LAS VEGAS, NV. – Larry Duong arrived at Kinross Gold Corp. knowing the benefits of digital transformation first-hand.

As a workforce and human resources information system (HRIS) manager for document destruction firm Shred-it (since purchased by Stericycle Inc.), he received a hands-on course in the pivotal role technology can play in today’s human resources operations, and brought that experience to Kinross when he arrived at the Toronto-based gold mining corporation in 2014.

Kinross HRIS manager Larry Duong believes that today’s HR professionals need to prepare for a role that’s a hybrid of HR and IT.

“A lot of it was a trial by fire… but it was a great learning experience because I got to be the one asking the key questions – what are we looking for? What are we building?” Duong told during a discussion at this year’s SAP SuccessConnect. “I think when lot of [SAP] customers first sign up the concept of cloud-based software is completely foreign to them. But as you progress, you learn to appreciate the expanding role IT is having in HR, and the progress it brings to the table.”

Kinross had already decided to incorporate SAP SuccessFactors into its HR practices before Duong arrived, but the company, which employs some 9300 workers across four continents – Asia (Russia), Africa (Mauritania and Ghana), South America (Chile and Brazil), and North America (the U.S.) – had experienced growing pains of its own after hopping onto the digital transformation wagon in 2010.

Initially, Kinross relied on a mix of solutions, such as Connexsys for recruiting, Workscape for performance and, believe it or not, compensation manually, on Excel sheets.

“I think many companies employ a lot of different standalone solutions, because they focus on purchasing what is required and what they think their business needs, until it becomes too big to manage,” Duong said. “Which I understand – it’s great when your enterprise can use a one-stop shop, but I don’t think a full suite works for everybody.”

That, he noted, is one of the key advantages SuccessFactors has over its most prominent competition in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software arena, Workday Inc.

“[With Workday], you can’t purchase bolt-on modules – you have to buy the full suite, and that strategy doesn’t work for everybody,” Duong said. “With SuccessFactors, you can get whatever modules you require at the time, and then as you progress through your HR transformation strategy, you can bolt on other pieces without losing that sense of one place to go for all your comp, succession, performance neeeds – whatever it may be. I think that’s why a lot of companies like it.”

Digital/HR coordination

In Kinross’s case, Duong said that before the company switched to SuccessFactors four years ago, its core digital transformation challenge was coordinating software processes between its various sites, all of which were used to operating independently.

“We have a decentralized model where we kind of expect our sites to operate and run on their own, so when you give teams like that a mandated, standardized process you really need to be prepared to work with them on implementing it,” he said.

That’s where Duong’s experience came in – as HRIS manager for Kinross, he’s made it a core goal to discuss all new software implementations with the managers at Kinross’s various sites, identifying their needs and how the chosen software’s new processes – in Kinross’s case, SuccessFactors – can help them.

“You have to pick their brains,” Duong says. “You have do your homework – all of your business process mappings – and understand what everybody’s doing, before trying to amalgamate it into one or two processes that match. It’s always a challenge on a big project, but you need to bring those guys on board.”

Duong said that using SuccessFactors has changed Kinross’s HR operations a great deal. Performance management, for example, used to rely on a year-end rating system, which has been replaced with a new HR strategy that encourages managers to discuss both triumphs and challenges with their employees.

“Performance isn’t the most fun activity for managers to do, and so giving them something a little bit more flexible, telling them to focus on talking to their employees and having a meaningful conversation, and then matching that with compensation, has made everyone a lot happier,” he said. “It lets them go back to what they’re doing best, which is operations and mining.”

Duong also emphasized that it’s incumbent on HR practitioners to identify how the latest technological breakthroughs, from analytics and big data to artificial intelligence (AI), can improve their management strategies.

“HR managers essentially function as IT now,” he said. “HR can’t rely on IT to solve issues anymore, they need to step into that hybrid role of tech/HR, and at the very least understand both.”

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