Transformation of HR in the digital world

Monday, 4 June 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I am delighted to drive a dynamic community of diverse people in presenting a distinctly different experience at the National HR Conference 2018. We have aptly selected the theme: ‘Transformation of HR in the Digital World’. We will deliberate on digitalisation, disruption, diversity and design with regard to this inspirational intervention. Today’s column is all about the national significance of the largest HR event of South Asia, organised by the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) Sri Lanka.



Digitalisation has become a wave spreading across the world, revealing multiple varieties. In fact, technology has always been an enhancer of our work. From adding machine to the advanced computer this was the case. It was Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-American economist who first spoke of a ‘gale of creative destruction’ in order to sustain economic growth. We can see a parallel to that in the now popular use of the term ‘disruption’. 

Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, who is widely regarded as the concept initiator of disruption, says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. Whilst being disruptive on one hand, it is being creative on the other hand.

It is essentially challenging the conventional way of doing things. It also involves new initiatives with the use of technology in moving beyond traditional boundaries. ‘On the spot’ feedback, which is real time and online as opposed to annual performance appraisal is one such example. The term disruption is associated with radical change. Same should apply to the transformation of HRM. This is the context, in which the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) Sri Lanka, being the national leader in HR has decided to focus on this year’s national HR conference to reflect on and relate to its obligations to the nation, in transforming the practice of HRM. 

HR in the Digital World 

NHRC 2018 invites us to see the glimpse of a brave new world. That ‘Digital World’ is continuously evolving and disrupting our lifestyles, beliefs and our behaviour. The proliferation of digital technologies has radically changed our lives, our communities and our workplaces reshaping the world of work in the process, dramatically changing the way we manage, perform and interact within organisations.

Technology is rapidly evolving and playing an increasingly greater role in the way businesses are structured and managed. HR professionals all around the world specialists are challenged to seek and adapt into the constantly shifting organisational context that surrounds them by adopting digital concepts, platforms, technologies and management styles that can deliver sustainable results.

This year’s conference theme, ‘Transformation of HR in the Digital World’ endeavours to re-orient the HR community by enlightening them on the changing HR landscape that is influenced by digitisation, made further complex by the cultural and generational workforce diversity, war for talent and customer demands. The NHRC 2018 aims at transforming the mindset of the HR professionals, enabling them to excel in an agile, digitally-empowered operating environment and embrace the brave new ‘Digital World’ whilst staying vigilant and receptive to the workplace challenges of tomorrow.

Diverse discourses 

There are many sessions designed to deliver distinct flavours of HR. Among them, there is the topic, ‘Workplace Happiness through Digitalisation’ by Dr. Kazuo Yano, Corporate Officer, Corporate Chief Scientist at Hitachi, Japan. He has played a key role in the measurement and analysis of social big data. The wearable sensor for this purpose has been introduced and s succeeded in quantifying the happiness of people from unconscious physical motion, which has been used in more than 30 companies.

He will cover as to why digitalisation necessary. It is not because Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data processing technology has been advanced. It is because demand calls for flexibly responding to change and diversity, whereas conventional standardisation and lateral deployment cannot respond to this. To be flexible, a consistent objective is necessary. There is a hierarchy of the objectives, and the people’s happiness is located at the highest level. 

According to Dr. Yano, we have developed a technology that brings out human capabilities and productivity, by quantifying the happiness at the workplace from subtle movements of the body and raising it.  ‘Changing Human Resource Landscape in the Digital Age’ by Dr. Danushka Bollegala, Associate Professor in Artificial Intelligence (Ai), University of Liverpool, UK will be another interesting experience. He has a doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Tokyo, Japan and his research interests have spanned a wide-range of topics in AI, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), data mining, machine learning and social media analysis.

Dr. Bollegala will discuss how technology has been reshaping the job market since the industrial revolution began in the 15th century. Tools change the way we work as well as what work we can do. We humans have always embraced technology, which has distinguished us from other animals. However, the digital age has brought an unprecedented set of technologies that is significantly changing the job market in an unprecedented manner. According to him, various proposals have been forwarded by the visionaries such as the introduction of the Universal Basic Income (UBI) and re-training the work force in a short period of time, to cope with the changing human resource landscape. In this talk, he will explain what changes in the human resource landscape are due in the next 5 to10 years; what key technologies have brought about those changes and how we can equip ourselves to survive in the digital age.

‘Leveraging Artificial Intelligence In Human Resources’ by Dr. D. Prasanth Nair, Managing Partner and Country Head of Inhelm Leadership Solutions is another session included. Dr. D. Prasanth Nair is a Mechanical Engineer and holds a doctorate from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad. He headed the Human Resources function for Asia and Africa for Thomas Cook. He also headed Global HR for Indian based Pharmaceutical MNC, Cipla. 

As Dr. Nair observes, whether we like it or not, whether we have started using it or not, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play an important role in the evolution of society and hence in organisations. Given the need to better ‘leverage’ resources in today’s business environment, the cost of people decision is increasing every day and the key is to get it right. Given the advancement of technology and the potential benefits that can be derived, there is lot of interest in the application of technology in Human Resources. 

His session will focus on ways by which Artificial Intelligence can add value to people dimension which will enable organisations to scale faster and grow rapidly. It will also help organisations prepare for using Artificial Intelligence in their Human Resources domain by sharing best practices from across the globe. ‘Aligning and Energising people in a Digital Workplace’ by Claudia Cadena, Founder and Principal Consultant, Thread Advisory is another session that will take place. Claudia is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Thread Advisory, with 25 years of experience in strategic, advisory and operational Human Capital Management. 

Claudia observes that, the way in which organisations communicate and engage with their employees is dramatically changing with the emergence of digitalisation. Workplaces as we know them are taking a different shape with the proliferation of the ‘absent workforce’. Furthermore, the fact that four very distinct generations (from baby boomers to millennials) interact in the workplace, is placing greater pressures on the business towards finding ways that effectively reach the minds and hearts of all these employees. It is no longer enough for leaders to just be present and share information and data to secure understanding and commitment. 

According to her, organisational practices and programmes that aim at bonding and binding people together is no longer a “nice to have” but a “must have”. More than ever, companies need to innovate on the way they reach out to their employees to secure their buy-in, engagement and performance. It is about true inter-action and learning agility. Flexibility, empowerment and experimentation must be institutionalised to ensure organisations are able to attract, engage and retain their human capital.

There will be two interesting panel discussions, one on the “Future of HR in the world of digitalisation” and the other on the “Transition of industrial/employee relations in the digitalised world”. Apart from the above, there is the grand finale of the “Great HR Debate” and the presentation of “Great HR Practices”, Ceremony of “Great HR Awards” and the vibrancy of “Great HR Exhibition”. 

The Way Forward

Ironically, we have an over-emphasis on private sector HR with less focus on public sector. This should be rectified through a sensible dialog on best HR practices and their applicability to both private and public sectors alike. HR can be a bridge between private and public sectors as its key functions have an overarching effect on utilising the most precious resource of any organisation. National HR Conference (NHRC 2018) intends to fill this void in a meaningful and memorable manner.

We brought you “In Search of HR Excellence” in 2013 with an overwhelming success. We hosted the largest even attended HR event of IPM in 2014 with the theme, “Redefining HR for Boosting Performance”. It further expanded with the theme, “HR for National Prosperity” in 2015. Then, we zoomed into the aspect of competing as a nation in a global scale with the fitting theme, “HR Ecosystem for Competitiveness”. Last year, the focus was on “Emerging HR Leaders: High Tech and High Touch”. 

Now, the South Asia’s largest HR event is coming to you, more enhanced and enriched. This engaging and energising experience will offer the participants immense insights, initiatives and implications in line with an invitation towards transformation.

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