NOVA director Debbie Victor speaks on the role of HR in a digitised future

"When we engage with a client, we look at business realities, the global environment, and changes in technology."

HR professionals are often relegated to administration, operating in a stressed environment with an office filled with paperwork. The typical HR person works themselves to an absolute standstill and is generally reduced to not having much impact on the overall strategy of the business. But, according to Debbie Victor, director at NOVA Human Capital, that has already begun to change and businesses must include their HR people in the business strategy if there are to remain competitive, because the digital landscape is changing the world of work and, as a result, companies need to rethink their people needs.

Using global best practice and specialists to provide HR Consulting, Industrial Relations Support, Payroll Advisory and Outsourcing, Online HR Management and Specialist Recruitment, NOVA is considered to be a thought leader in the business of people and is at the forefront of helping companies navigate new technologies and a new economic reality.

“Looking at our client base, from the big corporates to start-ups, all of the HR people face the same issues. HR tends to be focused on systems and processes but there is a lot more that we need to do to prepare for the next technological phase in the business environment,” says Debbie Victor, director at NOVA.

Quoting Professor Tim Grice from the University of Queensland, with whom she worked closely, Victor says South Africa is in denial about the massive challenges that the country is facing insofar as dealing with automation and globalisation. This is why, before creating an HR solution for clients, it is imperative that one understand the current and future business environment, both locally and globally.

“It’s not just a service offering for us, it’s also about thought leadership and what is happening in our country. HR people often get limited to a very small area within the broader HR function and in the bigger organisations there is often a “tunnel-vision” or compartmentalised approach to HR,” says Victor.

“When we engage with a client, we look at business realities, the global environment, and changes in technology insofar as to how they will affect their human resource needs.” 

Automation everywhere

As an example, she refers to one of their clients in the middle of a farming community between Hendrina and Ermelo, which uses drones for security and vet services. Drones monitor the animals, ensuring that they are not running a fever which may indicate illness, so they no longer need a vet that does this manually on a daily basis. Drones also monitor the farms and it’s perimeters and will only send for armed response should there be a breach in security. By digitising these functions, there is not only a reduction in labour cost and human errors and but also significantly more accurate data” 

“Meanwhile, there are already highly automated mines in Limpopo. In Hungary, there is a mine that is completely automated, with a group of technicians operating machinery from a remote location. Self-driving machines and drills!” says Victor.

“If that is already happening in these industries, why aren't companies starting to explore their options in terms of the types of skills that they need to have in their organisation in order to be ready for what will happen in the not-so-distant future. Anybody who is not doing this is in denial. The disruptive forces are already a business reality.”

HR itself is automating

HR itself is also automating. One only has to think of a time gone by when people had to manually calculate their organisation’s payroll or had to manage employee time cards, while leave would also be managed via a card system. But, thanks to HR automation tools, HR professionals spend less time on the tactical details of their jobs and concentrate on more strategic elements.

The drive within HR should be accurate, real-time information that will enable businesses to make informed decisions in a fast-changing world.

HR professionals must know business strategy

When a NOVA team goes into a business, they ask them not to only look at the operational challenges that a company faces but to focus on the business challenges, because that speaks to the kind of skills that they need for the future, and that is how progressive HR executives should be approaching their work.  Statistics show that 60% of all new jobs in the 21st century will require skills that are possessed by only 20% of the current workforce.

However, instead of looking at the bigger picture, Victor says HR people often get limited to playing very small roles in the execution of very large and complex strategies.

“The person that is supposed to be driving that thought-leadership right now, is running around trying to get all these different units to align somehow, reactively attempting to fix the things that don’t and rarely creating real impact. That is not how it should be.“

When it comes to the future of work, “late adopter” is the same as “out of the business”

- Jacob Morgan