As is true for all major company departments, the evolutions in information technology have had a significant impact on Human Resources.
Initially, technology helped the department to fulfil its remits and to switch from administrative management (“staff management”) to qualitative resource management. Nowadays, the digital revolution brought about by the Internet is speeding things up and paving the way towards the HR department being truly redefined.
The first wave of computerisation in the 1970s handled administrative tasks: salary, staff management, time management and activities. Essentially, it was production computing that aimed to automate repetitive processes using the calculation skills of “large systems”.
During the 1990s, the advent of microcomputing in general and Windows in particular gave rise to a second generation of applications. Indeed, the areas of vacancy management, professional training, appraisals, recruitment and skills (to name but a few) benefited from specialised applications that could be ergonomically accessed from a PC.
The 2000s, meanwhile, saw the professional Internet explode – which has changed the game yet again.
First of all, the delivery mode has changed. SAAS (Software as a Service), which is provided by a server shared over the Internet, started investing in the HR field by offering “e-recruitment”, “e-skills”, “e-careers”…
In parallel, the Internet has enabled SAAS to develop its services and get closer to the HR departments of its “end customers” with e-learning solutions, Intranets or HR kiosks.
Much might have changed, but HR remained within its traditional framework. It was more efficient, more user-friendly, more complete, more decentralised, and yet didn’t deviate from its original “support-type” remits: management, administration, training, appraisal, recruitment…
The second digital revolution (which took place in the 2000s) is the interactive web, otherwise known as web 2.0. It is noticeably changing perspectives.
This revolution is all about the rise in collaborative technologies that enable their users to be more than simply parties to a transaction or mere consumers of a particular content. Rather, they become producers of content and are integrally involved in genuine exchange.
Interactive practices (discussion flows involving multiple participants) are first and foremost expressed in the consumer sphere on forums, blogs and private social networks (such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter…) or professional social networks (including LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing…). They have shaped the companies by giving rise to enterprise social networks (such as Jive, Yammer, blueKiwi, Chatter…) that integrate a multitude of interactive web technologies (wealth profile, workspaces, tags, activity wall, blogs, forums, wikis, RSS feeds, search engines…) into a private platform devoted to handling professional issues.
These tools deliver 4 major benefits: They enable better identification of people and talents, they optimise collective communication , they develop collaborative working and they make the origin of information tangible and accessible.
For Human Resources Managers, they represent two opportunities:
Firstly, there is an opportunity for HR as a company department. Using these technologies within HR effectively allows the department to enhance its effectiveness and overhaul its practices. In this instance, technology is still having a traditional impact on a department.
But if HR decides to act on its own initiative and take the helm in implementing enterprise social networks, in particular it is an opportunity for the department to give itself the strategic dimension it deserves.
By Jean-Michel Vergne