© Hays
© Hays

Hays CIO Steve Weston is driving an ambitious digital transformation programme at the recruitment giant that has turned the firm into a data-driven company with an internet-enabled IT platform, built on an open standards-based architecture.

The digital strategy began to take shape back in 2007, when the Hays board turned to the tech sector to find its new chief executive Alistair Cox. 

Prior to joining Hays, Cox was CEO of IT outsourcing company Xansa, where one of his closest colleagues was Managing Director Steve Weston. Shortly after Cox was appointed CEO at Hays, he recruited Weston to the role of CIO.

At the time, Hays was a FTSE 250 company with ambitious international expansion plans, but these aspirations were being curtailed by an IT strategy that had barely changed over the previous 25 years.  

"We basically changed everything," Weston told CIO UK. "We changed the front and middle offices to become a completely open architecture, internet-enabled series of systems and processes based upon the same common system used in every country."

They also overhauled the back office to add efficiency. Weston says that when he joined Hays, for every front office recruitment consultant that joined, the company also added "point seven of a person" to the back office. Once the transformation was complete, they didn't need to add any.

"In fact, we've continue to reduce the back office along that journey, because we made it straight through processing completely efficient," he said.

Data-driven recruitment

Weston knew that data would be key to Hays' future, and that partnerships would be essential to maximise its value. This mindset led Hays to work with Australian recruitment firm SEEK to build a private cloud containing the data of both companies, which uses a machine learning-driven search engine to find appropriate candidates for jobs. That cloud now contains as many job candidates as there are LinkedIn members in Australia.

The data-driven approach to recruitment reached another level this year when Hays deployed the Google Cloud Talent product to enhance the job search experience. The system uses machine learning algorithms to analyse the language in job descriptions, searches and profiles and then automatically matches candidates to the roles they are likely to want. These jobs are then presented to candidates when they log in to their user account on the Hays website.

Hays chose the Google Cloud Talent system after rigorous A/B testing and virtual trials of the system with real users, which Weston calls "red eye testing".

“My take is always that being agile is about speed and agility in a controlled way, and that's really important to us," says Weston. "If there's a little bit of caution, it's just about making sure.”

Hays says that the deployment has increased job search to application conversion rate by 10%, and that 60% of applicants believe their search results as highly relevant to their professional backgrounds.

Weston has also used machine learning in AI chatbots that automate interactions with candidates, the SalesPlanner tool, which guides consultant on who to call and when, and TalentManager, which automatically shortlists candidates for roles.

These initiatives helped Hays analyse engagement signals from around 11 million job applications and 70 million page views of the Hays website in the 2019 financial year alongside data from partners such as SEEK, Google and LinkedIn, and interactions through the company's social media accounts, as well as original content including salary guides and podcasts. Hays can then engage with them through Salesforce Marketing Cloud and in-house developed proprietary analytics that predict the demands of clients and candidates.

"We've built a whole host of machine learning products that we now deploy across the world to improve the experience for our consultants," said Weston. "Our philosophical challenge is that we want to give the best tech stack to our consultants to enable them to make the best decisions."

Personalisation

The personalised job recommendations are part of a wider "Find and Engage" recruitment plan at Hays that aims to enable headhunting at scale by sifting through candidate information to identify when they are likely to respond positively to a direct approach.

Weston believes this service will help to create longer-term relationships with both employers and employees, as long as they are reassured that their data is safe.

He has helped provide this security by working closely with the Hays general counsel to develop appropriate rules, which are monitored through reporting and internal audit teams, and by providing transparency to candidates by specifying in the Hays privacy policy how their data is being processed.

Hays continuously evolves its cyber security and GDPR frameworks to user data, with this drive now a central tenet of Weston's IT strategy.

"You've got to iterate," he says. "Don't always assume the first thing you're given will be 100% and work. You have to have the approach that you're going to test and learn and work collaboratively in a very quick way to make it work."