Commentary & Opinion

Keeping Data Safe: The Next Wave of HR Tech Innovation

By Marc Coleman

Feb. 21, 2019

Marc Coleman is guest-posting for China Gorman.

As we get closer to 2020, it is an exciting time for the human resources profession. Workforce and HR technology is the enabler that will optimize talent and ensure HR becomes the most important function in an organization.

The next decade will unleash the potential of innovative HR technology, empowering functions to build smarter frameworks for workplaces. Led by HR, all functions of the business will evolve quicker, become agile and stronger, and be more cost efficient.

Artificial intelligence is the fuel. After the introduction of on-premise software and cloud-based technology systems for HR, AI is the third wave of HR technology. 

On the vendor side, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Slack, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Salesforce are entering the space. We are seeing new names and investors coming into the HR industry each week, investing in blockchain, health and well-being, and AI. While it’s still not front and center, the “people first” approach of the HR industry is being pushed further to the side with these newer – and buzzier – innovations.

There is a risk that’s becoming increasingly clear in this growing movement. HR technology gives organizations unprecedented access to employee data and seeks to know everything about them. This can be well-intentioned but may also breach an employee’s right to privacy. Snack maker Mondelez International is one example of a company using sophisticated HR analytics to help employees make health care choices. Other companies use the technology to pinpoint employee skill shortages and identify and reward top performers. However, all this raises the question of how accurate the data is and how ethical it is to use it.

Last year European governments enacted General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, to protect the privacy of citizens and employees in Europe, posing another compliance challenge to organizations. Having reliable HR systems is essential for ethical data management.

Legacy systems are holding employers back. Big Brother behavior, privacy laws and quality of data are also causing the snail pace of HR analytics innovation. It’s made worse by HR professionals still being last to the table. Fortunately, much of the initial hype around big data and AI has subsided to a more realistic level.

But regardless we need to raise the level of debate, better protect employee privacy and ensure our governing institutions are held accountable. There is no doubt we need a plan to keep employee data safe in a world full of uncertainty. IT and HR need to work together towards cybersecurity in the workplace. Basic cyber hygiene and automated HR processes coupled with reliable HR systems that still offer flexibility for innovation are a way to keep employee data safe. 

Bringing an inclusive and diverse group of HR professionals and technology vendors together can help ensure a better and stronger future. It’s a conversation that is overdue.

Marc Coleman is founder and CEO of Unleash. This content was developed in partnership with Unleash America. Comment below or email

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