10 Barriers to Digital Transformation From HR's Bird's-Eye View

Imagine you just landed on Earth, transported from the 1990s, and you’re handed an iPhone, now 10 years old, for the first time in your life. You’d probably have a hard time understanding how the metal and glass rectangle might be of use. This is not unlike the digital transformation challenges that companies are faced with today.

New technologies rapidly enter our workplaces, catching many of us off guard. As many experts have shared with HR Leads Business, HR managers must play an important role in linking information technology with the "human factor."

Organizations still struggle with technological innovation, according to a report from Harvard Business Review. CEOs surveyed list the top 10 barriers companies face when undergoing digital transformation projects. Nearly all the top 10 challenges, when you look at them closely, are areas where HR can make a huge impact:

  1. Inability to experiment quickly (53 percent)
  2. Legacy systems (52 percent)
  3. Inability to work across silos (51 percent)
  4. Inadequate collaboration between IT and lines of business (49 percent)
  5. Risk-averse culture (47 percent)
  6. Change management capabilities (46 percent)
  7. Lack of corporate vision for digital (39 percent)
  8. Lack of talent/skills required (38 percent)
  9. Insufficient budget (37 percent)
  10. Cybersecurity (34 percent)

"The ability to adopt a bird’s-eye view across the enterprise and across the supply base is essential," says Dean Edwards, Vice President of Global Strategic Sourcing at Levi Strauss & Co., who contributed to the report. Although writing from the perspective of a sourcing professional, Edwards’ comments ring true for the HR function:

"We get to see an awful lot across the organization, and can help make connections throughout the various parts of the enterprise. If we see one function undertaking a project, and a close parallel somewhere else in the company, we’re able to connect those dots so that those stakeholders have visibility into what’s going on."

Digital Transformation: HR’s Breakthrough Moment

Dave Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the Ross School, University of Michigan, and a Partner at the RBL Group, believes helping organizations with digital transformation is HR’s next breakthrough moment.

Just as Edwards prescribes for sourcing, HR can play a significant role to help identify people issues, identify "parallel activities" and suggest ways the organization can pool resources that benefit the whole organization and its stakeholders. Such initiatives are in addition to the equally important adoption of HR-focused digital initiatives such as HR systems and workplace-oriented social networking platforms. HR is also in prime position to help an organization make the most of rapid technology adoption.

In Victory Through Organization, Ulrich and team suggests that HR be at the center of "the optimal flow of information, including identifying, accessing, importing, analyzing and disseminating important external information and to facilitate its use in decision making that impacts the business." The challenge, the authors say, is that HR must embrace new roles to help organizations with digital transformation.

Here is one idea from the Victory Through Organization: "By its very nature, the information agenda requires a cross-department perspective. Therefore, HR may convene a team of insightful individuals who represent key segments of the firm’s business model. The team may document how information has been historically used to make effective decisions and how information should be used in the future to create competitive advantage."

HR must be equipped to anticipate change — in technology, in the business and in the HR field. It is why the community of HRCI-credentialed practitioners are not only tested on their skills and knowledge, but the ability to adapt to change and keep improving through continuous learning and HRCI recertification credits. Today’s HR professionals must ask new questions, share ideas and embrace new ways of thinking. Those that do will be valuable digital transformation assets.

How has your HR department been a diver of technology innovation? We’d like to feature your organizational efforts.