HONO COO & Thought Leader Randeep Singh @ CII HR Conference'22



As HR & HR practices are using digital platforms to try to keep up with the changing world of business and the sudden change in work culture around the world, here’s thought leader Randeep Singh, COO, HONO, taking questions from Briilian SK, Chief People Officer, Times Professional Learning, on ‘The Pitfalls to Avoid while selecting an HR Platform’. This conversation was a part of the CII HR Conference held on March 24-25, 2022.

Brillian: Randeep before we begin, I would request you to take about two to three minutes to share your thoughts on how HR platforms have evolved - and what is the future for platforms?

Randeep: You know, in the 70s and 80s, we used to look at systems delivering transactional efficiency, and so we used to have large systems that managed transactions. But then came the 90s and 2000s, where you know, the focus was more on integrated talent processes because HR was not just treated as a stepchild of the overall ERP implementation. You became an active part of the business of course, at its own steady pace - and then came integrated talent processes and the 90s and 2000s. In 2000, say around 2009-10 onwards, is where the real revolution started. You know where you start talking about social collaboration, and engagement. These principles we built into the HR tech platforms - and today the world is about employee experience. We're talking about a lot of intelligence capability to be built through and into HR platforms. We talk about productivity; we talk about actionable insights. These are a very forward-looking phenomenon that is being weaved and built into HR tech platforms - and that's how the world has grown.

Now who knows going forward, you know, the employees are just going to bring their own app and say, hey, if you're a good aggregator, I would want to use this app and - can you aggregate this app for me into your HR system? So that could be the future, right? The future is unpredictable. You don't know what the future is.

But yes, currently it is employer experience, user journeys, decision-making support, intelligence, and a lot of aggregation of data that happens on HR tech platforms. I would also like to bring the perspective of how the market has evolved and how really the function of HR tech is involved. I remember when I had my first visiting card in one of the largest Indian conglomerates that I worked for: my card read Head HR technology - and IT and HR were confused about which team I belong to - IT or HR? But we have seen this function grow so much. Today you have a center of excellence (COE) that has been built around HR tech in any organization whether they are small and mid or large, right? And you see, a lot of traction that comes through this COE in any organization to develop and build a strategy for transformation. Now that's how the function has evolved, and in terms of market - who would have known that one day the potential of the HR tech market would be somewhere close to 25 to 30 billion USD - to be tapped by 2024.

Essentially the segmentation was clear. It was small, medium, and mid-segment as well as large enterprises, but it has become more important now because different solutions are catering to a different set of markets. So, all these three levels, all these three perspectives together have led to this market becoming very complex and at the same time the segmentation also becoming very easy for any player to be taking stock of - or you know - taking control of and rolling out this solution. So that's how I see the overall tech market overall solution player evolution as well as the function evolution that’s happening in the last 20 to 30 years.

Brillian: Do you think that the tech platform selection really matters? Or it is just a mind or matter thing where nothing really matters? You just go ahead and do whatever it is - someone else has done it - so it may work for me. If it doesn't, I scrap it and bring something new.

Randeep: I think the selection of an HR tool or HR platform is a moment of truth for the organization. Either you win a transformation, or you lose a transformation. So, for me, managing that as a moment of truth, and as someone who is providing HR services, and technology - matters a lot. So, you also think about the axes on which you plot your entire transformation: one is the kind of organization that you're trying to create, and on the other axis - you also have the experience that you would want to give to your employees. Your selection of technology could either just be a project in an organization or it could become a core value. The choice is always with the organization. It's the moment of truth. It's very important.

Brillian: One of the problems that have existed for eternity is ‘one size fits all. That’s the approach that most of the platforms come up with, and this is like saying this is the one-stop place where you will find solutions for all your problems. And we all know that no organizations are the same: the culture, the vision, the people, the users, everything matters. So how do you think that platform providers can communicate effectively to businesses by saying, ok, this is what we have, but there is something else that you need to patch so that it aligns well with you? As a market, there is a scope for players to make it transparent and open that this is X, you need to be at X plus, X minus, depending upon your organization.

Randeep: The world has always operated in one-size-fits-all. You inherit a legacy system, and you have to do whatever possible within the boundaries of the system and make your function effective or ineffective. That's how the world operates. But what we have seen is that for the last five to eight years, the kind of revolution that has happened in the cloud, and the kind of complexities that we have been able to manage while we created our own solution set, have been phenomenal and fantastic. You could be going to an organization saying - Hey! We know that you have got specific requirements, but you know these are the best practices that we follow and that’s how the solution is constructed. But within the realm and boundaries of any technology solution, there is a possibility of creating a string called ‘one-size-fits-one.’

That’s where the role of any HR leader or organization comes into the picture to assess and evaluate whether the technology partner is a good consultant or not. Because most of the time the faltering starts right at the beginning when you start to re-engineer processes and you’re not able to give that value-add to the organization, which makes them conclude that, this is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and this can't take care of our bespoke requirements.

Customization At A Cost

So, the second perspective is how good the technology partner or vendor is - to consult an organization, look at their pain areas, identify what could be the problem that has to be solved, and give the appropriate solution, besides also keeping them abreast of the fact that in case there are any business-critical requirements, we could do that given the kind of framework and technology architecture we have got.

But there is a cost associated with it. While organizations embark on their journey, they won’t spend on extra features that they really want for their business to operate efficiently. I think as a responsible vendor or technology solution provider, it's our responsibility also to be telling the stakeholders that yes, we will be able to cater to your requirements - but customizations come at a cost! Because you're compromising the entire cloud environment, you're compromising the templates - and then, trying to give a solution that is bespoke to an organization. In the boundaries of cloud complexities that we operate, there is always room for one-size-fits-one. There is probably no problem that any efficient HR would not be able to solve. We know all that lifecycle processes are: onboarding, for example, simple: if you’re enabling it on a mobile phone, you want every document to be uploaded on a mobile phone. That's it. That's experience, and you capture the experience as a ‘moment of truth’ through a survey. That's it. You have nothing beyond that.

The point here is that the rigidity pattern must be broken on both sides, whether it’s an organization or a client being rigid.

Brillian: I would look for a faster solution or a fast-moving thing, which could be implemented. Unfortunately, it gets translated into a different fast: F is frustrated, A is alienated, S is feeling that you have been scammed and T you’re running out of time. So how do you think platforms and consultants who are supporting the integration can provide comfort to people like me who are on the other side, trying to manage what the organization needs versus the time that’s required for all the customization and integrations?

Randeep: The first very important point is transparency. Most of the time, I’ve seen the biggest pitfall on both sides is how transparent you’re to what you have to offer and what is there staring at us for us to implement (the HR tech platform). I think that expectation setting is something that really goes a long way in comforting the HR leaders as well as organizations - that yes, we embark in the right direction.

We have to lay Importance on knowing our problem and you have to be absolutely clear on what is it that’s required, what is it that you’re trying to solve. If that’s not clear, the feelings that you spoke about are bound to come and the third point you spoke about - that the world is moving too fast, that I need to have a very quick turnaround time. I need to implement things in such and such timeline because there is a tick mark that I’ve to do in the organization - that HR tech is implemented, added to my KRAs, and delivered 100%. Right?

I think that’s the biggest deterrent and I think this should be forbidden. When it comes to any implementation because you know you’re a 50 people organization or a 5000-people or a 50,000-people organization, the complexities of course are going to vary, and you need to give the time for this transformation to actually happen in the organization. The problem or the pitfall that we have seen is people changing systems so frequently because I think they lose patience. You need to give time for this transformation. Nothing happens overnight. It is a long-drawn process; it matches the business vision. There has to be that expectation setting, match transparency, and then looking at what is it that we're trying to implement and achieve together, which really will lead to leaders not having feelings that you shared (of doubt or negativity).

Brillian: Ye saab to thik hai lekin excel mein maine ye saab kaar sakta hu (This is all ok, but I can do all of this on excel). The mindset is - it is easy when you do it offline, you can manipulate data, and you can play around with reports. Do you think from a user perspective and from a technology perspective, if you were to look at balancing that complexity of touch versus tech – I am, as a user, asking for too much?

Randeep: I think it's not expecting too much. For this situation not to arise or this thought process or this mindset not to arise, I think the full potential of a system also needs to be understood. The biggest pitfall that I have experienced with many clients is that the understanding, the literacy about systems is very peripheral.

Every system will give you the option of generating ad-hoc queries, which is actually multidimensional reporting structures, and you could turn data in different dimensions, and you could just extract it, but the important point is what are you looking at? Are you looking at the templates that you were following for the last ten years to be presented in the same way? Or are you looking at the system for what the possibilities are for intelligence aggregation?

I believe that this aggregation or churning of data and making sense out of that data is the most vital and important point that should be evaluated when any HR tech platform is taken on board because ultimately you will have millions of transactions that are happening on your code. So ultimately you have one single ‘source of truth’ and you're creating so many transactions on that code.

But how do you make sense of that? There has to be some actionable insight. There have to be some descriptive reports. There has to be something prescribed by the system.

Of course, we talk about ‘predictive’ as well, but we are far, far away from how we could predict the churn or how we predict the growth of a person. So, it is fair for any leader or any organization to ask all this. It's not too much of an ask, but I would say that there also has to be some deep understanding about the system’s boundaries. One needs to understand first as a user and then probably build on this to say - hey, this is what I require; this is what the gap is, and this is how I can bridge it with the help of the tech platform.

As an aside, there is something called a kleptomaniac – when any shiny thing attracts me, right? So as an organization, the pitfall is when you think that everything that’s shining in the market, everything that has worked for everyone else, will also work for me. So, that kleptomaniac sort of thought process also leads you to compare at every single point what you’re doing or what the solution is doing with what other solutions are providing. After you've made a decision about a platform, you look at it, and you say, Oh! I also had those other options, maybe they could have given me better output! And you don’t focus on the strengths of the system that you have and that can be leveraged.

Brillian: Stability is something that takes a backseat most of the time, and that's one of the reasons why we move from solution A to solution B to solution C - and still don't find that golden sweet spot. What do you think?

Randeep: The biggest pitfall that I see is that organizations get trapped into trying to solve the wrong problem. What happens is that when you bring HR tech, it adds to the cost. HR technology makes it more complex. So, it becomes very important to solve the right problem. For instance, Attendance Management is not the problem, Productivity (lack of) due to absenteeism is the problem. Quarterly, half-yearly, and yearly performance appraisals are not the problem, Performance culture (or lack of it) is the problem, right? So, you can enforce it quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly. It’s up to the organization. These are the kind of questions that have to be asked, you know, and have to be internalized before we select any technology system.

One has to ask whether as an organization one is prepared to embrace this technology transformation or not, whether one has the right set of pain points that one would want to eliminate, and then create the ideal user journey. If the context is right, you know what problem you're trying to solve.

Any solution provider that I see in big markets or even large enterprises has got the capability to cater to the requirements. It's just about the ask - the ‘ask’ has to be validated and it has to be vetted very well within the organization. That's maturity.