Why a certain old lady should retire early!

As everyone focuses on pensions and retirement in 2016, Lisa Baker (age 49) asks why much of HR is still running on technology that is overdue for retirement!

hr pensions 1980s spreadsheets

In 1961, Professor Richard Mattessich pioneered the development of spreadsheets – leading to the first commercial spreadsheet, Visicalc.  Visicalc  is credited with changing microcomputers from a hobby into a ‘serious business tool’.   Spreadsheets are therefore 55 years of age……almost as old as the 57 year old pop superstar, and overdue for retirement in a fast moving technological world!

Madonna had an early hit with ‘Borderline’ back in 1984.  She isn’t however, the only thing still rocking since then.

That was the same year I started work, it was typical in most SMEs to have only one computer and one person trained to operate it.  Operating it wasn’t easy, you needed to know a fair amount of text commands and keystroke combinations that were not at all instinctive.  Youngsters like me at the time were a valuable commodity, we’d had a few IT lessons at school.  The spreadsheet was a revolution – we used it for accounts, planning and stock taking as well as the  complex calculations it was built for. 

HR used the ‘new’ spreadsheets via the computer operator to computerise the ‘office wall planner’.

Paper holiday forms were completed by staff and authorised by HR.  HR forwarded authorised requests to the computer operator who would update the spreadsheet.  Someone would have the nightmare job at the end of the year of combining lots of spreadsheets together and collating them into an annual report for the Finance Director.  Whilst my job has changed considerably since 1984, many HR departments still use this exact process 30 years later (though instead of a computer operator, HR have their own PC and do it themselves!)

HR was traditionally seen as a low priority, ‘nice to have’ function compared to production and sales, and thus ignored by the accountants who drive business change.  There have long been alternatives to save HR time and money, but many HR departments still use the wall planners, paper forms and spreadsheets that were in use in 1984.  However, this is set to change and coincides with the growth of the HR role.

Finance has analysed every business function in a bid to find new savings and – guess what – it turns out that HR is key.  People are now seen as an organisation’s most valuable asset.  Like other assets, there is now pressure on HR to deliver savings in terms of costs and efficiency to maintain a competitive advantage in a modern world.

The way in which people work has changed too.  Businesses now operate globally.  Workers are remote, in different time zones and subject to global legislation differences. Spreadsheets simply cannot manage the demands of a new, skilled HR team and have become the barrier to the growth of HR analysis.

There is good news, though.  New technology has given birth to cloud based HR solutions which are cheaper and easier to implement than ever before.  The growth of social media has pioneered staff to develop new skills, making the new software intuitive to use.

The new tools are embraced by users who use laptops, smart phones and tablets already and enable a whole new level of analysis.  Operating via a web browser,  they are accessible anywhere and give an overall picture, even across global organisations.  Remote workers?  No problem!  Global workforce? Easy!

Online solutions are growing at two to three times the pace of on-premises solutions and recent Deloitte  research shows that 84% of UK businesses are seeking to change the way they handle HR functions.  That is because they achieve cost savings and efficiency very quickly, with added benefits:

  • (a)    your data is held securely off site
  • (b)   it’s usually future proof because software updates and technical support are almost always included in the fee
  • (c)   It’s very scalable and flexible, and will work equally if you have one or thousands of users.

Online seems to be the way forward and ‘cloud sector’ is evolving at a phenomenal rate.  The Activ People HR cloud based HR system was first developed about 10 years ago but over the last few years demand has spiralled.  Commercial Director Adrian Lewis explains why the cloud based model best serves HR:

“There is no reason not to change.  HR saves time and money from year one.  The cost of absence alone is often reduced by 20-30%, but we also have clients using our online staff handbook saving over £2k per month on printing costs alone.  Staff love the openness of the system and HR like the extra information.  It’s a win/win for everyone!”

I still have an exciting 15 years before I retire, hopefully Madonna will still be showing us how to rock!

However, I’m hoping that HR spreadsheets like those I managed in 1984 will be put out to pasture long before then.  I wonder where HR will be when I get to draw my pension?

Author: Editorial Team

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