New innovations, new technologies and new ways of thinking are driving business forward at an unprecedented pace. Digitalization changes everything. Robots will take your job.

SwissCognitiveArtificial intelligence makes you an extension of a machine. Escape from your old job, because it won’t exist in 5 years anymore, and become an IT nerd while you still can! Quite shocking phrases. Is everything above true? In a way it is, so where did the humanity go from Human Resources?

Digitalization has already started changing everything that we do in Human Resources. It started long ago, before digitalization became a buzzword. It started when we wrote and printed the first employment contract using Word Perfect or Lotus computer program. And oh, the monotonous song of that matrix printer. Then we entered the new hire’s details into a tailor-made personnel database. Sometimes it was only a floppy disk that was passed around and copied—or, if we were not advanced enough, at least into a payroll accounting system.

Many of us weren’t even born back then. But even then, people were saying that the computers will change everything and will make a bunch of personnel administration employees lose their jobs. But we still do these things, right? Word Perfect is Word now, and the matrix printer has changed to a laser printer, and we sign “papers” electronically.

So what has changed in about 30-40 years or so? Why do we talk about digital transformation as if it is at least as big a thing as global warming?


Let’s start with—everything: Until the ’70s and ’80s, when computers started to change how we work and process data, the evolution of work had slowly changed from manual to processes and more efficient use of tools and machines. Appreciation of efficiency replaced the appreciation of professional craftsmanship and hard physical work. When factories became more efficient with assembly lines in the early 20th century, using computers to automate them expedited the evolution. The same thing is now happening in “knowledge work,” or work that is a bit harder to define, as much of it is done inside the human brain.

During the past 30-40 years, the processing of data using computers has become more and more effective, but when you look at the development now versus what’s coming, development has been quite moderate. Now we are on a threshold of what some thinkers say is a new Industrial Revolution (e.g., the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab). This revolution is not happening so much in how we produce physical goods, but with enormous data processing capacity, use of Big Data, and connecting not only humans via social media, but also all kinds of devices, and even the clothes we wear. We also have the capability to let machines think for us, a development that began with the invention of the pocket calculator. That was OK for some time, although today many of us are unable to make even the simplest calculation without using the mobile calculator app.

The Personnel function is now called Human Resources. That’s pretty much a huge paradigm shift on its own: Personnel has become “Human.” Employees have become the biggest asset to the company. And to support that idea, all the enabling HR systems, processes, and tools have been created. The role of HR has become more strategic and more business-oriented. And it does not stop there; there is already a post-HR in sight! From personnel to Human Resources, and then to what? The Industrial Revolution happening right now will change the way we think of HR. […]

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