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What is Digital HR? How Technology is Changing the Field

Industry Advice Management

If you work in human resources or are considering a career in human resources management, then you have probably heard at least some talk about “digital HR” over the past few years. 

But what, exactly, does the term mean? And how is it poised to impact the human resources management industry?

Below, we define digital HR, outline the key benefits that organizations can realize by embracing it, and offer advice that current and aspiring HR professionals can use to develop the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital landscape.

What is Digital HR?

The term digital HR refers to the digital transformation currently affecting the human resources industry at large, driven largely by advancements in data collection and analysis and in various technologies.

“Digital HR is about figuring out ways to use technology to help what we’re doing across [the HR field],” says Tom Penque, lecturer in the Master of Human Resources Management program at Northeastern University. “ It’s about how we use technology to help the business and reach the goals of our people strategy.”

Penque goes on to explain that the use of this practice can vary substantially from organization to organization, as well. In some businesses, for instance, it could be as simple as taking certain processes and making them paperless, while in others it might involve fully rethinking the recruitment and training process. Some examples of digitizing HR processes include:

  • E-sign and self-service applications, which allow an applicant to complete their job application one hundred percent online or by mobile app, reducing the need to print physical materials.
  • Automation in recruitment, such as in posting jobs, which enables HR professionals to put their time to better use in other processes.
  • Virtual and remote interviews and training, which can reduce expenses associated with travel, attracting a wider range of qualified job applicants and leading to greater employee engagement.
  • Gamification of training and learning, which uses psychological queues to encourage employees to complete their training and improve their skills.

Digital HR can also include embracing more complicated technologies—such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, complex automation, and HR analytics—in order to achieve strategic goals.

There is potential for virtually every function of the human resources department to be impacted by these digital advancements, from recruitment and hiring to employee performance monitoring to training and development, and everything in between.


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5 Benefits of Digital HR

1. Automation frees up time for the HR professional. 

Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits realized by embracing digital HR is the fact that automating easily repeatable, low-value tasks frees up time that an HR professional can use to perform other, high-value tasks.

Administrative duties like data entry, pre-screening of applicants, and even the processing of payroll in some organizations, can require hours of attention each week, which could be put to better use on tasks that require more critical thinking, reasoning, and evaluation.

“Automating administrative tasks within HR brings us forward into thinking more strategically and holistically,” Penque says.

2. Technology allows HR processes to become more efficient.

Beyond simply freeing up time for other processes, making the switch from manual to automated or tech-supported HR processes also allows for increased efficiency in many areas.

Digitizing the recruitment process, for example, can reduce friction and improve how HR professionals service job applicants. This can, in turn, prevent high-quality applicants from growing frustrated and abandoning the application process. More high-quality applicants means that an HR professional has a greater chance of hiring the applicant who best fits the needs of the role and the company culture.

Similarly, algorithms and artificial intelligence have made it easier than ever to screen out applicants that do not meet the minimum requirements for a particular job, allowing the HR professional to instead focus on the applicants who most deserve their attention. 

Similar increases in efficiency can be realized across many of HR’s functions.

3. Embracing technology allows HR to become more data-driven in many of its processes.

At both the organizational and individual levels, businesses generate troves of data each and every day. By learning how to capture and analyze this data, it is possible for businesses to leverage data in their decision-making processes, tying decisions back to a logical rationale instead of an observation or gut reaction. This, in turn, allows for more disciplined processes. 

HR analytics—also known as people analytics, talent analytics, and workforce analytics—refers to the ways in which human resources teams can leverage data in their processes to better meet the department’s strategic goals, whether they’re related to recruitment and hiring, retention, motivation, or development.

Benchmarking key performance indicators such as average cost per hire and time to hire can, for example, enable HR professionals to set goals for improvement and better understand what, if any, impact is derived from changes to processes or workflows. 

“HR analytics allows both the HR department and the business at large, to understand insights and create improvements for our people,” Penque says. “It allows us to improve the effectiveness of our people-related decisions.” 

4. Digital advances allow the company to adapt to a changing workforce.

Thanks to advancements in technology, geography, and proximity are no longer as great of an issue when it comes to securing top talent as it was in the past. It is now easier than ever for companies to connect with prospective employees and to facilitate remote work as necessary. Some examples of this trend include:

  • Social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook offer one more path for potential employees to discover a company and apply for a job, and provide an additional communication channel for employees and teams.
  • Video communications software such as Zoom, Uberconference, GoToMeeting, and Skype make it easier than ever for remote teams to connect and align on projects and tasks.
  • Job hiring platforms like Upwork and Fiverr have streamlined the process of finding and hiring freelance or contract workers.

It is important to note that these are just a few examples. A plethora of other technologies have all played a part in bridging the gap between employers and applicants, enabling a truly global workforce. 

Preparing for the Digital Transformation

For individuals working in or considering a career in human resources management, it’s important to realize just how significant the impacts of digital HR have been, and will continue to be, on the field.

According to Deloitte, 56 percent of surveyed companies are redesigning their human resources programs in order to leverage digital and mobile tools, while 33 percent are using some form of artificial intelligence in their strategies. A recent survey by Gartner, echoes this message, reporting that 58 percent of HR leaders have indicated that executing business transformations (including digital transformation) is a top priority. 

“It really goes without saying that the shift towards digital HR is causing the human resources industry to go through a significant level of rather rapid change,” Penque says. “We are shifting what we do and how we do it, and we need to be comfortable with this change.”

To remain relevant and competitive, HR professionals must understand this change and take steps to ensure that they have the appropriate skills to successfully navigate the new digital reality. Earning a master’s degree in human resources management can be an excellent way of developing the skills and expertise that HR professionals will need to better leverage and implement these strategies and advance within their organizations.

If you’re considering earning a master’s degree in human resources management, start by finding the program with the qualities that will best set you up for success in the field. Seek out a program that offers you multiple opportunities for experiential learning, for instance, such as co-ops and XN projects. Doing so will allow you the chance to gain the hands-on experience that employers are looking for. 

Also, be sure to consider a program that offers a concentration in digital HR. This is an especially necessary step in your grad school search if your goal is to better understand the role of technology in the industry. 

Both of these traits define Northeastern’s Master of Science in Human Resources Management at Northeastern University, making it a strategic choice for those looking to thrive in this evolving field.

Learn how a Master’s in Human Resources Management at Northeastern can prepare you to advance your career today.


masters degree in human resource management