Items filtered by date: April 2017
Monday, 10 April 2017 15:09

The Digital Transformation Elephant

You have probably have heard the often-told story about the blind men and the elephant. A quick reminder: several blind men surround an elephant trying to determine what the creature is. One blind man feels the elephant’s trunk and claims the creature is a snake while another blind man feels one of the legs and claims that the creature is a tree. Each blind man interprets the elephant differently depending on their narrow perspective. None of the blind men can put the different perspectives together to determine the true form of the elephant.

The same situation may happen with organizations undergoing a digital transformation. Neil Ward-Dutton writes about the four perspectives of digital transformation in a chapter written for Digital Transformation with Business Process Management (published by Future Strategies, Inc.). In a book chapter on using “digital threads” to drive lean startup models, Ward-Dutton describes how the senior leaders in an organization view digital transformation:

  • HR and Communication Leaders are focused on how social, mobile, and cloud technologies will increase employee engagement and engaging with the organization’s external audiences.
  • Marketing Leaders also use social, mobile, and cloud technologies to improve the organization’s brand and establish better customer relationships.
  • Operational Leaders are concerned with using digital technologies to refine business processes and enhance the products/service offerings.
  • Senior Leaders charged with overseeing the organization’s strategy are most interested in using the new digital technologies to create strategic advantages. The strategy leaders also look for new business models based on the digital technologies.

None of these perspectives are wrong or superior to the other three perspectives. The issue is there is usually no coordination between the perspectives. One example that Ward-Dutton gives is that a marketing department uses cutting-edge technologies to deliver personalized offers to customers. Unfortunately, the marketing department did not work with operations to build digital processes that can handle the increased demand. Customers become angry with the lack of products and services promised by the marketing department. The communication department is also surprised as angry customers turn to social media to complain about the failed promises.

In the above case, the digital transformation was used successfully – but in only one part of the organization. Without a coordinated effort throughout the organization, the advantages of digital transformation are quickly erased by the miscoordination caused by the lack of a shared perspective. As more organizations adopt innovative HR IT solutions, what are HR leaders doing to share their perspective with the rest of the organization? How are HR leaders working with the three other perspectives to make sure that the new digital HR solutions:

1. Fit in with the organization’s strategy?
2. Are supported by the organization’s operational processes?
3. Will support the organization’s brand and better serve costumers?

I have never heard how the elephant and wise men parable ends but, I have often imagined that once the blind men share their perspectives with each other, the true nature of the elephant will be revealed. With organizational digital transformation, it may be up to HR leaders to help stitch the different perspectives together for the most effective digital transformation of the organization.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Published in General

In Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton make the case that the competitive advantage for modern organizations lies in their workforce. When financial capital was scarce back in the industrial age, companies focused on optimizing their financial resources. Now, in the knowledge age, financial capital is abundant. However, innovative ideas are in short supply.
Where do the innovative ideas come from? The organization’s workforce. Specifically, an inspired and talented workforce that has the time to do the innovative work. Mankins and Garton demonstrate that organizations which optimize the resources of time, talent, and the workers’ energy are much more successful than other organizations. Think of the successes of Google, Apple, LinkedIn, and Netflix. Each of these companies works to reduce the organizational drag that wastes time, talent, and energy.

Organizational drag should be a familiar concept to anyone who has worked in an organization. “Employees find themselves wasting time on needless internal interactions, unproductive or inconsequential meetings, and unnecessary e-communications,” Mankins and Garton write. “The organizations gets in the way of getting things done. Not many of us can generate great ideas when we are trapped in thickets of meetings and bureaucratic procedures.” Probably the biggest contributor to organizational drag is the time wasted in handling electronic communications, meetings, and collaborating with other employees.

In the 1970s, senior executives could expect to receive up to 5,000 communications a year. In the 2010s, the number of communications grew to 50,000 separate instances a year. Time spent in meetings has also greatly exploded. According to a study by Bain and Company, in the average work week employees would spend the first three-and-half days on e-communications and meetings. The employee wouldn’t start his or her assigned work until Thursday afternoon.
What does this mean for the HRIT community? The bad news is that the digital workplace has just increased the organizational drag. Even the new collaboration technologies which promise to save time and make the workers more productive has become yet another barrier to getting work done. I remember when I first started using Slack. I was sold on the idea that Slack would replace the time sink that is email. Now, Slack is my new time sink as I must continually monitor several different channels in several different Slack teams while notifications keep pinging throughout my work day.

The good news is that there is a tremendous opportunity for the HRIT solution that reduces the e-communication burden while promoting productive meetings and collaborations across the organizational units. Solution or solutions that free up the wasted time caused by organizational drag while giving employees more productive time to create the innovative ideas that will give their organizations the strategic advantage to compete in the knowledge age marketplace. The ultimate goal, according to Mankins and Garton, is to transform the employees from merely satisfied to inspired. An inspired employee is two-and-a-half times more productive than a satisfied employee. The first step is to stop wasting the employees’ time.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Published in General

With the release of the new Samsung smartphone, another artificial intelligence agent, “Bixby,” joins the market already occupied by IBM’s Watson, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. According to the search engine, There is a Bot for That; there are over 300 registered chatbots. A recent Wall Street Journal article estimates that there are 30,000 chatbots to date. HR is one industry that is currently using chatbots for many HR processes from giving information about benefits to helping recruitment efforts.

Chatbots can be effective in saving time while providing a better customer experience. However, before building the chatbot, HR shops should consider these three questions:
1) What are the benefits to the users from using the chatbot? Just the novelty of having a chatbot is no longer enough. Why should the employees want to use the chatbot? Is the chatbot an easier way to perform a task than the current way that users complete the task? You need to demonstrate that having a conversation will be much better than filling an online form or using a mobile app.

2) What is the business case for building the chatbot? Closely related to the first question, what are the benefits to the organization from using the chatbot? Map the value stream of your HR process. Where in the value stream can a chatbot (or chatbots) save the organization time, money, and resources? Make sure to factor in maintenance costs and future development costs because some chatbots have become victims of their success as users demand more sophistication.

3) Will people want to use a chatbot? For some tasks, people may prefer to interact with a person rather than a chatbot – even if the chatbot option is quicker and more efficient. People may also enjoy taking their time with a task so, efficiency is not their first concern. For example, think about employees who are planning for retirement. Retiring employees often prefer having a conversation with a knowledgeable benefits officer as the employee explores his or her options. A retirement chatbot may be useful for help in filling out forms but, not as user-friendly in the initial discussion.

Chatbots can be a great benefit to the HR department. However, before committing the time and resources to building an HR chatbot, make sure that employees will want to talk to it.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Published in General

Human resources departments are increasingly using chatbots to help answer HR questions such as compensation issues and how to plan for retirement. Chatbots are perfectly suited for these questions because of the recent advances in artificial intelligence technology. Today’s chatbots are becoming proficient at interpreting natural language questions, scanning vast amounts of data, and then constructing a response that best answers the employee’s question. Many of you readers had seen a chatbot in action when you watched Watson compete on Jeopardy.

HR departments need to use “information architecture” to organize the information contained in HR policies, guidance, and training materials to help make chatbots more effective. Information architecture, simply defined, is a set of practices and techniques for organizing a body of knowledge. As many of you know, HR has many topic areas such compensation, benefits, labor relations, and so on. You HR certificate holders know the hours of study and professional experience needed to master the HR body of knowledge. Without some logical arrangement, it would be almost impossible to respond effectively to employees about their employment responsibilities and rights.

Better responses are why the HR information architecture you construct for the chatbot is so important. The better you have your HR concepts organized, the better the chatbot can respond to questions. For example, when I worked at U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I started in the Pay and Leave Policy area. Before I began working Pay and Leave, I had a simple understanding of pay; if you worked, your employer paid you net wages after taking out money for taxes

After beginning my work in Pay and Leave, I learned that compensation was much more complex. There is regular pay, overtime pay, special rates pay, and pay for being in a combat zone, and associated concepts such as salary compression. Pay took on a very nuanced and complex nature. Before I left Pay and Leave, I created an onboarding document to help my successor understand the pay concept. I used information architecture principles to build the Pay onboarding document.

Think about your HR organization. Where is your HR information? Scattered about in various documents? In both print and electronic formats? If a new employee walked in with a question, how easy would it be to answer his or her question? What if you were a new HR employee and had to search all of the documents for the answer?

The HR chatbot is your new HR employee that is continually starting its first day of work. What kind of HR information architecture will you need to make your chatbot’s responses better and more relevant to your employees’ questions? Without a good HR information architecture, you will end up with a “blatherbot” – a chatbot that spouts nonsensical or, even worse, wrong information about the HR policies and guidance.

Chatbots are tremendously useful for improving the customer service provided by HR departments. However, make sure that your HR house of information is in order before turning on the HR chatbot.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Published in General