6 HR tech trends to watch in 2019: What the sector says

Jess Fuhl
Last updated on 27th January 2019
5 min read

HR leaders are going to have to become mixologists in 2019 – crafting the perfect blend of human skills with machine capabilities to create a workforce fit for the technological revolution.

AI, machine learning, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual and augmented reality were the hot tech trends our experts tipped as being the ones to watch out for in 2018.

Although, we are yet to see mass-market applications available for the HR sector, meaning that whilst these tech trends should be on your radar, digitization is moving so rapidly there are always new contenders looking to disrupt the market.

We caught up with 10 global HR influencers to find out what the new tech trends are that will have an impact on the HR sector in 2019.

Prepare for change

Gemma Dale, senior HR professional and Co-founder of The Work Consultancy, says organizations will continue to face change. “It has always been the case, but with advances in technology, change feels faster than ever. The role of an HR leader is to prepare their organizations for it,” says Dale.

“There is already a huge amount of technology available to workplaces and HR alike, few of us make the most of what is already there,” she explains.

Esther Wallington, CPO at UK government department HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), agrees that the sector needs to embrace the fast rate of change: “The advancements in digital are changing what, how and where we work. How we use technology will change the relationship between employers and employees.”

Ilja Rijnen, Regional HR Director for Emerging Asia at premium spirits company Beam Suntory, say that HR technology and workforce analytics that lead to useful predictions around the bottom line impact of the workforce will have a big impact in 2019: “These are trends that have moved to the forefront of the HR agenda and will further grow in importance in 2019.”

So, what are the new digital developments looking to be the tech trend-setters in 2019?

1. Augmented analytics

A new class of smart software called ‘augmented analytics’ promises to give HR and People leaders a more user-friendly way to analyze and draw conclusions from People data.

According to Aadil Bandukwala, Chief Evangelist at predictive outbound hiring solution Belong, augmented analytics marks the next wave of disruption in the data and analytics market. “Augmented analytics is an approach that automates insights using machine learning and natural-language generation,” he explains.

“An augmented analytics framework can automatically go through a firm’s data, clean it, analyze it, and convert these insights into actionable steps or insights for executives, with little or no supervision from a technology specialist,” says Bandukwala.

He says that as HR leaders begin to build and scale their teams, they’ll increasingly need the help of data and insights on the fly to “present to business, customers and relevant stakeholders and help drive decision making in quick-time”.

Further reading: Introducing People Science – How to know your employees as well as you know your customers

2. Practical AI

If 2018 was the year of everyone talked about AI, 2019 will be the year of ‘practical AI’, according to Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research and Advisory. In his book, ‘Artificial Intelligence for HR, Eubanks talks about how AI can be used to solve real problems that HR and talent leaders face daily.

“Instead of looking at it from a theoretical perspective, HR leaders will have to look at the technology very practically to find ways it can support their goals,” says Eubanks.

Shannon Smedstad, Engagement Director, at employer brand firm exaqueo, agrees: “Everyone is talking about AI, but it’s still not clear how it will impact HR and talent acquisition. We’re seeing it in our homes and lives, but for the average organization, it will take time, money, and dedicated people to drive any change and really make an impact.”

Further reading: The five minute read on… using AI in recruitment, including 4 innovative apps to know about right now

3. Natural language processing

Natural language processing is a branch of AI that gives software the ability to understand human language in spoken or written form. For example, a recruitment chatbot can handle the early interaction with applicants, from requesting their resume and contact information, to asking screening questions about candidates’ experience, knowledge, and skills, and even scheduling an interview with a human recruiter.

As the technology advances, natural language processing is likely to be applied in more areas of HR, from employee self-service to real-time reporting.

“With natural language processing, the growth in AI really changes the work our people do, and how technology sits alongside human capability is a significant growth area for us, as it is for all employers,” says HMRC’s Wallington.

Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer at People and Transformational HR, agrees: “Chatbots and automation of processes is something we are seeing more of and should continue to explore. Leveraging the simpler interfaces and getting people to the answers they need, friction-free, will help HR become more responsive to added complexity in other issues that won’t ever be automated. More of this algorithmic work would be a bonus for freeing some capacity.”

Further reading: How bots and artificial intelligence are transforming HR

4. Visual storytelling

Storytelling as a recruitment tactic is an underutilized tool but is gaining more focus as companies look for new ways to win the war on talent.

“Video storytelling to engage candidates in recruiting will be important in 2019,” says Jon Thurmond, HR Manager with Team Fishel and host of the #HRSocialHour podcast. “It’s become more of a challenge to get people to come and work for your organization.”

“The ‘talent pool’ is a ‘talent puddle’ in many areas.  I think one of the key challenges we’ll see is a continued effort to personalize the hiring experience,” he adds.

In fact, according to Glassdoor, job postings with videos are viewed 12% more than postings without videos, and that companies receive a 34% greater application rate when they add a video to their job post. So, expect to see more technology focused on making it easier for organizations to utilize video applications.

Further reading: What is People Marketing?

5. Next generation talent analytics

Beam Suntory’s Rijnen believes we’ll see a trend in 2019 for taking People analytics to the next level – from predictive analytics to ‘next generation talent analytics.’

“In the current world, most HR functions are gathering and producing analytics, but usability is low – it doesn’t give enough insights into how an organization can actually sell one more product or deliver on its purpose,” explains Rijnen.

“I see the necessity and movement of the role of HR moving from ‘having a seat at the table’, to becoming a ‘table host’,” he adds. “The foundation of that is the ability of HR to work with great data, allowing talent insights and to deeply understand the commercial side of the business.”

Further reading: 5 secret steps to better People analytics

6. Humanization

The last trend is not a ‘tech’ trend, but rather a consequence of the digital transformation we are hurtling towards.

“We need to take some time to focus on the traits that cannot be replaced by AI, machine learning, and blockchain,” says Joshua Lee, HR Director for Asia Pacific at electronics and technology firm Crestron.

“The irony is, in order to be successful in the new world order, we need to be more human and not less, as human traits such as emotional quotient, creativity, innovation, persuasion, and People management skills become even more valuable,” he adds.

In fact, according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), when the digital revolution hits, 133 million new roles will be created, focused on distinctly human traits.

“There is a lot of fear out there and if HR leaders do not take the lead in easing the adoption of technologies to augment – not replace – people, there may well be a resistance that will be built up well before these technologies mature,” warns Lee.

Further reading: What skills will the workers of the future need to develop?

HR can lead the digital charge

For many HR professionals, it’s a giant leap to go from being aware of these various technologies to in fact leading the charge. Luckily, Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and Co-founder and Principal at the RBL Group, has shared his 5 criteria to ‘sorting through seemingly endless HR technologies’ in a LinkedIn article.

For Smedstad, though, it’s about not adopting a trend for trend’s sake: “Don’t just chase a trend. Learn about it and understand how it could fit into the greater context of your business and hiring strategies. You have to make sure your business and candidates are ready for it, and that you have all of your current tech, people, policies, and processes working as a ‘well-oiled machine’ before jumping to the next latest thing.”

For Timms, it comes down to knowing the technology itself: “HR leaders need to lead from a knowing point, so don’t delegate the project to automate; lead it and build it with your teams and colleagues. Get into a scrum, help with a design process and be versed deeply in how this technology itself works. A ‘back to the design floor’ approach.”

Eubanks concludes: “Nobody expects HR to be as well-versed as a technology executive, but they can still bring other points to the discussion: how will this affect our people, how can we blend human and machine capabilities.”

Ultimately, that really is the ultimate role of HR and People leaders in the digital world – being the mixologist that seamlessly blends the human skills with the emerging technology, to create a beautiful blend of workplace experiences fit for the working world of day and tomorrow.

Browse more topics from this article

HR Strategy Industry Insight Technology
Exit popup

Take an Interactive tour of Sage People

Discover how Sage People can transform the way you hire, manage, engage and retain your workforce, in this interactive product tour.