HR tech has gone from a supporting act to a fundamental core player in HR operations. Not all HR leaders have fully got to grips with it yet. Here’s why they need to, and how they can.

By Tom Elliott

Over the course of my nearly 20-year career in HR, the information systems (HRIS) we use have changed significantly. They’ve also become more and more central to everything we do. As we start to enter a post pandemic world, this dependency shows every sign of increasing. As a result, it’s more important than ever that HR leaders are on top of the systems they’re using, and the systems they’re asking the wider workforce to use.


Primarily, you have to be confident that your HRIS strategy is a reflection of your own strategic business objectives. Your priorities and your ambitions for your people should be the driver of all your technology decisions. If you’re not fully in control of the decisions being made around HR tech, how can you be sure this is the case?

Second, if you want to retain good people, and you want those good people to do good work, you need to really understand your employee experience. That’s a wider consideration than just IT. But the IT systems play a huge part, particularly if large chunks of your workforce are still working remotely. What are you really asking people to do? How does that feel? Does your online user experience reflect the culture you’re trying to create?

Finally – you can’t improve something you don’t understand. As with all leadership tasks, this doesn’t necessarily need to be something you do personally. But you should be making sure that someone in your own function has responsibility for the IT systems in use. That’s as important for small and growing businesses as it is for larger enterprise organizations. It’s not an IT task, and nobody’s expecting you to suddenly become an IT expert. You just need to be an HR person who knows what their people are using and why.


Awareness is the first step to ownership.

Start getting to grips with the landscape by drawing it out. Make each different system a blob on a page and use arrows to show integrations and data flow (differentiating between manual and automated). Don’t worry if it’s not what an IT person would draw, it doesn’t matter, it’s not for their benefit. If your setup varies from region to region, then produce a separate version of the landscape map for each region. Get different people to do each one if you need to, but use a consistent format across regions because that will make it easier to gain an overview.

Make it personal

Identify who the key people are who know your systems and add that information to your landscape map(s). Not the IT people – but the super users within your teams. Make sure they know who they are. Acknowledge their expertise and make it formally part of their job. Nominate a second in command where you can. Remember these people probably aren’t managers in your teams, and that’s ok. They don’t have to own these systems on a technical level. Create a community where these people talk to each other. Give them the opportunity to learn from each other, share good practice, and feel less isolated in their task.

Evaluate what you have

Create an evaluation matrix for everything in your landscape. Think of this as a risk assessment where you measure the performance of the solution against the breadth of impact (put simply, the number of users). Repeat the evaluation at least annually and update it when something changes. I’ll go more detail on this in a later post, but you should be evaluating on satisfaction variables like:

  • Value for money
  • User experience
  • Alignment with strategic goals
  • Internal reputational impact
  • External reputational impact
  • Cost of action/inaction

Then factor in the number of users who are impacted, in order to arrive at a final score. If a system has a poor user experience, but delivers great value for money and is only used by a small proportion of your workforce, that solution is lower down your priority list than something which is nice to use, but doesn’t fit your strategic goals, and is used by everyone.

Find the gaps

Anywhere you need a solution but don’t have one automatically scores 0 for satisfaction. Don’t overthink this one. You know the processes in your business that are ripe for digital transformation. The places where you’re doing a lot of spreadsheet juggling. Places where things go wrong regularly. Bottlenecks in paper-based processes. Own it – call them out. It doesn’t mean you have to do anything, but admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Prioritize your action

Use that evaluation score to define priorities for the things you need to action. This stops you being so reactionary to a few loud voices and allows you to make evidence based, defendable decisions about what to tackle first.

Plan and budget

Everyone’s budgets are different, and HR gets a different slice of the pie everywhere. The important thing here is that you’ve made a critical decision about what’s urgent and what’s important, and you can make realistic planning and prioritization decisions based on what’s financially achievable. Some of the tools Microsoft now have available (hello, Viva) mean that some key problems faced by HR have actually become pretty easy to solve. I’m always up for having a chat with HR leaders about their priorities, and what can be achieved quickly using new tools vs what needs a little more time and thought.

Be prepared to ask the stupid questions

As a non-technical person living in a technical world, I get it (our CTO recently commented that I’m about as technical as his mum, and I can’t argue). You don’t want to look stupid asking questions everyone else seems to know the answer to. But you’ve got to be prepared to do this if you really want to get to grips with your HRIS landscape.

Concerned about how secure the cloud is? Ask someone to reassure you. Not even quite sure what the cloud is? Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time anyone’s been asked. Worried about how to comply with data retention policies with ever more data being produced? Fair question. Ask your suppliers how they can help you maintain compliance. The fact is if you don’t know the answer, it’s not a stupid question. You don’t work in IT, you’re not expected to have all the answers. Never be afraid to interrogate the people who do, and don’t stop until you’ve understood the answer. If someone can’t explain it to you clearly and simply, that’s a sign they don’t understand it properly themselves.

When you’ve taken the basic steps to understand where your HRIS is currently, your next logical step is to think about how to upskill your existing team to the benefit of your function and your workforce. I’ll talk more about that next time, along with more on how to build out your HRIS evaluation matrix.