“Listen to what your employees need – and respond with the right tech accordingly.”

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Liam Butler is VP Sales EMEA of Sumtotal, an HR software provider that sits within the Skillsoft Group. With more than 15 years’ experience in the learning and talent management sector, he has worked on over 100 LMS and talent management rollouts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Here, he talks about some of the technological innovations that are transforming the HR and learning industries today.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: What key conversation do you find keeps coming up within the HR tech space at the moment?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: Scheduling is a key area that companies struggle with, and the conversations around this have been re-fuelled following the recent Ryanair incident that saw up to 50 flights a day cancelled over a period of six weeks.

This type of mass scheduling is a science. Organisations need to have the visibility to see which employees are available, as well as who is on holiday and what skills and certifications each employee has. It requires analysis of multiple data points and, if taken lightly, can result in clashes and a negative impact to business.

Having critical absence management data available and accessible to your scheduling system helps you understand the impact of employee absences to the planned schedule.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: Is there a lack of understanding within HR about new workplace technologies and their effective implementation and use? How should this knowledge gap be addressed?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: Knowledge gaps exist everywhere. And the best way to prevent these from widening and deepening too far is to constantly learn and try to upskill yourself.

Areas such as compliance are constantly changing, meaning that HR needs to ensure it is keeping as up-to-date as possible with new workplace technologies and processes.

Consistent training is a great way to address these types of knowledge gaps.  

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: What technologies do you see as shaking things up in the HR and L&D landscapes?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: Engagement has always been incredibly important, but it is now taking on a new lease of life as more organisations realise the potential of gamification tools.

Gamification in the workplace has existed for a while, mainly focusing on traditional white-collar workers based in offices. But with the increasing popularity of remote working, flexible hours and the gig economy comes the potential for a lack of engagement.

Next year will see more companies using gamification technology to bring remote workers closer to the central hub of the business.

Naturally, employers want to rectify this, and one way they are finding success is with gamification.

I think that next year will see more companies using gamification technology to bring remote workers closer to the central hub of the business.

Simple ideas such as introducing virtual goals, progression metres, levelling and experience points seem to boost engagement the most. I believe that as more companies see how effective these tools can be, the conversations will shift from general engagement practices to gamification tools.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: Can you talk us through the practical applications of the Experience (x)API within the context of learning?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: X(API) captures data in a consistent format about a person’s or group’s activities from many technologies, across a range of different learning systems. This makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has had while on and offline.

In the context of learning, it allows today’s learners to find content they want really quickly, and gives the best learning outcomes in an efficient, flexible and adaptive user experience.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: Which future technology within HR and L&D is piquing your interest right now?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: HR-bots are one tech advancement that I believe will transform the industry. They will be able to know who you are, what learning content is relevant to you, what time of day you like to learn and how you like to learn.

In the future they will take on additional roles, such as employee mentoring. And it will be able to not only monitor, but also record improvement over time.

Organisations need to be looking at what digital skills they need, determining what capabilities their employees have and then providing training to fill any skills gaps that exist.

When switched on, the digital coach will be behind-the-scenes during every conversation, listening and recording verbal comments – all in the spirit of personal improvement.

For instance, it will be able to read your biometrics, such as how much eye contact you made and what facial expressions you had. It will also be able to listen and record your comments to see how often you used positive words or cognitive bias in a conversation. This will mean that feedback will be truly personalised.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: The digital skills gap is a big concern for HR. How can businesses upskill their workforce to ensure they’re fully equipped in the era of digitisation and innovation?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: Technology is a driver for change. Organisations need to be looking at what digital skills they need, determining what capabilities their employees have and then providing training to fill any skills gaps that exist.

You need to make sure your resources are easy to access and search. Content must be available on any device, desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet, and at any time or location.

The programme must feature expert-led instruction: authenticity and credibility matter too, especially with critical topics like IT security. Trainees want to hear from engaging subject matter experts, not paid actors or professional voiceover talent.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, TrainingZone: Finally, what three pieces of advice would you give to HR and L&D departments to ensure they don’t get left behind in this fast-paced digital era?

Liam Butler, VP Sales, Sumtotal: First, listen to what your employees need – whether it be better engagement or more frequent reviews – and respond with the right tech accordingly.

Second, make sure you consistently review the technology you have – is it still ensuring compliance? Is it benefiting your employees in the best way possible?

Third, streamline your technology as best you can. Having a fully comprehensive workforce management suite gives you a clear overview of the technology you have, and what is or is not working.

About Becky Norman

Becky Norman

Becky is Editor of HRZone and Trainingzone, global online communities of people working in the HR and L&D industries. Becky works closely with leading HR and L&D practitioners and decision makers to ensure the publications offer a rich source of real-world insight and fresh advice to their audience.

HR and L&D professionals today must adapt to a complex mix of challenges caused by ongoing business disruption, technological advancements, a changing political landscape, varied employee needs and more. Becky aspires to make HRZone and TrainingZone the destinations for professionals to seek guidance, analysis and opinion on how to tackle these challenges and continue to deliver value.

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