7 Digital HR Trends for 2020

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With the end of 2019 already in sight, it’s time for our annual list of digital HR trends. What developments are worth keeping an eye on in 2020? And what are going to be next year’s big themes? In this article, I will reflect on 7 trends I’m seeing in digital HR for 2020. 

1. What is digital HR anyway?

There is a lot of interest in the topic of digital HR. In 2019, I had the pleasure of speaking at multiple conferences that bore this title. However, when I asked participants to define digital HR, it proved hard to find a definition that everyone agreed on.

The good news is that when we look at next year’s digital HR trends, the first trend is that this misunderstanding will disappear. That’s important because if we don’t know what digital HR is, how can we unleash its true value?

In our article what is digital HR, we state that for digital HR, social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) are leveraged to make HR more efficient, effective, and connected.

This is based on the Ulrich model, in which he identifies four phases in digital HR maturity.

  1. HR efficiency. Companies invest in (existing) technology platforms that manage HR processes efficiently.
  2. HR effectiveness. Technology is used to upgrade key HR processes including onboarding, performance management, communication, and work in general.
  3. Information. Data becomes accessible, internal data is combined with external data, and people analytics is leveraged to create business-relevant insights. 
  4. Connection. Digital HR is leveraged to create a deeper connection and a feeling of belonging between people.
Digital HR tech roadmap by Ulrich
The Digital HR Agenda by Dave Ulrich (2019)

Where a lot of companies still see digital HR as a means to be more efficient, there is much more potential to be unleashed. A better understanding of what digital HR is and the value it can create will help to reveal some of its untapped potential.

2. HR technology as a strategic tool (from operational to strategic)

The second trend is that HR technology increasingly will be seen as a means to an end. Having the latest technology should never be a goal in itself. It is a means to create a more-value adding hiring process, do performance management in a way that increases performance, or put learning and development on steroids.

An example are chatbots. For a long time, it has been ‘hip’ to have a chatbot in HR. However, the effect of chatbots is doubtful – until now the strongest use cases are in recruitment and HR self-service. Still, the question remains if it is more effective than a simple Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page.

The right approach is to find a business problem and then have chatbots as one of the potential tools that can solve this problem, alongside many other tools and technologies, like workflow automation, organizational network analysis (ONA), Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Programming (NLP), and so on.

Indeed, when the focus is not on the tool but on the business outcome, we will make different decisions when it comes to which tools to use – and which tools not to use. 

3. Integration of digital HR and analytics

The Ulrich model shows that digital HR maturity will lead to more information sharing and value-adding analytics. This is in line with the previous digital HR trends. The trend here is that HR will learn to identify what information is needed – and then adapt their systems in a way that enables the structural collection of this information.

One of the common mistakes that is still made when you look at HR dashboards for instance, is that they list tons of metrics while only two or three are relevant. Or worse, there is a lot of data but the most important metrics (the ones that will influence decision-making) are not tracked because of a lack of data.

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In this case, it may be advisable to redesign the system to capture this crucial data. However, preferably, this issue was discovered before the system was implemented. The system could then be created and implemented in accordance with the design criteria.

This is what I mean by the integration of digital and analytics – and we will see a lot more of this in 2020 and onward. HR will start to think more strategically about what they actually need from their digital HR systems.

4. Continuous listening

According to Bernard Marr, over the past 2 years, 90% of the data in the world has been generated. This statistic will likely hold true when we move forward. An increasing amount of devices capture an increasing amount of data. The next digital HR trend is therefore continuous listening.

According to Laura Stevens, continuous listening is a coordinated and cross-functional effort to collect and combine a variety of critical data sources to drive and enhance company performance.

Continuous listening is enabled through digital technology and can thus be seen as the moderator between HR technology and business outcomes. 

Continuous Listening
Continuous listening as the moderator between HR tech and business outcomes.

5. Digital Transformation is the status quo

The next trend is that digital transformation will be the status quo for innovative organizations. Change is a continuous process – and so is the development of increased digital capabilities.

The internet of things (IoT) enables connectedness between objects and people. Technology changes faster than individuals can keep up. The key to successful continuous digital transformation will be intuitiveness and explicit value for the user. Developing and improving this will become a full-time job. 

Implementation cost is no longer a fixed cost but will become a variable cost. It will be increasingly difficult to hire someone for half a year to implement a solution and then let that person go. Systems require constant updating and maintenance, and although implementation, integration, and maintenance will become cheaper as the number of users increases, it will also become a variable cost. 

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In this 3-minute Learning Bite, we explain what HR digital transformation is and we describe the 6 stages of a successful digital transformation.

6. Digital skills will become more relevant

Digital skills are becoming increasingly relevant. A unique piece of research conducted in the Netherlands showed that 40% of jobs require upskilling in digital skills, and 5% of workers require full reskilling in order to be able to move on to new jobs in the next 10 years.

This is something we see this in our conversations with customers as well. I spoke with an HR director not too long ago who had a staff of 550 people. Roughly twenty of them had technical skills. He needed to quadruple this in the next two years. This is an inescapable reality. People need to develop digital and technical skills in order to stay relevant.

7. Learning about digital HR will only increase

In line with the previous digital HR trends and number 6 in particular, we are seeing an increase in demand for digital skills. HR professionals too will need to stay on top of their digital game (and skills). This focuses on the question of what digital HR is, how to get value from it, and how to leverage it to create a more connected workforce. 

At the same time, the course offering in digital HR skills only increases slowly. Granted, there are (free) webinars, e-books and online HR courses that cover the topic, but most of them don’t offer an all-round digital HR curriculum (yet). This is one of the reasons why, at AIHR, we launched the first Digital HR Certification program with courses on the Future of Work, Digital HR Strategy, Employee Experience, Design Thinking, and Digital HR Transformation


There you have it: my top 7 digital HR trends for 2020. Here at AIHR Digital, we’re very excited to keep track of these trends and we’ll keep bringing you the latest developments. If there’s a trend you feel I missed, please do share it in the comments below.


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