The final article in this series looks at the role of a data-driven, strategically focused HR function in delivering competitive advantage. Modern HR delivers customer value: How about yours?Relationships between companies and their increasingly well informed and tech savvy customers are changing. As a recent report by IBM1, points out, customers expect more and more of the companies they deal with, including instant communication and personalised service. In this new, customer-driven world, companies in all sectors and geographies need ‘to better understand, involve and excite their customers in ways that differentiate them from the competition’.

Workforce analytics can help deliver customer value and competitive advantage, according to the report, which draws on the 2013 IBM C-suite study ‘The customer-Activated Enterprise’. It argues that ‘matching customer traffic with employee schedules, ensuring an on-going supply of qualified candidates and retaining individuals in pivotal roles all require a comprehensive understanding of the organisation’s workforce.

Since workforce data is largely ‘owned’ by HR, the function could play a key role in using analytics to identify trends, predict potential outcomes and anticipate risks.

The CHRO´s To-Do-List: Skill up and find the right toolsHR currently lags behind functions such as marketing and finance in its ability to apply analytics. Research by the2 the professional body for HR, identifies a ‘complex mix of silos, skills gaps and suspicion’ preventing HR from tapping into big data to measure the function’s impact and make data-driven decisions.

Other research3 has found that most HR departments do not yet have the right tools to join the Big Data revolution. Asked to identify difficulties they faced when analysing learning and development data, more than half the HR leaders surveyed (58 per cent ) said it was difficult to access data consistently in their organisation. Almost a third (31 per cent ) agreed with the statement: ‘We have difficulty accessing timely data from our available systems.’Fix your HR data mess or drag your company downThese problems can result in HR leaders spending much of their time looking for the data they need to make decisions or assess the impact of decisions they have already made. Even then, they cannot be sure that workforce information generated by inconsistent processes is accurate or. This is a particular challenge for companies experiencing rapid growth, such as Vallourec, a provider of tubular products to the oil and gas industry that has turned itself from a French company into a global one with over 20,000 employees.

Vallourec needed a centralised HR solution to support a worldwide approach to talent management. The company therefore replaced its legacy HR systems with a Cloud-based solution consisting of modules covering a range of HR activities, including performance reviews, management and succession planning. A recent article in Human Resource Executive Online4 describes how these modules, combined into an integrated solution, have enabled line managers and HR professionals from across the business to take a consistent approach to talent management activities.

Future proofed, Cloud-based solutions for Strategic CHROsCloud HR solutions, do not require up-front investment in new hardware or software licences. So companies adopting these solutions are able to make significant cost savings. .

But the drive to cut costs is not the only - or even the main - reason why more and more companies are now adopting Cloud-based HR solutions. PwC’s 2014 HR Technology Survey found that innovation tops the list of drivers, with more than 40 per cent of respondents who had moved to the Cloud citing the ability to take advantage of software innovations more quickly as their primary motivator.

‘Often, organisations are looking for greater innovation in areas including user experience and employee engagement – particularly talent management,’ notes the PwC survey report. ‘This isn’t surprising, as more companies are adopting agile frameworks to shorten cycles, increase collaboration, and enhance quality.’Boosting competitiveness through HR transformationHR Cloud solutions based on the latest technologies provide instant access to accurate, workforce data. They also offer the ability to scale activities up or down in response to changing business needs. But HR organisations that adopt Cloud solutions without going through a wider transformation are unlikely to realize these.

The PwC survey found that the experience of moving HR processes such as payroll and recruiting to the Cloud is generally positive, with companies citing advantages such as greater agility and innovation, potential cost savings, and greater workforce mobility. However, the transition to Cloud solutions often throws up unexpected challenges along the way. ‘Many organisations are simply underestimating the cultural and mindset shifts required, the need for new business processes, and the overall organisational impact,’ say the authors of the report, who expect these issues to increase as larger and more complex organisations move to the Cloud.

In many cases moves to the Cloud from part of major outsourcing projects, because companies need more than flashy, new technology to drive their HR transformation. They may,, be looking for advanced RPO (Recruiting Process Outsourcing) services to help them reduce time to hire or source candidates with particular skills. Outsourcing HR services to a single Cloud provider can deliver many but it also magnifies the challenges highlighted by the PwC survey.

The keys to successBut these challenges are not insurmountable. A recent study by ADP5 has identified the following steps that HR Leaders can take to give their companies an edge over competitors. 
  • Align talent strategies and execution with business needs
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  • Apply consistent processes across the organisation
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  • Use one system for all HR and Payroll data
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  • Free up HR to focus on value-adding work
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 By taking the above measures,, business partnering approach that will give their companies competitive advantage – now and in the future [1]New expectations for a new era: CHRO insights from the Global C-suite Study, 2013
[2]Talent analytics and big data – the challenge for HR,, 2013
[3]Learning and Talent Development Survey,, 2013
[5]ADP Global HCM Study, 2014


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