HR Vision Podcast #07 – Time to get rid of those spreadsheets ft. Gareth Jones

By FourVision
Jul 28 • 1 min read
HR Vision Podcast Episode 7 ft. Gareth Jones

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During his first week at FourVision, Gareth Edward Jones accepted right away our invitation. He’s a great communicator and has an extensive experience with HR systems implementation. All important skills that came in handy when we discussed his views on People Information Solutions, the impact the Pandemic had and will have on People Technology and the collaborative project he’s starting at the company – the FourVision Academy.

Ivo:
Hey everyone, and welcome to the HR Vision podcast. I'm your host Ivo, and every week I'm going to have a conversation that matters about HR.

This week I have with me: Gareth Jones. Welcome Gareth. How are you?

Gareth:
I'm very well thanks, Ivo. How are you?

Ivo:
I'm good. I'm doing great. Thank you.

So Gareth recently joined FourVision as a solutions architect and manager of the FourVision Academy. So today we will go over his experience in the in the HR field, his passion for HR tech and the road ahead. And FourVision. So Gareth, are you ready.

Gareth:
I think I am.

Ivo:
Shall we start? OK, yeah, so as usual I ask every guest to give an introduction about themselves, their personal and professional backgrounds. So go ahead, te floor is yours.

Gareth:
Sure, a bit of a diverse career. I think it's fair to say. I started off in sales and marketing when I graduated university and my heart was always in the environmental sciences, which is a big topic now. Climate change and everything else. But I think it was just on the cusp of that really taking off. So I found myself in sales and marketing, that was a great foundation for me and from that I started taking an interest in analyzing figures and I got into data analysis, and grew my career in that area. I started to be really interested in figures and how you could use data in your day to day career and make changes based on that. And it happened around about the time of September the 11th. But we were doing some operational reporting at the time and the human side of things started to become more interesting to me. I took that experience then onto the police force where I was analyzing crime data for some time. And that was that was fascinating as well, but it really starts to say the seeds of my interest in HR I think.

At that point in time I started looking towards Microsoft solutions. You know we're all users of office and these things, and at that time I was messing around with Access databases, spreadsheets and making the most of those. I still see those now in my career and there's, you know, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. There are HR departments out there that still use those things, but there's some very exciting things going on too. And then I went into the university sector. Still doing data analyst, but there I started to take an interest in HR and I started to stretch out into other areas and setting up like mentoring and development networks and that type of thing whilst also starting to study something else. So masters level as thirdly development management. It was some a lot of it was geared up around the International Development context. But actually we find is a lot of those practices are directly applicable to our own lives. You know, the process has changed the psychology that we go through, and so that was what I started to develop an interest in, and I could see alignment with HR. So I started to really get my teeth into HR career at that point in time and move to Kings College, London. So I was part of their senior management team there for a number of years. It’s a great a great institution. Such a fantastic history and so many different people. Such diversity in the types of disciplines people were following. The types of the workforce. So really got a breadth and depth of understanding around the types of things that any HR department would go through, and all the pains and all of that with it. But that's essentially where I started and HR. I can see the seeds that took me there come along the way and it was an Oracle based job. I was looking after Oracle systems. I was using my system skills to further my interests and blend all those things together and I could see what Microsoft were doing in the space with SharePoint and Dynamics was AX at the time, and I could start to sort of future gaze and I'd like to think that some of that was around the data and my thought process, but I started seeing where these things were aligning.
Microsoft have grown, as we all know, ever since. FourVision were quite new at the time, but I've watched FourVision from afar. And yeah, I really got into the Dynamics environment that way, and it's super exciting today to be, you know, in this environment and not just talking about dynamics, but all the other great things that Microsoft and partners like ourselves provide too.

Ivo:
Alright, very interesting indeed. Very diverse like you said in the beginning. Can you identify like a moment or a situation where you where you actually realize that? I think I'm going to move more to the human side because these numbers thing is not. It's not working.

Gareth:
There, I'm not sure there's one precise moment. I think there are many moments. But I think that the International Development side of things came about when I went to Glastonbury Festival for the first time in my Life OK alright yeah everyone thinks it’s just a music festival, but actually a lot goes on at Glastonbury and they support three big international charities to Greenpeace, Oxfam, Wateraid. Basically we were all sitting in a field and these things were on videos all the time telling the stories of people and all of these things, so I wouldn't like to say you're brainwashed. But I was certainly influenced and I opened my eyes a little bit to what else was going on in the world and started to think: “Well, what can I do to help really?” and I could see I was starting to think about how I could use my skill sets to get into particular areas. And from there you know I did a little bits of voluntary work and things like that, but it was all geared up towards moving in in the direction of HR.

Ivo:
Very interesting. Did you ever work as a consultant persé or when you moved to HR, were you always there trying to improve their HR solutions?

Gareth:
So yeah my primary role there was information management and looking after the solutions, HR solutions. So that was an Oracle database. But anyway, any large HR department will know that people like their solutions. And lots of different ones, and quite often that is the way it is. It’s still a pick and mix approach in many respects, but a selection of business applications. So looking after all of that, how information was managed, stored but also trying to push forward on the agenda around business, analytics and workforce planning. So at that time we were looking at leveraging what we could do with like a surface devices. And uhm, basically put a single point of truth in the hands of business partners. Either could then go around the business and look at engaging and tactile dashboards, which you would especially be able to drill into and have conversations. So that was a one end of the spectrum and the more sort of foresighted end. And what we're trying to do. But as I mentioned, was a diverse workforce. So it would be right through to the other end as well, which is all we've got, you know. Several spreadsheets that we need to get rid of and consolidate into a particular solution. So it was. It was very interesting in that respect. Plus all the background going on with GDPR information management, and yeah, that.

Ivo:
No, I can imagine. Do you think you can pinpoint the process, when you are in a company like that, what is the process for you to choose a solution? Uhm, it’s based basically on the systems that you already have. It depends on the situation or you go through around the business before talking actually to partners. You go around the business to understand like what would fit better for that. Can you pinpoint like a simplified version of how to choose a solution?

Gareth:
Yeah, so first of all I think it's important to recognize that we're not all the same. People are different as our cultures and institutions and organisations and. Quite often getting traction in one place might not necessarily be the way that you get traction in another. In the environment that I was in, which is a university environment, it was a slower decision making process. There was a lot of people and it required consensus building and those types of things. But in terms of the selection, you know I've. As a consultant, I've helped people in implement things in a matter of days, so it is possible to get very simple solutions like the Web \pp solutions up and running in a quick period sign. Not all of them because it depends on the complexity of your processes. But if you've got a fair idea around what your processes are, you can align those two toolkits like we've got, and you can really springboard or fast-pace the benefits. I've always taken the approach of trying to release benefits early.

Now I will share a little bit of story direct to your question in terms of selection. So it’s really easy. You can go onto the App Store for iOS, Google Play to download something and have us having HR solution. Or let's face it, you know it's not everything is HR necessarily, but people-related solutions, people technology solutions. Then you can have something up and running, but the complexity is all of the information. Essentially in the security that information yeah, and in many geographies including Europe, we've got quite a good information governance and we require certain protections in place for protection of the individual. And you know, there's a lot of considerations around that which I would say from pain, that if you don't consider them, you will end up in a bit of a bit of a mess. Now it is feasible to see it as part of your journey. You might say, well, let's try and change the culture. Let's get something quick in and then start to consider that afterward, and that can be an approach. But it really does require each thing, but the reason I like Microsoft is that you've got so much selection. Then you've got diversity. You've got the breadth of most things that you'd need, in my experience of dealing these solutions with people. Underpinning all of that Microsoft ecosystem is a fantastic a layer, the dataverse, which is secure and all of that and that whole approach of having cloud based HR solutions does take a lot of the pain around that information out of it. So whilst it is easy to say “Well, we can pick anything” and you can. You know that's your choice. So let's say that certain picks are better than others.

Ivo:
Yeah, actually, that that goes to the next question that I have, the Microsoft part. You know where, where did it come from? You seem to have set some systems yourself with spreadsheets and an Access database and all that. It came from there, from those spreadsheets coming from Excel and access that you start looking more into Microsoft and understand that “Yeah, maybe this one is actually pretty good.”

Gareth:
Yes, yes, I went the university sector isn't the public sector organization, but it's certainly cost-conscious. Oracle is not cheap. It's not a cheap solution. It was always a case of thinking. Well, what can we do? What can we do to create solutions that are going to be effective? And Microsoft even at that time gave the platform Sharepoint for information management, and simple things like that. We did use access databases, but they were churning over data ready to be integrated into some reports. At that time it was Tableau, but Power BI was quickly chasing Tableau up behind and they are now leaders in that field. So yeah that’s some of that information.

Ivo:
Cool, OK let's talk about like in generic terms about the HR tech. So I would like to ask you in your view, from your expertise working with within in companies you've seen the customer side. We have a lot of guests on this podcast there are our own consultants. Of course our project managers from the customer side. What do you think is really the importance of HR tech? Is it just a matter of organizing information, just because you want the freedom to do other tasks? Or it depends on the needs of that specific that specific customer. Sometimes it's just recruitment, sometimes it's just data management. What do you think is the importance of HR tech in general terms.

Gareth:
Well. Given what we've all been through the last 18 months or so, with the global pandemic, I think HRTechnology, people technology. Is more important than ever. We may not have realized that before, but I think we all realize that now and we're all here on Teams today, chatting and that has been instrumental or told similar to it. To many of our lives. People technology, HR technology, can really be an enabler for a change. Having it on its own without consideration for that change and how you're going to implement it and how people are going to engage with it. It's going to have limited success, but more and more, particularly through this period of time, I've seen people turn to technology in a moment of need. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and there sure has been a lot of invention recently. But yeah, you can move from those spreadsheets quite simply into Dynamics HR, into the FourVision Web Apps really quickly. You can pick those up.
Those sorts of options are in front of us. They are really powerful. I think we'll see this continue. We’re starting to see it with the evolution of the product stack from Microsoft and the stuff that we're seeing coming out around things like Microsoft Vivo. I'm fully aware of, you know what's on the horizon? We look at things like Mixed reality and guides in terms of certain sections of society like manufacturing. I think this is a golden opportunity to you know, really improve things there, and there's certainly some direct benefits that you can you can see with that sort of things. But I don't think for most of us, we're not going to be going around with glasses. You know, Google tried that. I'm still not quite sure Society is ready for it, but I think we're getting closer. I think we'll start to see some really exciting things take place as well, but let's not forget that there are still many people out there with the spreadsheets.

Ivo:
Exactly, that actually leads me to the to the next question, which is: There's still a lot of people using those spreadsheets in a lot of companies because it's the easier solution, the cheapest solution as well. Why do you think so? It’s just a problem of budget, or are there's still a lot of people out there not seeing the need. You know what is the challenge there? To make those people trust intact and invest on people-technology as you say?

Gareth:
Yeah, I think that there's some significant challenges in trying to convince people, and again, it comes down to that cultural aspect. But I think that debate and trying to make the point of why people information is important for decision-making purposes, or even contingency. Has largely been made through the pandemic. Now suddenly it's like, well, where are our people? Where do they live? You know, is that information that we hold on them secure? Is it in one place? No, it's on someone's PC on a local spreadsheet. Oh well, someone else has gotten similar spreadsheet, you know which home address is the right address for them? And you might want that information because of things like, you know, sending them gift cards. Or maybe you've got you know concerns that maybe they're in a manufacturing environment, face-to-face environment, COVID, and you've got duty of care responsibilities, emergency contacts, that sort of stuff.

So we're going to see the need for technology change. I hope that we see it fast pace. I hope those spreadsheets start to disappear now and get them into a central place, because when you use tools like Dynamics HR, just getting it in a central place, you leverage all the benefits of that fantastic Business Intelligence and the things which start to appear straight away. You might not know today what you want to ask. But just by seeing some pictures and some visuals, being able to visualize your workforce, will prompt you to make two-to-ask questions. You get things like their skill sets in there. You'll be able to see gaps and information, that type of thing. So yeah, I'm expecting to see data becoming a stronger driver for all this. But equally, you know, like we're seeing with people like Elon Musk and those exciting sparkly technologies, we'll see those two in the markets that we were, like in with things like augmented reality and Hololens. And that type of thing. Coming into, not necessarily what was what a traditional HR offering, but certainly that development side of things. The organizational development side of things.

Ivo:
Yeah, I think, as you said, I just hope this pandemic, if it served any purpose, at least to accelerate the transition for more people information tools and to actually help people and organizations to treat their people better, and organize that data related to people better indeed.

Let's move on to the next topic that I have for you, which was the role that led you to FourVision. You said before that you've… for people not catching the beginning of this podcast, Garreth recently joined FourVision. Actually this week. I don't know when this podcast goes on air, but it was very recently. So what was the what was the road that led you here, you said before that you've seen FourVision from afar? So how did that happen?

Gareth:
I have watched from afar and I’ve been speaking with the with Bert and Peter, the CEO's of FourVision for some time. And we've been chatting and having debates and various technologies and things like that. As a consulting partner, I think what's been really interesting to see is FourVision’s speed, which they come to market with HR solutions and, that's been clear throughout all of this. What has also been clear is that, that has been recognized by Microsoft. And Microsoft have bought some of those ideas from FourVision, and that is a great accolade in itself. So I started thinking: “Well, if you really want to drive forwards technology in this area, who are the places that are getting involved with this?” so you know, where they are looking forward the most, and seeing other members of the community the Dynamics HR community, which is still relatively small, but fantastic to see it's growing. There are some great things going on out there.There was only a few obvious choices in my head and FourVision stood out as one of those and… Yes, some weeks later, here I am.

Ivo:
Awesome. It’s great to have you on board. And you are actually coming to a position which I think is the first time we have it in the company: As a manager of the FourVision Academy. So for people listening, what is that? What exactly will you do with the with the FourVision Academy? What is the purpose of that?

Gareth:
Well, some of this is still work in progress I would say. This is my first week, but give me a break.

Ivo:
Yeah, take it as it is. People listening take it as it is.

Gareth:
Yes, we do have some more ideas around this. And I'll indicate some of those here hopefully.

If we look at where we are at the moment with Microsoft, there's some great components to this puzzle. We can store skills, behaviors, competencies of people, and we've got solutions to achieve that. But how do you really tie all that together and not just think about this in terms of "What's the best way to resource a project", which is completely legitimate and it is a business need and you need it. And it’s one of the challenges we will hopefully tackle on this journey. But also, how do you really encourage growth? How do we come, as we say, it's all about you. How do we make it about you? How do we make it about supporting your growth? How do we manage all of that information? Not just for our people, but for the people whom we have engagements with. So our partner community and Microsoft.
How do we manage all that information and structure in a way that supports our growth? Our learning really.

So those are some of the things that we're going to be looking together and tying together that whole piece around growth, or performance management. It's got lots of terms, but essentially it's the same thing. And really put a layer in the business where we can manage all of that content, promote people's well-being, provoked people's growth and people's ongoing needs in terms of knowledge around Dynamics 365 HR or the Web Apps. For those people that work in this area, we all know that there's a relatively small set of skills globally. You know, that's why we're all here from various different bits of this planet that we're on. But what an opportunity for those people that maybe want to come in from a SAP or Oracle background, or any other actually. But having HR background and maybe just wanted to get involved with systems, and to come to a place where you have got those structures of an Academy in place and you can grow and be supported under them.

Ivo:
That's a fascinating idea. I didn't hear about it before. I really didn't. And it’s fascinating to just get the source of resources, this source of information for people to work on people solutions, you know we have indeed the experience in-house, and I'm not talking this just... Because I'm working in marketing here, let's say. But I really feel like we have a lot of experts in the company. We have, and now with you joining as well. I think it's really important to gather that information in a place where actually we can share it, 'cause it's all about that. It's collaboration, at least that's my view. Do you agree?

Gareth:
Absolutely. I mean, look around and one of the first things I thought was: "Isn't it great to be surrounded by so many, you know, HR professionals so rich and their experience? And collectively if we can create that information, but continue to grow it. Then we can all support each other. We can support the areas that we're interested in and provide better services and better products for our customers.

Ivo:
Awesome, awesome idea. I'm gonna be following up a on that for sure. Last thing for you? Yeah, we're looking to the future. You sort of touched a bit on those subjects, but what do you see, like trends coming in in HR-tech or even HR in general, you seem to be looking into this. More people connected now. I think that the pandemic accelerated a bit that you touched that point, but we also talked about some interesting technologies there that I would like for you to expand a bit on.

Gareth:
Yeah sure sure. Well, if we do a bit of horizon scanning, and think about the future. Where these journeys are going to go. Clearly, remote working, I think, is not going anywhere and companies are going to have some challenges. I think, if they try to revert back to the models that they had prior to that because people have got different expectations. A lot of the challenges around trust have been destroyed essentially, because people have proven that they can do it and it doesn't matter where they do it, as long as the results are there. So yeah, certainly teams and the remote technologies around that will grow stronger. And I say the technologies around that because, let's face it, most of our lives are now spent in things like Teams and communicate with things like Teams. So that I think is a is a portal really and we're already seeing more products being able to be integrated with Teams, so we've got that single experience in one place. Mobile technology continuing, but people being more aware, I think, than ever, around the need for a distinctions between work and life. Because we've got virtual distinctions in many respects, 'cause we're in an environment which is also our home, so you know how we approach that as HR professionals, but also on a personal level. I think you will see a lot around that particular area of remote work and enabling.

On top of that. There is still a lot of automation which can take place. We should we should never fall into the trap of thinking that people can be replaced entirely because people are actually awesome and technology can be an enabler. Some great ideas around that, machine machine learning and artificial intelligence and most bots that we see on our favorite shopping sites, that's the type of technology which can take a lot of the heavy lifting out of HR. You know the questions that come through and how do you do this? You know what about this and and linking up to those data sets. Another reason why data is so important and having that single place.

The the candidate experience as well. I can see that really starting to mature and and the solutions out there. What does it feel like to come into an organization? And there's some great statistics out there around those that don't have a very good onboarding experience and their tenures at a company come from that. So there's a real cost there and having a great candidate experience and building that, particularly in a time when we might not all be able to be going to the physical workplace is really important too. We see a lot of growth in that area and I think that will continue and then. I think, what we'll see is the growing trend for inclusion. Equality and diversity in some of the geographies which are more progressive in that. And let's not forget that some parts of the world are slightly different in their shape around these areas. But for those areas that are moving forward and that I think will start to see how technology might be able to use the use to enable people. How is it used to enable people with impairments and those sorts of things? So people genuinely feel as though they're on a on an equal playingfield?

Ivo:
Very interesting, I think that's a nice overview of what's to come? So thank you for that. Thank you for this conversation. Thanks for taking the time. This was really interesting.

Just to finish it up. If you had one message for people working in HR or in in people information if you have one. One thing to say to them, what would that be?

Gareth:
Uh, get rid of your spreadsheets.

Ivo:
Fair enough, I think that's as good as any answer. I think everyone would probably agree that they're probably more painful than they need to be.

Gareth:
Now. Now is the time to move to the future.

Ivo:
To move to the future and get rid of those spreadsheets. Alright, thank you, Gareth. Thank you so much for this. It was really interesting.

Gareth:
You're welcome, it was nice speaking with you. Thank you very much.


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