What did we learn at the Digital HR Summit Amsterdam?


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The Digital HR Summit was held in Amsterdam on 27 – 28 March and attracted 100+ HR Professionals to learn about the adoption of digital workplace capabilities and the latest HR trends.

Despite the large amount of interest generated over recent quarters on the use of digital technology in Human Resources, it appears that ‘Digital HR’ as a catch-all term is inadequate to cover the multitude of implications that digital will have for HR and the business. It’s not presently fully clear what digital technologies mean for HR as a function and as a profession, given the vast scope of digital transformations sweeping across organizations. This lack of clarity comes in part from the fact that digital technologies are nothing new to HR or the business; but that the recent proliferation of tools and methodologies have begun to truly present viable and attainable alternatives to established HR systems.

The oncoming disruption posed by the digital revolution is therefore a significant risk to many organizations, as HR’s role in these changes is neither conceptually clear, nor easily put into practice. Prior to the Digital HR Summit Amsterdam, we sent out a survey to our attendees in order to hear their current concerns and challenges when faced with the emergence of Digital HR. 58% of respondents commented that digital disruption had a very significant impact on their industry sector, while 49% were not prepared, or only basically prepared to deal with digitally disruptive competition. Further, more than two-thirds of respondents had only begun to implement their first digital projects – or had even started.

With this backdrop, the event began with two pre-Summit masterclasses, where delegates were gained hands-on experience across a three-hour session. Volker Jacobs of TI People presented Unlocking Digital HR – The First 100 Days while Steven Plehier and Anique Nieuwendijk of Deloitte presented Upskilling HR for the Digital Age. The masterclasses were an integral part of bringing HR professionals up to speed on some of the critical steps and skills required to successfully see them and their organizations through the digital transformations they were to embark upon.

We were fortunate to have a great selection of keynote speakers, each covering a unique topic from refreshing perspectives. Milo Jones of IE Business School presented a fascinating overview on the future of leadership in the world of AI, before Jochem Van Dijk of ABN AMRO gave the audience an informative case study on their Digital HR journey thus far. Tina Riester of Deutsche Telekom guided us through the world of digital innovation and collaboration, before Fons Trompenaars presented a prescient closing keynote that gave the audience an in-depth exposition of organizational culture and digital HR. Throughout the event there were also two key summit tracks – Digital HR and Digital Workplace. These tracks explored a range of topics, each of which focused on an area of HR that was in immediate need of further exposition. This included everything from; exploring the new rules for performance management to the customer experience of HR, from mobile technologies and onboarding to leading digital HR transformations.

The goal of the Summit was to provide context and an overview of Digital HR and the steps required to transform HR in organizations. So, how much closer are we to grasping the full implications of Digital HR? There were a few key general takeaways (among many):

  • Firstly, it’s probably easier just to consider Digital HR simply as HR – a continuation of the established analogue methods interwoven with the latest digital technologies. Digital is for the lack of a better phrase, the new normal.
  •  Secondly, besides the tools and technical changes, culture remains king. Before any great technological advancements begin to reap benefits, it’s clear that each organization will have to develop its own cultural pathway – after all, people are not being replaced. Technical skills are taken as granted; it’s the soft skills that will make the difference.
  • Thirdly, it’s important not to get too carried away with the pace of transformation. Yes, for some industries there is major disruption afoot – but not for everyone and it’s not going to be occurring at the same pace. It’s highly unlikely that a robot will simply take your job next week.
  • Finally, grasping and enhancing experience of HR and of work is something that will become a totally integral element of the profession – it’s up to HR professionals to make the right choices to ensure they’re on top of the curve. Digital tools will afford HR professionals more and more options to augment the future of work, but they won’t make all the tough decisions for you!

The Digital HR Summit team would like to extend a big thank you to all speakers, sponsors, delegates and on-site support staff who made the event what it was. Without the valuable contributions of everyone involved it simply would not have been possible. We’ll look forward to seeing everyone again next year in Amsterdam – and of course at the 3rd HR Congress in Brussels (November 27-28) 2018!

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