Making Sense of e-HRM: Technological Frames, Value Creation and Competitive Advantage
A wide range of Human Resources (HR) processes and information can now be managed and devolved to line managers and employees using e-HRM (‘electronic Human Resource Management’). E-HRM has been defined as “An umbrella term covering all possible integration mechanisms and contents between HRM and information technologies, aiming at creating value within and across organisations for targeted employees and management.” (Bondarouk & Ruel, 2009, p.507). Contemporary e-HRM technologies contain powerful functionality that can support organisations in reducing the cost and improving the quality of Human Resource service delivery, as well as enabling higher productivity and providing strategic capability. The aim of this dissertation is to explore why the development of e-HRM has been relatively immature, given that organisations tend to take an ‘automating’ approach that focuses primarily on administrative efficiency. The central thesis is that future development of e-HRM depends on two factors; firstly, that stronger links between e-HRM and competitive advantage at the organisational level must be defined and exploited; and secondly that shared frames of reference with regard to technology are critical to gaining the support of investors in e-HRM. The dissertation explores the wider context of e-HRM and its relationship to contemporary themes such as HR transformation, service delivery models, the growth of the internet and changing employee and managerial workplace expectations. Various definitions of e-HRM are explored, together with a literature review that categorises and summarises e-HRM literature over a twenty-one year period, concluding that there has been inadequate focus on understanding how e-HRM creates value. The dissertation makes a key contribution to practice through the e-HRM Value Model, a framework for defining, understanding and articulating how e-HRM creates organisational value. Its focus is on the outcomes of e-HRM rather than its characteristics, proposing that only three forms of outcomes can be derived from e-HRM: Operational HR cost reduction, improved people management / productivity and increased strategic capability. It represents a means of defining not only the value outcomes of e-HRM, but also the linkages between value potential, value conversion and value outcomes, providing a practical framework for defining the linkages between e-HRM and competitive advantage, as well as the basis for a diagnostic tool. The dissertation makes a contribution to knowledge through the analysis and subsequent synthesis of a wide-ranging literature review and interviews with fortysix managers and line managers across fifteen organisations that were planning for or had implemented e-HRM. It concludes with a series of proposed reasons for the slow progress towards greater strategic use of e-HRM, based on a technological frames approach with regard to the Nature of Technology, Technology in Use and Technology Strategy. The dissertation argues that unless HR professionals are themselves able to make sense of e-HRM and articulate the benefits in terms of competitive advantage, e-HRM development is likely to remain immature. Further research opportunities to develop and test the model are identified, together with an assessment of the implications for e-HRM management.