21st Century Information Inequality: Rich Man, Poor Man in the Business World

I attended HRTech Europe’s fabulous event at London’s Excel this week for an enlightening day of observations, presentations, and discussions with business leaders, industry commentators and solution providers.

What struck me during these discourses was the enormous gap that exists between the art of the possible, driven by a number of global firms largely headquartered from Silicon Valley, and the hard reality of life on the ground for most organizations around the world.

Peter Hinssen of Nexxworks started the ball rolling with a fascinating talk about the extraordinary strides being made across the world, and how the unthinkable is now achievable. This is perfectly illustrated by Google driverless cars, tangible plans to colonise Mars, and Apple building a mini-city for their new HQ with part of their cash mountain. At a personal level, I have a smartphone in my pocket that has 64GB of memory; that’s 64 million times more powerful than the first computer I remember buying as a teenager. And I’m not 50 yet.

We live in an online world where the majority of consumer activity is facilitated by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba, and where the business world is driven by Salesforce, Microsoft and others. As well as having cash falling out of their pockets, each of these organizations is rich in information, technology and know-how. It is this information wealth that allows them to become even richer.

And then there are the stories from the other side of the tracks. I had numerous conversations with people who described their company’s reliance on manual processing, spreadsheets and antiquated legacy systems, and talked about their struggle to provide an annual headcount, never mind real-time analytics. This seemed to be particularly true of mid-size organizations of between 300 and 5,000 people.

For these organizations, relying on legacy systems during the recession was not such an issue. Many of these companies know more about their customers than they do their workforce, something not so evidently unhealthy when they were fighting for survival during the economic slump. However, as we move into an era of growth combined with a global skills crisis, a minor irritant has become a potential game winner or loser.

In business, these organizations are the new poor. They are poor in information and technology enablement rather than talent or intelligence, or even cash. These companies are struggling with 30-40% annual attrition and up to 80% global disengagement. Every time they lose a team member it costs around $50k to replace them, and that’s just the monetary cost.

An enlightening session entitled ‘CEOs don’t care about HR’ was led by Prof. Nick Holley of Henley Business School. The lack of interest in HR by leaders is a scary truth, yet they all certainly care about company success. Use the simple equation that Company Success = Customer Success + Workforce Success and it becomes even more evident that the companies forming the information poor technology underclass are fighting against the odds.

Thankfully, there is a solution. In the Victorian era, the social mobility from rich to poor was achieved through education and commerce, learning new skills and capability. Perhaps the 21st century equivalent is enterprise mobility. This can be achieved by investing in modern HR systems which allow companies to acquire, develop and manage their workforce in a manner that the tech rich have been doing for years.

Currently, these organizations continue to struggle with their current situation and all the while, the gap is increasing exponentially with the new rich. The rich will become richer, and the poor will become poorer. If only there was a simple, cost effective solution?

Well, here’s the vital information that so many of these promising, exciting, but tech poor, businesses are lacking: it is possible to implement a global cloud-based HR system in a matter of weeks, it will handle all of the requirements of a mid-size business across the world, and it needn’t involve writing a cheque to larger US based vendors for close to $1m over 3 years.

Sometimes, solutions are much simpler, and cheaper, than one fears.

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