The Next Wave in HR Disruption

Many of the more significant disruptive technologies of the past several years are rapidly transforming the workplace and how HR leaders do their jobs.

By Steve Boese

There are two ways of thinking about the future, especially as it concerns technology. One way is to see a future in which change is mostly incremental and tomorrow is barely distinguishable from today. The other, and more interesting, way is to envision a future in which technology advances so rapidly and profoundly that tomorrow is almost unrecognizable from today. I think that given the amount and pace of technology change that the latter view is closer to reality than the former.

I've been thinking about technology change and the disruption it can drive as I've been preparing for a talk I'll be giving at the upcoming Inforum event in New York next month. The focus of the presentation will be digital transformation and the impact it is having on talent, work and HR technology itself. It strikes me as almost incredible just how much most of us (me, for sure) have been impacted in our personal and professional lives by technologies that were either introduced or came into mainstream usage within the last 10 years or so.

I've selected just a few of the most disruptive tech innovations of the last decade (grouped by a general similarity to each other). For each, I examine how these technologies have, thus far, impacted human capital management and HR tech, and what might be coming in the future of HR tech.

iPhone (2007), iPad (2010)

Perhaps the most disruptive and profound technology advancement of the last decade has been the smartphone and its cousin, the tablet, two categories largely created and led by Apple. I don't have to opine on how much these technologies have changed our personal and professional lives -- the fact that many of you are reading this on a phone or a tablet makes the argument for me. The implications and opportunities for HR technology are clear, with many having already been realized. Every major HR-technology solution today has at least some mobile applications, and many of the leading solutions have developed extensive mobile capability -- particularly for the vast majority of employees who use HR systems only sporadically, and only for a few select functions. Simply put, you have to support employees with HR technology solutions that work flawlessly on the devices employees want to use, keeping in mind that for most, the desktop is the least preferred method of interaction. Mobile is now so prevalent that smart technologists don't speak of a "mobile strategy," now it's just a "strategy."

Twitter (2007), Facebook (2008)

Can you remember life before social networking? I can. I actually kind of miss it, too. But there is no doubt that the so-called "killer app" for mobile devices has turned out to be social networks, in all their many flavors and permutations. Social-networking concepts have encroached into the organization for some time now with features such as an activity feed and liking, sharing and commenting becoming part of a wide range of enterprise and HR-technology solutions. Specifically, we are starting to see this trend play out in the learning-technology market, where many of the modern learning solutions such as the Oracle Learning Cloud, for example, draw heavily from social-networking concepts such as user creation of learning material and surface the best and most popular content for users.

Uber (2010), StitchFix (2011)

When we think about the reach and influence of Uber, it is typically in the context of the increase of contingent, temporary or "gig" workers, as Uber has made casual employment much more mainstream. But while that is true, I see Uber -- and companies such as StitchFix, a leader in personalized fashion -- driving the demand for more personalization in the areas of work and HR technologies at scale. The main influence of Uber is that it has made private car service available to anyone, at any time, and at any location covered in its service area. StitchFix provides a similar service -- making personalized fashion selections and expert advice available to anyone at any time. The service even adapts and "learns" over time to provide more precise and accurate recommendations and choices. For workplaces, the implication is the creation of more personalized experiences supported by HR-technology solutions. For example, organizations may want to create more personalized, and even individualized benefits packages, which are tailored to each employee. Or, in the recruiting process, they may want to offer packages that vary significantly as new hires elect different levels of base pay, variable pay, time off, perks and work schedules. HR technologies that can adapt to the mass personalization of work will be in high demand going forward.

WhatsApp (2009), WeChat (2011), Slack (2013)

While the first part of the mobile revolution has been centered around social networking, the next phase has developed into that of messaging. Apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat (the most important app in China) and the workplace-centric Slack have made short messaging the predominant method of mobile and interpersonal communication for hundreds of millions of users. Messaging is now more popular than social networking in terms of time spent on mobile devices. And, according to the recent KPCB Internet Trends report, messaging and chat are the most popular methods of interaction among users between age 18 and 35. What does the dramatic rise in popularity and utility of these messaging apps suggest for workplace and HR technologies? Primarily that users and employees will begin to expect and even demand simpler tools that help them get their work done, find the information they need, and complete business transactions. No one who becomes accustomed to messaging and chat interfaces and interactions will have much tolerance for HR technologies that utilize excessive navigation paths and menu-driven web interfaces. HR techology solutions that integrate with tools such as Slack are already emerging. We can expect to see more blending between the tools we use at and for work, and the messaging applications we use in our personal lives -- such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

Siri (2011), Amazon Echo (2014)

Both Siri and the Amazon Echo represent what many see as the future of the user interface and how we interact with technology, i.e., using voice instead of clicking a mouse button or tapping on an app. Voice interfaces continue to improve in their ability to recognize and interpret human speech and, even more importantly, understand context. The improvements in productivity can be quite substantial, since people can speak much faster than they type (or tap). In addition, the implications for HR technology are clear. It's just a matter of time before leading HR-technology solution providers leverage major platforms such as Apple, Amazon or Google to provide a voice-based user interface to the organization's HR systems. I can see a day when an employee might say, "Siri, tell me what my co-pay is for this medical appointment," or "Alexa (Amazon's interface name), email the top three candidates for my open position and schedule interviews for next week."

The last 10 years in technology innovation have brought about a world that looks almost nothing like even the recent past. And while almost nothing related to technology is certain, the one thing that probably is certain is that technology will continue to evolve, adapt and disrupt work, workplaces and human resources. Your best bet as an HR and business leader is to not try and swim against this tide of technology transformation, but to try and ride along with it -- taking advantage of new innovations that ultimately benefits your organization.

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at


Jun 30, 2016
Copyright 2017© LRP Publications