DRIVEN BY DATA: Army HR Command aims to improve the Soldier experience, treating users more like customers and tracking time to resolution for various HR services and requests. (Image by Monstera, Pexels)
HRC is undergoing an ambitious reform to bring best practices and technologies to bear in managing the Army’s most important resource—its people.
by Brig. Gen. Greg Johnson and Col. Kris Saling
It’s almost impossible to name an area where digital technology and data aren’t changing the way the Army does business. Even with large enterprise programs like the Integrated Personnel and Pay System – Army (IPPS-A) and business programs under the Army’s talent management effort coming online, human resources (HR) processes have remained largely reactive and transactional. As the way people work fundamentally changes, incorporating new technology and business practices is not only essential for keeping up digitally, but a critical part of providing essential support to recruiting, retention and readiness, all necessary parts of supporting and upholding our all-volunteer force.
Maj. Gen. Tom Drew, commanding general for U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC), and his leadership team are working to change how HR does business by kicking off the largest organizational and digital transformation HRC has seen since its inception in 2003. Under the HRC 2030 transformation plan, the command is changing the nature of the services it provides to the Army. Instead of a reactive system that waits until a customer submits a document, request or trouble ticket to adjust records, HRC will leverage customer service data to become a proactive, engaged and predictive organization that can identify trends and surges in customer service needs. To achieve that goal, HRC will position documents, authorities and tools to provide the fastest, smoothest possible solution to the customer.
While industry HR predicts customer demand and works to position services and products ahead of demand surges, the Army’s demands are unique, as HRC needs to support large amounts of HR actions during permanent change of station move periods. A lot of people move at the same time because of assignment schedules, which also means a lot of awards and closeout evaluations, changes to pay and allowances based on locality, and other necessary services.
FOCUSING ON CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
When people think of Soldiers, the term “customer” is not one that immediately comes to mind, nor do people think of organizations like HRC having or needing a business model or value proposition. HRC has simply been the function that hosts promotion boards, publishes orders and matches Soldiers to organizational requirements. All those processes are transactional and fairly impersonal, at least on the side of the Army.
From the Soldier’s perspective, sending documents to a group email address where they seem to disappear into a void, and following up with multiple telephone calls trying to find the right person to talk to, is deeply frustrating. The lack of a personal connection, when the Soldier may be dealing with a personnel action that results in not being paid or losing access to benefits, is extremely stressful, and impersonal service only exacerbates the situation. A more personal approach is a must-have for a service organization that impacts the lives of current and former Soldiers, civilians and their families.
Putting the customer first is at the heart of HRC’s transformation and reorganization. The command reorganization will flatten decision-making processes to better enable communication by merging branches with similar functions. Leaders will streamline authority by ensuring that decisions and actions are at the right level. To help determine what “right” looks like, the command is implementing a suite of tools to map and measure workflows, collect data and set standards for service.
HRC’s services feel fragmented and disjointed, with inconsistent outcomes and performance, largely because the command does not have a means to see interactions or to measure and compare performance. Service interactions have a tremendous impact on retention and recruiting because of the trust they create or destroy—this inconsistency erodes trust.
Currently there are no set service standards that govern the length of time it takes to process specific personnel actions, like a retirement, for example. This process is largely opaque to the service member and to offices within the command. Implementing service standards will reduce uncertainty for the customer and alert the command when problems require intervention.
HRC is working with teams of experts, both internally and through industry partners, to equip its teams with a framework that provides defined expectations and standards. By adding workflow automation that is low-code or no-code, the command can create dashboards and process maps to expedite processes.
Early stage automations might be as simple as auto-filling portions of staffing forms—for example, when the command receives a request, existing data are pulled from the appropriate sources, and internal hierarchies notify appropriate decision-makers for digital signatures—or as complex as improving website capability over legacy call centers. Examples include self-service chat functions, bots and disseminating directions to personnel through Microsoft Teams. Automation also allows for easy data collection on the time-to-response and time-to-resolution of cases that enter HRC’s system and provide methods to make the process visible to customers and the command.
BUILDING ON IPPS-A
Transforming into a more analytic, predictive and customer-focused organization requires tools, technology, large amounts of data and skilled analytic teams. HRC is building on IPPS-A as the base transactional data system in its hierarchy and will modernize its remaining 19 legacy systems to bring on new tools for improved customer relationship and task management. The command is also exploring new ways to bring cases into a central management platform that draws from email, chat, social media engagements, calls and multiple other media that people use to engage with the command. New platforms have the capability to monitor sentiment, flag comments for action and send to a customer relationship management system to assign as a case. All of this comes together in the form of an integrated human resources tech stack.
An HR tech stack is a group of integrated digital tools that supports the human resources business function. These tools typically handle traditional and manual tasks, freeing up HR professionals to focus on more strategic efforts. IPPS-A supports the overarching HR information system and management functions for HRC. The Army has recently brought on low-code and no-code tools for task and workflow management, such as Microsoft Power Platform and ServiceNow. These tools can integrate with core databases, such as IPPS-A’s data warehouse, and create applications outside the system with minimal new data entry.
As the team builds out the task management layer, technical teams in HRC’s Enterprise Modernization Directorate, Knowledge Management Division and innovation cell are working to identify technology shortfalls and planned capability integration to identify and, through the acquisition and procurement cell, acquire the best solutions for solving Soldier problems.
Social media is one of HRC’s major areas of focus. While the command is working on an enhanced strategic communication strategy, HRC also will employ social media technology as a means for customer service case intake and response.
Army public affairs offices (PAOs) have tools for monitoring sentiment on social media. However, those tools require active engagement by PAO staff and often, if a case needs to be escalated, command notification through email. The new systems HRC wants to adopt use natural language processing and machine learning to flag comments for review and allow PAOs to escalate with a click. HRC will share lessons learned with all fellow engagement and social media teams, though time will tell whether the Army chooses to adopt this as a PAO solution.
DATA IN USE
HRC currently stores all personnel data on every Soldier and retiree. The command uses this data to better inform individual and command decisions on hiring, targeted retention initiatives and predictive attrition modeling, and is experimenting with applications for machine learning. One of HRC’s largest language processing projects evaluates, scores and ranks files using an algorithm. The command intends for this algorithm, when finished, to assist with selection boards and targeted recruiting for nominative assignments. These programs use just a small part of HRC’s data. The command is consolidating additional data from the remaining systems not incorporated into IPPS-A, in preparation to engineer this data into model-ready data objects, to make these models more robust.
The Army has advanced its use of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications significantly over the last five years. Project Convergence is one example, and other long-term AI projects like Army STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers), which is a highly accurate harmful behavior prediction engine, but this advancement has not yet happened in Army HR.
However, as HRC’s customer service framework allows the command to collect data on customer experience and service, the command expects to be able to better model and anticipate services needed for individuals and use those analytics to position services, documents, approvals and authorities where possible. Additional tools will allow workflow automation in the HR tech stack to minimize difficulty in submitting queries, forms or packets, and provide transparency to supported service members and families by allowing them to better track the progress of their personnel action.
To create the force the Army needs to win our nation’s wars and to continue the all-volunteer force model, the Army must execute this transformation of its HR programs and business models at HRC. The command’s modernization efforts impact not only HRC, but also the Army’s business model, with a critical impact on recruiting, retention, readiness and talent management. The Army has fielded an ambitious vision for the future of talent management to create the Army of 2030, and that vision must include the modernized Army HR processes to execute it.
For more information, go to hrc.army.mil or contact Col. Kris Saling at 808-783-3279, firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRIG. GEN. GREGORY JOHNSON is the adjutant general of the United States Army, responsible for the Army HR business model impacting all Army personnel records, military awards and decorations, casualty operations and transition services. He is also commanding general of the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency and executive director of the Military Postal Service agency. He has an M.S. in policy management from Georgetown, an M.S. in education from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in United States history from the University of San Francisco.
COL. KRIS SALING is the director of Army Human Resource Command’s innovation cell and serves as the adviser to the commanding general on leading technologies and business practices. She previously served as the acting director of Army People Analytics for the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. She holds an M.S. in systems engineering from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in operations research and systems analysis and an active-duty commission from the United States Military Academy at West Point.