'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'
— Arthur C. Clarke
Change is the only constant in the world. Incessant
transition in the internal situation and external environment of an
organization — an interesting mix of crisis, development, cost and
complexity — require technological partnership to become integral part
of the enterprise culture. In the 21st century, those unable to
benefit from the rampant technological research and development will
lag behind in their pursuit of achieving the desired surplus making
capacity. And who can afford to miss a science and technology frontier
rich with prospects?
Human resource refers to people in an organization.
The expansion of personnel effectiveness and potential in an
organization to meet long-term and short-term goals is known as human
resource development (HRD). Right from the selection and induction of
employees in an organization to their training, development,
evaluation and compensation comes under the jurisdiction of HRD. An
effective HRD program ensures creation of a work-and-worker-friendly
environment, thus resulting in a higher surplus for the organization.
Technology is defined as: 'scientific knowledge
used in practical ways'. In the industrial context, this knowledge may
be used to improve productivity, quality and quality of work-life by
designing new machines, modifying old designs and developing other
Above discussed definitions of technology and human
resource development help us to establish a relationship between these
terms. We can say that technology's role in HR development deals with
the scientific contribution by method or machine to facilitate human
resource function in an organization.
TECHNOLOGY'S CONTRIBUTION IN DIFFERENT HR
Technology's major contribution to HR systems was
possible due to advancements in information and communication
technologies. Internet and an integrated network of personal computers
within and outside the organization have filled the time and paper
based communication gap that used to exist in the organizations. Now
we can use facsimile, email or telephone to place requisition and
justification for a new staff in our department, request for the
revision of pay structure of a class of employees, or may recommend
someone for training. Information technology has gifted an automatic
database management system (DBMS) to assist in recruitment and
selection, training assessment, tracking performance, and linking
individuals' performance with the compensation.
Traditional tools of project management for
instance Gantt, PERT and CPM are encoded as a computer program, thus
current status of human resource in an organization (department or
taskwise break up) and future forecast on the basis of planned
activities is possible through computer aided HR planning. An
intelligent system can help in assessing the human capital needs in
terms of skilled or semi-skilled manpower to accomplish a particular
task e.g. in the assembly line of an aircraft or automobile. This is
useful in quickly calculating the number of employees in a certain
section (for instance, number of sewers in a garment production
facility) on a particular date if the forecast production volume (wokorder
based) is fed into system. This also helps in accurate planning and
deployment of manpower, and needs' assessment for training and
development including curriculum design.
RECRUITMENT AND SELECTION:
Recruitment is the process of inviting applications
for a job. Selection is choosing the best fit among the available
candidates. In the IT era, recruitment and selection is no longer a
mechanical search of CVs and applications in stale bulky office
folders. It is a high-tech art now. Organizations advertise on the
Internet, create their profile and job specific CD-ROMS and pursue for
the best fit for their current and future needs. Normally such
computer disks carry almost everything that anyone would like to know
about the organization and its community. This project may cost as low
as $1500 and bulk copy makes it virtually inexpensive by all means for
the organization of any size and budget.
Online application form is a good example of the
role technology can play in this field. For instance, a job advertised
for the post of Production Supervisor in a textile factory listed
three essential requirements for a candidate: age above 20;
qualification graduate or above, and minimum production supervision
experience 2 years. Candidates were given an option to apply online.
Online application forms once filled will be sorted by the system into
two categories. The applications fulfilling the required criteria will
be automatically segregated and will be emailed to the concerned
authority. All online applications will become a part of application
databank sortable by different attributes. This is the cutting-edge
role of information technology in recruitment and selection. Many
organizations today use this system to pre-screen applicants for a job
thus saving time, effort and money.
Internet recruiting is also possible through chat
rooms surveys and online invitations for prospective fits for a job.
In USA, certain organizations are reported to prefer this method to
job fairs by virtue of its cost effectiveness and direct hit rate. In
the academic institutions, internet enrolment and graduate program
emails are cost effective, and a quick means of attracting prospective
students in the junior classes who are most likely to look for a
suitable degree or college for higher education. Thus instead of
arranging college education fairs and inviting students, this is an
easy way of new enrolments in a college. Emailing the prospective
students also builds a two-way interchange of ideas and thoughts
between the college and the students. Business enterprises can also
engage in this type of activity in the vocational training institutes
of higher degree colleges in their hunt for supervisory or management
trainees, or junior level technicians. Internet advertising and
emailing the prospects is more useful because the 'best fits' normally
do not bother about job fairs.
Similarly online behavioral and skill level tests
help human resource professionals evaluate the suitability and
expertise level of each applicant.
TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT:
Multimedia technology has facilitated training
managers to organize, edit and present key points in their lectures.
It is easy to highlight focus ideas, incorporate graphics and
pictures, and flip back and forth while explaining the slides. This
facility was not there by conventional illuminated slide projector or
write-on boards. A training database management system helps HR
department maintain and track the training and skill level record of
employees in an organization. Together with the record of employees'
qualification, work experience and employees' performance rating in
his current assignment, this helps identify training needs of the
Changing nature of business relationship in the
world today has tremendously transformed the previously self-centered
and internally focused training and development programs.
Organizations today are very much involved in the supply chain
development, and their business performance is directly connected with
the performance of their suppliers, buyers and business partners
within and outside the country. Traditional training approach could
not be of much help in this scenario and again technology extends a
hand of assistance. Web is an ideal platform for sharing business
values and best practices with the horizontal and vertical business
partners. In value chain economics, the health and performance of one
business is contingent upon the overall supply chain and product,
which brings to us the concept of extended enterprise beyond its
erstwhile physical boundaries. Today training wing in an organization
can design and develop interactive training programs for each player
in the value-chain according to their performance gaps or required
targets. This is a transition from business-based partnership to
training based partnership for mutual benefit.
One major benefit for web-based training platform
is its ubiquity, and that odds are very high that it will be an extra
burden of time and cost on the partners in training. This type of
training is cost effective, timely and useful in terms of learning and
PERSONAL RECORDS AND ATTENDANCE:
Employees personal records are now kept in computer
based databases, which are easy to organize and analyze. Automated
attendance system (finger or card scanning for time-in and time-out)
is widely used in organizations today to systematize and record
employees' attendance and overtime records. This information is also
utilized to calculate workers compensation, and track their discipline
Nowadays two concepts are becoming increasingly
popular in the HR departments:
A human resource kiosk is designed for use in
conjunction with HRIS to deliver services to the employees in an
innovative way. This enables staff to personally perform a number of
activities online. This access may be secured by a password. These
Viewing and editing personal details, addresses and emergency contact
information, banking information etc.
Viewing general corporate information
Enquiries on leave balance and previous record
View payment breakup and the salary slips
Apply for leave online
Claim for special compensation and overtime
RESPONSE SYSTEM (IVRS):
This system is useful and recommended for a human
resource department experiencing a large number of inquiries from
internal and external callers. This is a forward-looking approach to
handle inquiries. This helps the caller to directly access the desired
set of information or to contact the concerned desk (e.g.
compensations, training, recruitment etc) without unnecessary
interruption by man or machine. An Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS)
processes inbound calls, plays recorded messages including information
taken from databases and the Internet, and may route calls to either
in-house service agents or shifts the caller to an outside extension.
However care should be taken to avoid multiplicity of options and
level of options. We recommend the use of voice recognition technology
as the number of layer goes beyond three. Also the number of
executives and number of lines should not differ so widely as to keep
a caller holding for more than three minutes. The IVRS is a piece of
technology, but should be used with a greater degree of human
understanding that is paramount in particular for an HR department.
PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT & COMPENSATION:
An online performance management system helps
employees forward their personal assessment to their immediate
supervisor for providing comments on the individual's performance
during the period under review. This ensures a paperless and rapid
transmittal of performance report in an organization. Key advantages
include: confidentiality (lack of paper-based files), savings in time,
money and effort, quick to give and receive feedbacks at 180 and 360
degrees and creating a paperless environment in the organization.
However, MIS must ensure the system's security and confidentiality.
This system can be further linked to the compensation and rewards and
once the finance and human resource departments have identified the
basis of increments (e.g. 70% on performance and 30% on seniority), it
is easy to divide the allocated budget among evaluated employees on
the basis of their Performance Evaluation Rating (PER).
One possible area is the partnership between the
management and the trade union in order to develop professional skill
level and employability of the workforce. This is a training based
affiliation. In the 1970's, we witnessed growing joint
labor-management partnership to soften the impact of wide-scale lay
offs in the auto industry, which has now taken the form of a
sophisticated collaboration going beyond unemployment assistance in
the early years. There is more reliance today on learning
technologies, from multimedia CBT to Web-based distance learning to
promote individual and organizational goals. For instance in USA,
international brotherhood of electrical workers and lucent
technologies, the Unites Steel Workers of America and other steel
manufacturers are employing technology for 'training for mutual
Another alliance of Boeing Corporation and
International Association of Machinists (IAM), the largest labor union
in Boeing, resulted in a web-based quality through training
partnership (QTTP), launched to help employees in their career by
posting existing job openings, and online registration for training
needs to qualify for the jobs advertised. This site is a clear-cut
example of how technology can help build ethical industrial relations
with a healthy outcome for overall business environment. One similar
example is the training CD-ROM by Institute of Career Development, a
union-management partnership between United Steelworkers of America
and the steel manufacturers to educate steelworkers in mathematics,
problem solving and computing.
BUILDING MANAGEMENT CONFIDENCE IN TECHNOLOGY
Change generates fears and resistance.
Technological changes in human resource management will meet
resistance, and the onus is on the change leader and the change agents
to create an environment in which human resource and allied staff in
the organization can comfortably embrace this change.
One common fear could be: "the rate of
technological change is too rapid to keep pace with." This may cause
employees to discourage systems based on new technology. For example,
a compensation manager resisted to introduce computer based
performance management system linked with the automatic distribution
of allocated budget for increments by saying that his 'staff would not
be able to handle that.' And that 'the system is too modern to be
implemented at this stage.' Some managers also express their concern
about the viability and expenses of new technology and resort to
citing some failed attempts in the past.
One possible strategy is by not importing
technology as a new concept in the organization. Instead staff can be
made a part of technological groundwork undertaken before the launch
of a project. This participatory role in the application and
productivity of technology will enhance their awareness, and make them
less likely to resist such changes. This will also transform their
status from the 'recipients of technology' to the 'partners in
Last but not the least is to plainly explain
technology's role to the employees at large in an organization. It
could be in form of training sessions, interactive discussions or
introductory brochures highlighting the role of technology in
organizational objectives. This will create technology-assisted
efficiency in the enterprise, with a general fusioning of natural
science with humanities and social science. That is where technology
and human resource go hand in hand.
Jawad S. Naqvi is a human resource practitioner in
Pakistan. Currently he is serving a textile factory in Lahore as
manager human resource development.