and more complex big data in order to make decisions that will have a strategic value to the business. Just as importantly, you must be a master of people analytics, and able to use predictive models to improve workforce planning and routinely update these plans as the business and market changes.
In the future, the HR Technologist will no longer have to answer questions on simple metrics such as what is the current headcount or how many people were hired last month — self-service analytic platforms and algorithms to manage data will be taking on this rote and repetitive task.
Instead, this role will be responsible for advanced inquiry into how the workforce can be continuously adapted and improved to strengthen business outcomes. You will be uncovering connections between the business and workforce, such as customer turnover rate and increases in employee absenteeism. You will help the business decide whether it should be investing in the growing talent pool in Africa, sticking to traditional plans in Asia, or taking an innovative stance by increasing the reliance on machines and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.
These will be profound questions with outcomes that will change the nature of work, and leadership will be looking to HR Technologists to provide the innovative ideas based on facts and data.
A Business-Oriented Mindset
By 2026, technology investments will no longer be made where the only justification amounts to internal efficiencies and productivity gains. CHRO’s will demand an explanation of the impact new technology will have on overall financial goals, and so those evaluating and recommending technology must always be aware of what’s going on inside the business — and outside it. The HR Technologist’s core focus will no longer just be HR and the workforce, but the effect of these two forces on the entire organization.
A lack of business acumen will hurt any business leader, including those in HR technology. If you don’t know “why” business decisions are being made, you cannot connect decisions to business outcomes. In the paper, The New HR Competencies: Business Partnering from the Outside-In, Dave Ulrich and his team found that:
“High-performing HR professionals think and act from the outside-in. They are deeply knowledgeable of and able to translate external business trends into internal decisions and actions. They understand the general business conditions (e.g., social, technological, economic, political, environmental, and demographic trends) that affect their industry and geography. They target and serve key customers of their organization by identifying customer segments, knowing customer expectations, and aligning organizational actions to meet customer needs.”
Simply put, it won’t be enough to be an expert technologist in the future — you must be fluent in the business, too.
Design Thinking HR
Design Thinking has revolutionized the way we interact with technology, and the outcome has been simpler, more intuitive solutions that focus on the user. This has opened up technology, such as smartphones, to be adopted by everyone. The principles of Design Thinking extend further and are already impacting businesses and the expectations for how organizations solve problems and how we make decisions.
It won’t be enough to focus on ease of use or aesthetics in the technology that HR Technologists will acquire. The notions of Design Thinking will create cultural change that requires starting with the user and connecting to them emotionally.
It will require creating artifacts such as an employee/role journey map. And it will require creating models to explore complex problems. The consequences in practical terms will require you to acquire new skills to be able to bring organizational design and workforce planning techniques to the challenge of modeling change to the workforce. And in everything, it will require the ability to connect to stakeholders by engaging them with impactful stories, which are based on data and told visually, and do far more than just share the numbers.
Ten years from now, effective collaboration will no longer be bound by office walls and city limits. Virtual communication tools will make face-to-face interactions even less prevalent, and face-to-screen time will dominate.
HR Technologists must know what strategies will work best for engaging and motivating a globally and virtually dispersed group.
You will need figure out how to quickly adapt your language and actions when the normal social cues of face-to-face meetings, such as body language, are absent. Whether you’re speaking to a livestream or a hologram, you must be able to seamlessly implement complex technologies and collaborate on new processes around these technologies no matter where your stakeholders and team members are located.
In a world where machines and algorithms will become co-workers, strong social intelligence will be a competitive advantage over bots who can’t yet act on emotions.
Cross-Cultural and Technological Competency
In 2026, better telecommunication infrastructure will empower teamwork from all corners of the world, and change the setting of the workplace as we know it. HR Technologists will need to be adaptable — able to work in any environment they find themselves in and with anyone they encounter. Finding connections with diverse teams and adjusting your behavior and language to accommodate cultural sensitivities are just some important capabilities in forging effective working relationships with diverse co-workers — including those that aren’t human.
When your drivers are an algorithm and your front line support team is largely made up of bots, human workers have the opportunity to abandon rote activities and instead extend and strengthen new capabilities.
HR Technologists will be responsible for monitoring the effects of these new partnerships and making adjustments and recommendations to ensure harmonious collaboration and continuous productivity.
As machines take over routine tasks and leave the jobs of their human counterparts in flux, your knowledge of both current and disruptive technologies will be vital in overcoming any friction that arises, providing guidance to teams on how to move over to new ways of work, and working with leadership and other stakeholders on proper workforce plans and career paths that take machine workers into account.
When the future is changing quickly, creativity and an inquisitive mindset are needed to find the right solutions to complex business problems. A willingness to delve deep into the available data must be coupled with creative ways to gather all the information needed, whether it be surveying stakeholders, using the latest software, or developing a new algorithm.
HR Technologists who can think outside-the-box and bring forth innovative recommendations will be essential to moving the business forward.
Furthermore, this same skillset can be applied to change management, which will continue to be a critical success factor in 10 years time. Introducing any new technology to the workplace comes with hurdles so you must find the smoothest path possible to the future using creative thinking and a healthy curiosity. The CHRO will look to you to provide a plan that will cause as little disruption as possible to the team, workforce, and business.
New Media Literacy
HR Technologists will be expected to engage and persuade audiences using all kinds of new media, and also be able to derive useful data from these tools. Wearables, virtual reality headsets, and holograms are just a few near-term technologies that will be collecting data, breaking down communication barriers, and improving the way we present information to each other.
You must be able to critically assess these tools, develop content that uses new mediums, and leverage these tools for persuasive communication with executives, managers, team members, vendors, and other stakeholders.
Where Does This Talent Lie Today?
People analytics experts — those HR analysts that also understand how to use data towards predictive modelling and workforce planning — have the best foundational skills for building the rest of these capabilities. Their analytical background enables them to make connections between workforce data and business outcomes, but traditionally, they have been held back by data requests that don’t offer strategic business value, as well as inadequate technology and processes.
Building a sophisticated analytics team in HR — one that proactively addresses potential threats to the workforce — and providing this function with cloud Applied Big Data tools and effective ways of triaging simple requests can enable those HR Technologists with potential to shine. No longer focused on gathering data from disparate systems, wrestling with spreadsheets, or answering operational headcount questions, these technologists can start to develop the rest of the skillsets necessary to successfully navigate the business towards the workplace of 2026.
A version of this article first appeared Workforce Solutions Review by International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM).