Workplace Culture

Internet of Things: The Next Talent Management Thing?

By Sarah Fister Gale

May. 26, 2016

Internet of Things

The internet of things is going to change the way you manage your workforce — and the revolution has already begun.

IoT involves connecting people, sensors, machines and devices over a single network to automatically transfer data without manual interference. It is often thought of as an efficiency tool used in manufacturing and logistics environments to track equipment performance and monitor the supply chain. But it can be just as beneficial in managing people, said Kevin Cornelius mobility services leader at EY. “It can help the HR function adopt smarter systems to drive operations and innovate the way they deliver training, learning and people development.”

Wellness Initiatives and IoT

Companies that adopt wearables for wellness initiatives are already participating in IoT for workforce management. When HR gives employees sensor-driven devices to track the number of steps they take, their heart rate or other health data, they are harnessing the power of IoT to reduce health care costs and improve productivity, said Debbie Krupitzer, the IoT practice lead for consulting and technology company Capgemini. “By implementing a program whereby employees wear activity trackers and are rewarded for their activity and movements, HR executives not only promote and incentivize healthy lifestyles among employees, but also can leverage the program to negotiate prices with their health care insurers to reduce premiums.”

It is a gateway use of IoT for HR, but there are many other potential applications. IoT connectivity could be used to track the productivity of workers in the field, to assign tasks based on the nearest expert or service rep to a job, to improve site scheduling based on customer flow, and to push out real-time training based on an employees’ time or performance on a task. Activity trackers can also provide HR professionals with a new way to promote training and educational experiences among employees, Krupitzer said. “If an employee is working on a particular machine for the first time, the worker could get an alert with a tutorial on how to use the equipment and perform the task most effectively.”

Companies can also harness IoT to capture a real-time picture of where their people are and where they are needed and to support a more flexible workforce management approach, Cornelius said. “Any business with a footprint in more than one place will need to innovate their mobility strategies and approaches, not only to drive efficiencies but also to help create tomorrow’s leaders,” he said.

Don’t Be Creepy

That doesn’t mean HR leaders should attach sensors to all of their workers and start tracking their every move. First of all, there is a fine line between performance enhancement and stalking, Krupitzer said. But more importantly, you need a business case for using IoT that aligns with specific business goals if you want it to be effective. As with all technology-driven initiatives, having a purpose and clear metrics will improve your outcomes and make it possible to demonstrate the value of these technologies to the business.

Once you have your business case, then you can think about the technology. It may be as simple as buying Fitbits to support wellness goals or using GPS apps to track workers, or it may require the help of an IoT consultant to establish a network of custom-coded sensors to capture more specific data.

HR leaders interested in testing IoT concepts should also consider what information they already have access to from employees’ connected devices, suggested David Ludlow, group vice president of solutions management for SAP. “That data can help you understand who your workforce is, what they are doing, and what they need,” he said. “A lot of that data is already being collected, the question now is what are you going to do with it to improve the workforce process.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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