How Digital HR Solves Business Challenges

Digital HR

Schneider Electric is transforming its human capital management approaches one tech solution at a time.

By Olivier Blum

Demands on employees have increased—and HR must keep pace or risk falling behind. It’s a daily occurrence that employees attend video conferences, use workplace productivity apps, and receive smartphone notifications. They can’t wait for their HR department to catch up with them via phone calls or letters. Modern workers want the same prompt customer service experience that they receive from online marketers. They also expect to feel empowered by their HR departments, not disenfranchised by them.

At Schneider Electric, digital HR transformation began in 2012. The effort has been titanic: It touched the company’s 137,000 employees across more than 130 countries. For smaller HR departments, digital transformation can be painful because it isn’t easy to know where to start.

Use cases are varied, but in general, HR departments should first focus on the more tedious internal processes. Promising areas can include recruiting, skills management, and career development.

Problem areas such as these require a great deal of capacity for any department to meet its business goals. Also, because many of these public-facing processes are now deemed creaky, they can be alienating to employees (and prospective employees) who’ve grown to expect faster, better service.

Agility or Irrelevance

Drivers for change go far beyond just looking good to present and potential employees: According to the 2019 U.S. CEO Outlook from KPMG, corporate leaders have concluded that companies have to choose between “agility or irrelevance.”

Digital TransformationOrganizations of all sizes must therefore consider the potential impact of digital transformation on their competitive advantage. They should investigate how AI-enabled technologies can help win their war for talent acquisition and how they can be applied to aid present employees at all stages of their jobs. The ultimate goal is to eliminate or reduce tedium so workers can focus on higher-level tasks.

If the company decides to delay transformation, that choice should be an informed one. And if it chooses to move forward, all parties must understand that the usual process flows will likely change. The goal is to exceed present HR processes, not merely digitize old methods.

Businesses that decide to transform should remember first to get buy-in from stakeholders. Change agents should stay involved while the project is underway because purchasing the latest technology—then walking away—is a fast track to failure.

Lessons Learned

While Schneider Electric has ramped up on digital transformation in the last decade, the final destination is a moving target. The effort has required patience and a willingness to learn new methods. Here are some lessons learned along the way.

  • Focus on initiatives or products that create value. Look to solve urgent, specific HR problems that can deliver measurable results.
  • Don’t go it alone. Seek out the start-ups and established HR entities. Work with companies that have the willingness and expertise to build out the HR technology stack.
  • Work with partners that offer open APIs. Partner with people who are open to solving unique problems. Opt for open APIs and make sure solutions are compliant.
  • Roll out digital HR projects in sprints. Don’t try to present a giant program all at once. Constantly test ideas. Don’t be afraid to fail. Perfection comes over time.
  • Do not underestimate the effort required. There will need to be a shift in mindset and ways of working together. Changing minds and workflows takes effort.

Ramping Up Ambitions

Schneider Electric has opted for a multi-pronged approach to transforming its HR department. So far, it has digitized its global processes and is now focusing on a variety of advanced and innovative solutions that create value.

The overall goal is to improve both the employee and manager experience by 2023. Once this initiative has been completed, the company will use AI-enhanced technology to enhance all areas of employment, including onboarding, learning, and engagement.

Managers should also find it easier to do their jobs because they too will receive technology-enabled, 360-degree care, which will include ways to better allocate talent. Other tools include recommendations for succession planning and guidelines for employee development areas.

But enacting technology isn’t about buying a box and then flipping a switch. Successful user interaction is critical to success, and has specific earmarks.

  • Users must have a productive experience. Applications must therefore have a modern visual design.
  • HR tasks must be simple. Use technology to personalize as much as possible.
  • Employees should be able to self-solve. This can be achieved through virtual assistants and chatbots.
  • All available channels should be used. This includes websites, mobile apps, and call centers.

Each company is different and use cases will vary. Here are some examples of what’s possible now and in the near future.

  • Intelligent and automatic talent acquisition. This will be achieved through text analytics and image recognition.
  • Job applications though social media. Social media chatbots will handle applications efficiently.
  • Virtual work experience. Job candidates will receive a real work experience during job interviews.
  • Virtual office tours. During the onboarding process, employees will tour offices, plants, and warehouses.
  • Enhanced learning. Augmented reality will train workers in new tasks.
  • AI-driven coaching. Technology will recommend the best employee development paths.

Schneider Electric has also enacted a number of pilot projects, including the AI-driven “Open Talent Market.” This internal job posting platform matches employees and managers to positions and projects, even remote ones.

“Open Talent Market” is designed to encourage internal mobility for employees. The aim is to ensure employees remain challenged by their roles and thus motivated to continue in their jobs. Enabling employees to work on new projects also helps Schneider Electric to broaden its employee cross-functional capabilities.

“Open Talent Market” eases the challenges associated with talent shortages and competition: Managers and project leads often aren’t aware of the interests, experiences, and capabilities that already exist within the workforce. Therefore, they tend to hire or outsource, which takes up time and resources. With “Open Talent Market,” employees can reach their potential—and positions are filled more equitably because diversity is key to competitive advantage.

Ultimately, digitization is about empowering people: It frees up their energy from tactical tasks and allows them to act more strategically. When this is done right, digitization becomes instrumental in making the informed decisions that create a more successful people strategy. People, not technology, are at the heart of a company’s digital transformation, so it’s up to HR organizations to lead the way into a digital future and ensure the long-term success and competitive edge of companies of all sizes.


Olivier Blum is CHRO of Schneider Electric.

Posted September 19, 2019 in Enabling Technology

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