Getting ‘Personnel’ with Denis Barnard

If you don’t know who Denis Barnard is, then you should… Why? Denis has been helping organisations think more strategically about their approach to human resources for many years.

Denis is the co-founder of the company HRMeansBusiness, set up with the specific aim of using the wealth of understanding from a number of HR experts to help businesses improve and grow their human resource infrastructures. In addition to this, Denis also founded, a website dedicated to helping HR professionals identify and connect with HR and Software products and providers.

We are fortunate to speak with Denis ahead of March’s FREE Masterclass: HR Software – Find your perfect fit  to discuss all things human resource and get a bit of a retrospective on how the industry has changed over time.

You established HRmeansbusiness back in 2000 as a means of bringing HR expertise to the marketplace. How have you seen the role of the HR department change over the past decade?

It’s pretty apparent that the spotlight has fallen more and more on HR over this period. Primarily, this has been to establish whether or not the function is of value, in the light of major organisational cutbacks, but also it has resulted in a drive to identify what it should be doing.

Slowly but surely Boards are beginning to understand why they actually have a HR department – and realising that rather than being a “bad news bringer and bad manager backstop” HR has a key part to play in enabling management and workforce to perform better.

The perception has also arisen of HR moving from administrative to more strategic roles; this in itself will prove a major change for the profession, as strategic skills are not learned overnight.

Latterly in 2009, you established to provide HR professionals with a good unbiased overview of HRMS products on the market. How do you think HR software has changed over the past 5 years?

Major changes have occurred in these software applications over this period; obviously RTI and Auto Enrolment forced developmental changes in payroll software, but there have been game-changing advances in configurability, deployment options and cost models too. All of these have been driven by demand, and have led to other benefits such as shorter roll out times. Organisations no longer want long consultancy times and long contractual lock-ins.

There must be a broader range of propositions out there now – does this prove more challenging for those looking to implement a HR System?

There certainly is a wide range of options for the potential purchaser, and an increasing number of overseas vendors are attempting to enter the market. My analogy for this type of situation is the motor car; they all have four wheels and doors, but the choice of vehicle rests on the uses that the driver puts it to. HR & payroll software is broadly generic, but the same applies – some will configure to an individual organisations requirements, and others not.

All of this is set against a background of establishing value from each vendor proposition, but the key challenge in this is to set out knowing what you want; failure to do that in the past has caused most of the problems that I have encountered in my consultancy work.

What would you say to those HR Professionals out there that know there would be a whole heap of benefits in implementing HR software, but feel overwhelmed by taking on board a project of such magnitude?

Have no fear!

Selection of software is like any other task: establish why you need it, analyse what you actually need and then go to the market place knowing what you want. Implementing software requires a project manager and is not an area for the uninitiated. If you are uncertain or lack expertise, seek professional advice, as you would do in any other situation in life; it can save you time, money and heartache.

The good news is that if you successfully complete the project, the skills and knowledge you gain will set you up for the next time, and are very valuable assets.

What are the most common concerns you hear when talking to our industry’s professionals?

Some of the concerns I hear have been around for a while: the function is marginalised and has little influence, that there should be a seat at the Board table for HR, and that there is too much administration and fire-fighting to be truly strategic. A newer concern is that of HR being downsized or outsourced

It could be that we as HR practitioners need to take stock of what the role should be, and what it is trying to achieve; certainly it is time to get to grips and take advantage of all the technological aids now available in software to position the function more effectively.

What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by our industry in 2016?

Going forward, there will be an increasing scrutiny on spend on HR activities. The barbarians have been trimming everywhere else in organisations and are now well and truly at the gates. So it’s essential to make sure your operations are lean and effective and they are giving the business the tools it needs, whether this is by means of recruiting, managing and rewarding good people or a decent information system.

With regard to the latter, there is now a whole industry developing fast around the issue of HR and analytics. I have no argument about the issue of information and its analysis; indeed, if organisations and HR have hitherto not been doing any of this then they truly well behind the curve.

Part of the problem is that information stored in HR systems has been – and in a staggering number of cases still is – inaccurate, incomplete and inconsistent. When you have to manually massage system reports before they make any sense then there is a glitch in the process. Tackle the problem head on: either clean up the data, or if the current system can’t give you what you need, just change it. This is an HR issue, and lies squarely with the function.

Remember too that this information must be freely accessible to those who need it. Don’t act as a gatekeeper.

Whether you need a team of analysts in the HR department is up to you, but it makes sense for this data to be shared with the board and management.

And finally, how do you think HR Software will evolve over the next five years?

The pace of evolution has picked up significantly in the past few years, and I think refinement of these changes will be the order of the day.

The user interfaces will continue to become more mainstream for face acceptability, and offer a range of personalising options, perhaps even to the extent of being the home page of choice in an organisation if one can navigate from there to other sites. There will be more automatic functions within the database such as auto-archiving, and pages will automatically open for processing tasks. This and increased operating speeds will drastically cut down processing times. Processing – and its associated administration – will be further reduced by even wider scale usage of self service than we currently see. Features like Reporting, Workflow and Triggered Actions will be easier to configure for non-technically minded users, especially as they become available to a wider circle.

The software itself will be actually deployable and configurable by HR professionals themselves in some cases, as simplified roll out continues to evolve. Software as a commodity will actually become smaller in scale and therefore less costly. Any which way, with statistics being bandied about that suggests that 49% of people in the UK are contemplating changing their job this year, it’s important that the industry embraces the need for HR systems to either support or change the role of the HR professionals. Anything that can help to facilitate recruiting and retaining staff and improving employee engagement has to be factored in from this point onwards.

Denis Barnard will be hosting a Masterclass: HR Software – Find your perfect fit, on Tuesday March 8th 2016. The FREE masterclass will be held in London, W1. Book now by registering for the event online.

HRMS masterclass withh Denis Barnard

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