“Digital transformation creates a large number of opportunities to improve and expand employee engagement and accountability.”
Insightive.tv: How has the technology used by Affinity, particularly relating to HR, changed during your time with the company?
Linda: When I first started, we were basically a start-up. We had very little in the way of systems and processes available because of the rapid pace of growth. For a while, we were acquiring a centre every month and in some cases every week. I inherited a core database and payroll system, but it was just the bare bones. We needed to turn that database into an actual information system capable of bringing on all the additionally needed support functions. We are currently coming out of the other end of that journey and are about to launch a change management and training program that will provide our teams with the training they need to fully utilise what is now available.
A lot of these capabilities are tied to our employee engagement portal — Employee Central. This contains an employee and manager self-service function and powerful SAP social collaboration tool called Jam. We now have over 1,000 users and successfully utilised it to aid the roll-out of a recent values program. This program brings a training specialist to all 13 areas of the business. These specialists are able to use our social tool to recognise achievements and post information and insights while conducting training. Our CEO is a big advocate — when visiting centres he uses the online recognition program to post photos and encourage staff.
In a dispersed network, Jam has proven to be an invaluable tool in enabling our educators to collaborate. Moving forward, we actually hope that this platform could replace email as a more collaborative way of communicating within the Group. It has a dashboard capable of displaying powerful data analytics. A lot of people expect that communications sent via email will simply be read. Jam provides an opportunity to see who is looking at your communication and gives recipients the ability to provide feedback through comments and a rating system.
Insightive.tv: How has digital transformation impacted your role specifically?
Linda: The practicality of administration is one of the main things changed by new technology. For example, my team needs to facilitate the onboarding of over 80 new staff every month and accommodate about 200 additional staff changes. We have an 8 person team. The attritional feat of accomplishing the required data entry was, alone, wasting a huge amount of my team’s resources and created a certain amount of dissatisfaction because of the paperwork we had to ask employees to fill out. Digitising this process through a fully automated, mobile friendly solution has transformed that space — allowing the department to be more productive. We can focus our time on jobs that add value to the business, like performance and goals programs, rather than just entering data and performing basic functions.
The data coming out of the system also allows us to measure our success as a recruitment team more effectively. We are able to hold ourselves to account through looking at the average number of days it takes to fill a position and comparing that figure to the needs of the business. This ability to leverage data, however, goes beyond looking inward at the HR department. Wider digital transformation creates opportunities to better understand the whole business through the data that becomes available.
Insightive.tv: In regards to the wider business — how has digital transformation shaped Affinity Education as an organisation?
Linda: It has been a rollercoaster ride. We have undergone a massive amount of growth and transition during a period of time in which there has been a lot of change within the industry itself.
Applications like Story Park are transforming the way in which centres interact with families. This is an app that allows parents to see the educational achievements of their children, while they are in our care, in real time. We were one of the first big groups to implement this solution — it has been a great tool for parental engagement. However, as we become a more digitally focused company, the responsibility for the IT function becomes something that we need to own within each department of the business. We are implementing digital transformation projects in areas ranging from procurement to CRM. These systems have to be understood by staff to be utilised to their full potential.
Affinity appointed a Head of IT during the last 6 months. This was an important step to ensure our digital transformation projects are undertaken from a holistic perspective and that the maintenance of our IT systems are given a high priority. However, the IT department cannot be seen as a replacement to upskilling our entire workforce’s IT proficiency — it is only a supplement. Third parties cannot be a complete solution to this skills gap either because they lack the commitment and detailed knowledge needed to fully understand the requirements of an organisation. I am looking at people now who are much more capable of manipulating data and utilising spreadsheets. From an HR perspective, in addition to training programs, IT competency is something we need to make sure ends up in the job description.
Digital transformation creates a large number of opportunities to improve and expand employee engagement and accountability. As I said, this is why it is vital that digital transformation within HR develops in tandem with what is taking place in the wider company. For example, we just implemented a performance and goals module that we were able to plug straight into Employee Central. For the first time, our employees and managers will be able to rate their competencies. This will integrate with a framework we have developed around core and role-based competencies — allowing us to more effectively communicate our expectations and track performance around KPIs. The first review process for this system will occur between July and August. I am tremendously excited about this project because it was something that we were trying to do manually but could never successfully implement. Trying to control, from a centralised HR function, such an expansive network generated too much paperwork to be practical.
Insightive.tv: What do you see in the future and what have you learned from this digitalisation process?
Linda: I think that it is important to recognise that the digital transformation journey is an ongoing one. If you look at where we were and where we need to be, I think you could say that we are 70-80% of the way there. But, as technology changes we will always have to adapt. The rising domination of smartphones will require making all of our training content and communications mobile friendly. We will need to continue to partner closely with the business operators to achieve the outcomes needed on the ground.
The introduction of data analytics and automation creates a direct need for coordination between the highest business levels and the HR department. I am included within the senior leadership team along with the COO and CFO. This kind of coordination with HR is something that I think you will see becoming more common across the board.
Through this process I have learned that it is really important to get out into the field and make sure that the changes you think will add value are actually perceived that way by the people using the system. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of change management and training to get people confident with the solutions that you are putting in place. We have been able to roll-out accredited training programs through our online learning platform that have really taken off. This platform was built in collaboration with a third party vendor and is based in Learn Force, but contains courses that we built to specifically meet the needs of our industry. In addition to technology training, this includes business and leadership courses for centre and area managers.
It is possible to genuinely change a company’s culture — and drive that cultural change through the use of your technology. It is simply a matter of being smart about how you achieve those goals and using the right tools.
Digital transformation in secondary and higher education often draws headlines. Independent platforms such as Khan Academy and TED Talks, along with the digital resources provided by Schools and Universities are allowing students to take education directly into their own hands. However, digital transformation is impacting every level of the educational journey.
The use of applications such as Story Park, as highlighted by Linda Carroll, have entirely changed how parents remotely engage with their children’s’ educational progress. There is also a backside to digitalisation that is revolutionising the functionality of administrative systems. Digital tools are being utilised to undertake a host of support functions that free up the time of educators — making education more affordable and better staffed. The improvements to the HR function, as delineated by Linda Carroll, display the degree to which digital tools are being used to improve communication, training and KPI assessments. These changes are improving businesses across the board, but are developments that should be particularly lauded when it comes to training and hiring the teachers who are shaping future generations
Linda Carroll joined Affinity in 2014. As Head of Human Resources, she is responsible for the development and implementation of the organisation’s people and culture strategy — including all strategic management, systems development and daily engagement within the HR function. Linda has overseen the dramatic digitalisation of Affinity‘s HR capabilities in tandem with the company’s implementation of wide-ranging digital transformation projects aimed to improve corporate governance and the experiences of children and parents. We spoke with Linda to understand how she is using technology to change the way Affinity communicates internally, onboards employees, handles their education programing and approaches HR. She delivered insight into how technology is changing the face of Human Resources and the education sector.
Affinity Education Group is a leading Australian provider of early childhood education. Founded in 2013, the company expanded rapidly through acquisition, was briefly listed on the AFX and subsequently acquired by private equity. With a portfolio of more than 160 Lifelong Learning Centres across Australia, they annually impact the lives of over 15,000 children. Through creating programs aligned with the requirements of local needs and delivered by educators that are leaders in their field, Affinity provides high quality early education utilising their research-based Lifelong Learning approach.