In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Nikhil Shembekar, who is the Head of HR Technology at RPG Enterprises, about is his role and the future of HR technology and HR tech startups.
Ques: Tell us about your journey briefly and what you have seen change and remain same with respect to HR technology in last ten years.
I began my career as a software engineer in the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services Ltd after my engineering. After spending around 2 years there, I decided to do an MBA and got admission into XLRI. I completed my MBA in 2003 and joined Infosys as part of their Enterprise solutions unit. Since I had a tech background and a MBA in HR, the Infy team put me in their Peoplesoft HR consulting department. Here I got my first exposure to various HR technologies like Peoplesoft, Oracle, SAP etc.
After this for about 8 years, I did lot of work as a consultant in the HR-ERP space, implementing/upgrading software mainly Peoplesoft HR. In 2011, I joined Godrej Industries, Mumbai where I transitioned into the Corporate. It was literally a change of sides of the table for me!
In Godrej, we started an HR-IT department which would be a bridge between the HR and IT department, one which understands HR process and the IT nuances. This was a great success and we implemented/adopted/changed legacy and brought in modern HR systems/processes at Godrej.
In 2014, I got a chance to be part of an HR startup, where I learned a lot including design thinking, customer experience, exposure to finance/marketing etc. I was also part of Diageo for a brief period where I was part of the team which started the HR shared services and could transition many HR processes using technology, seamlessly. I was also a core member of the IT digital marketing team. In August 2016, I joined RPG Enterprises as Head of HR Technology.
I feel over the last few years, there has a widespread acceptance of the fact that HR systems need to be intuitive, simple and easy to use. There has been a heavy investment by leading players like SAP, Oracle etc to move systems to cloud. This has given rise to faster implementation timelines and much more depth to HR functionalities. Mobile features have started becoming the norm and this has helped in better adoption.
What has not changed is the ability of HR to drive the systems implementation and spearhead the change management. Many organizations still have IT make the buy decisions and HR is a reluctant partner.
Ques: What’s your role at RPG and how do you interact with HR and IT organizations in particular and the larger structure in general?
I am basically an evangelist of HR technology at RPG. My job is to see that various HR processes, at the least, get automated and then start to see where we can optimize and adapt better. We are also experimenting with different ideas all the time, example: we are now using a middleware to “nudge” employees/managers into acting on their HR information e.g., start having conversations, verify if their team’s data is correct etc. My role is also to play the bridge between the HR and IT teams. Being an evangelist, it is also my endeavor to constantly track this space and see what innovations can be adopted at my organization.
At RPG, we have created a ‘federal’ structure, where we have a central HR digitization team and we work with an SPOC from every group company. We meet regularly and review the configuration of the system and ensure that we have one common system and configuration across the group companies. This has ensured that signature processes like performance management, top talent identification, learning etc are standardized. Any changes that are proposed are discussed, debated and then implemented since we have a single instance across all companies.
We also get to learn from other companies, for example, Zensar took the lead in doing some great work on the learning systems’ UI, which other companies have adopted.
Ques: When you look at the last three years surge in HR Tech startups: what do you see and what would you like to see?
We are seeing a tremendous growth in HR startup space, there are startups focusing on niche areas like employee engagement, wellness, analytics, learning etc. It is a good thing that more HR startups are being spawned. But it is important for vendors to also understand the organizational challenges. E.g. cos might have their own HR systems, then how will your startup integrate with it. Also, organizations might be wary of dealing with multiple best of breed solutions, so can you scale up into other areas as well. These are some of the questions that startups will need to answer
Ques: Tell us about your buying process, and what suggestions you would have for companies buying HR technology.
Typically buying any software should be based on the organization’s future needs as well as the current need it can satisfy. For e.g. in one of my earlier organization, the need was felt that existing HR software can no longer suffice if we need to grow exponentially. Hence a decision was made to ‘see’, then we had a committee of HR heads who had specific criteria like ease of use, HR scenarios and how the software would handle that, ease of implementation, training and finally the cost.
At RPG as well, we have a similar process – where we get all the SPOC’s to be part of the decision-making process and then basis this we go to the HR heads and get their buy in.
In my view, the era of long RFP’s is over, esp for buying cloud software, it should be scenario-based demos from the vendor and then shortlist. It is also important to see how the vendor is positioned with future releases and the roadmap planned. It is also critical to see the support mechanisms available for the product.
Ques: Can you tell us about the HR Tech stack currently in use at RPG? How do you stitch multiple siloed applications together?
At RPG, we are primarily using SuccessFactors as our primary HR platform. All our signature processes on talent management run on this. Some group companies are using their own different applications for managing leave, payroll etc. right now we are in the process of standardizing the core HR platform, so as to ensure that it becomes the single source of truth for employee data.
We are using a middleware for stitching multiple applications, example: data flow from SuccessFactors to downstream applications like leave, expense management etc.
We have Zensar, our group company which has created an umbrella of mobile apps for practically everything in HR. It is a fascinating story where they have tried to ‘appify’ all things HR, example: HR dashboards, ask your MD, social collaboration tool, HR policies, recruitment, leave etc. This has ensured that employees across the globe have information at their fingertips and on demand. They have evolved some of their own middleware for getting integrating data into the mobile apps.
Ques: Can you tell us about HR Analytics efforts undertaken at RPG? How did you go about selecting the right partner? What lessons have you learned so far?
We are at a very nascent stage with HR analytics. Right now, it is more system dashboards which give info e.g. employee counts, attrition etc. we are now working towards a more comprehensive approach towards HR analytics this year. This would include HR KPI tracking and then look at predictive analytics.
Ques: What’s your HR IT roadmap? How does it tie in with RPG IT/ digitization roadmap?
At RPG, we have a core Digital team which works on multiple areas in various companies within RPG. Some of the areas include big data, IoT, connected shopfloor, smart products etc. These are very strategic initiatives being sponsored by the heads of the companies and is tracked at the chairman level. HR digitization is also a part of the pan RPG Digital initiatives.
We have prepared a 2 year HR digital roadmap which includes among other things standardizing SuccessFactors as the core system of record, integrations with downstream systems, HR analytics etc. We also review this periodically with the HR heads and the chairman to ensure that we are moving in the right direction
We have also very recently started an HR Digital Labs at RPG where we, once in a couple of months, invite all interested folks including HR heads to sessions where we see cutting edge HR technologies, e.g. machine learning in HR, HR Analytics etc. We intend to use this platform for multiple purposes including piloting solutions at our group cos as well as taking the lead in HR technology adoption. We want RPG to be known as a leader in HR Digital.
Ques: What has worked in your experience in various organizations to ensure user adoption of HR Technology? Can you give some examples?
One of the biggest drivers to adoption is top management involvement. If we ensure that leaders use the systems, that sets an example for others also to use it.
Another way is to ensure that no parallel system exists to do the same process e.g. if you have a recruitment system, but if you use Excel – then implementing the system is useless.
Ques: Does buying behavior change from manufacturing to IT to retail? What industry specific aspects, HR tech solution providers need to be aware of?
I don’t think it changes very much. Nowadays, HR tech solution providers can cater to multiple scenarios e.g. you might have blue collared workers in manufacturing and say temporary workers in IT/Retail. So it is about scale, managing multiple HR scenarios which the system should take care of. But yes, what is missing is an integrated solution, or what we call full workforce management technology is probably missing. Hence vendors must at the very least be able to provide appropriate integration points. Example: ability to integrate with say a time off solution with the core HR system.
Ques: When you look at next 3 to 5 years – what’s your prediction for the future with respect HR technology?
It is going to be very exciting for the HR tech space. We have just scratched the surface of HR tech. Many organizations are looking forward to making HR digital and there are areas like smart hiring, wellness, using employee data for making right career /policy decisions. Actually, every process in HR has the capability to get digitized and add value to the HR/employee/manager.
Then there is the AI, Bots which are coming – hopefully, to ease the HR process issues. So yes, the future is bright, the only question is – Is HR ready to embrace this change?
Ques: Can you tell about your HR Tech implementation failure? What did you learn?
In one of my earlier HR implementation, a faulty program led to mass emails being sent even to the head of the company. This was a great embarrassment and we realized that this was because of inadequate testing of the program before we released it to production.
One of the most important aspects is adequate testing of the features, esp when it involves a large audience. There is no short cut to this.
Ques: If you had one ask from the HR Tech solution providers what would that be?
HR technology solution partners need to make systems highly configurable, as each company has their own unique way of doing things e.g. performance management. You cannot let software dictate terms to HR, it must be the other way around.