HR Technology Been Changing? Do You Think?

In the last five years alone, HR technology has moved from one era to another. The cloud, social applications in the enterprise, analytics and mobile are changing its course for everyone.

By Bill Kutik

The entire 30th anniversary print edition of the magazine would have to be devoted exclusively to HR technology in order to cover its changes and transformations since 1987. Instead, let's focus just on the last five years, starting in 2012.

Turns out 2012 was a critical year -- marking an inflection point in HR technology: The end of one era and the beginning of another.

Two of our industry's giants -- Jim Holincheck, then a Gartner analyst, and Lexy Martin, the mother of the definitive HR Systems Survey -- both wrote about it. Jim called it a "generational shift in computing."

Since the mainframe era, such shifts have come every 10 or 15 years. Client/server transformed HR technology in 1989, web-based applications did so in 2000, and in 2012, the combination of SaaS (now called the cloud), the use of social applications in the enterprise, analytics and mobile did so again.

Not that any of those technologies first appeared that year. Recruiting vendors had been offering at least hosted solutions (if not true cloud) since 1995. Workday had been selling a cloud HCM since 2006. LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had been available and growing for years, though except for the first, they were mostly used by individuals.

But 2012 marked the year that leading experts (if not always their more harried and budget-strapped corporate HR colleagues) agreed that the convergence of these innovations meant HR technology had changed forever.

True, most large companies are still using on-premise systems, and many HR executives still fret about the safety and security of cloud systems. But that said, the cloud is now universally recognized as the next generation of computing. No longer considered just a possible alternative, it is viewed as the only direction in which to move forward. In the last five years, approximately 5,000 of the world's largest companies have moved to the cloud. And the rate of adoption is increasing. No new on-premise enterprise software has been introduced in the last five years.

Cloud computing has achieved the 30-year goal of HR gradually taking control of its own systems. The days of IT owning HR technology are over.

While IT's blessing and support continue to be critical, HR and the business units are in control. Ironically, this comes at a time when they must give up daily control to the managers and employees using most of the software.

That imperative has resulted in the biggest visible change in the last five years: the evolution of the user experience. Five years ago, "consumerization" of HR software meant making it as easy to use as Amazon. Now it means being as intuitive and simple as a smartphone app!

Or as Jason Averbook, founder and CEO of the new consultancy LeapGen, likes to say: "Enterprise software for employees now needs to be as good as the software companies use to sell to their customers or consumers."

Battles raged when employees first wanted to access social networks from their office computers, except for LinkedIn, which has been standard in recruiting departments for years.

Whether or not companies let the commercial networks past their firewall, vendors quickly moved to copy their functionality in private networks. Just in the last five years, this has changed two traditional software applications completely: performance management and learning.

Online conversations between two people or among many is changing performance from the long-dreaded annual review to a continuous series of "check-ins" between managers and their direct reports. Private networks are also now being used by some to manage the work that will later be reviewed. Those conversations are now fully documented for reference however long is necessary.

YouTube-like video functionality is increasingly in the hands of every employee -- not just confined to online course creators -- and is revolutionizing learning. Every major vendor in the last three years has committed to reimagining its learning management system, and some even refuse to call it an LMS!

While the required online sexual-harassment course and classroom-instructor-led training still have their place, learning is now being sliced into bite-sized pieces. Learning and training executives now hail the five-minute video as the perfect learning object.

Mobile, meanwhile, has skyrocketed as a way to consume content, especially in cities with public transportation. And analytics -- or more precisely the lack thereof -- may no longer be the greatest source of HR guilt.

Yet there's one thing that hasn't changed in HR technology over not just the last five, but the past 30 years. Analysts, influencers and vendors will always be focused on, and writing and talking about, technology innovation long before HR executives are ready to buy and adopt it.

That's exactly as it should be. It's their job constantly to come up with something new. As a practitioner, you need to focus on empowering the workforce.

So don't fret if you haven't even started looking under the hoods of the latest buzzwords -- predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Very likely they won't get good traction until the magazine's 35th anniversary.


HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 20th Annual HR Technology Conference & Expo, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 10-13, 2017.  Learn how HR needs to contribute to cybersecurity on the 28th episode of his broadcast-quality video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik.


Apr 24, 2017
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