Additional Thoughts from the Experts

This article accompanies Tech's Top 10.

Monday, April 2, 2012
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We couldn't include everything the "Most Powerful HR Technology Experts" had to say in our print edition, so we've included some of their additional thoughts below.

That includes a question we asked many of them -- "What HR technology-related developments do you expect to see in the next few years?" -- that we didn't have room to include.

Here's what they had to say:

What HR technology-related developments do you expect to see in next few years?

Yvette Cameron:

In addition to more attention being paid to integration, which is still the biggest pain point for customers right now, we also expect to see more developments around consumerization, the cloud and mobile.

The value of mobile apps is still pretty small from an HR perspective, but I think it will explode in the next 12 months, partly because so many organizations are letting employees bring their own devices to work these days and this is feeding the demand for them to be able to work via these devices.

And I think location-based services, as part of these mobile apps, is going to start transforming HR processes. If you think about a salesperson who's on the road a lot, for example, imagine giving them the ability to find customers who are in the immediate proximity ... so they can check in to ensure they're receiving proper support from the company.

Imagine giving employees the ability to use these apps to find experts within the organization with whom they can have face-to-face conversations.

And you can't talk about mobile without talking about social. We're already starting to see the emergence of cutting-edge apps from companies like WorkSimple and Rypple that are taking the concept of social and using it to transform processes like performance management.

There are social apps that let employees map their own career paths to get to particular roles within the organization -- what it takes to get there and how do I determine, based on what's interesting to me, where I might go in the organization?

It really flips career- and succession-planning on its head. These kinds of social, bottom-up approaches aren't just cool, but fundamental if we're going to engage, delight and inspire this new generation of workers who are digital natives. 

Jason Averbook:

Three key areas: First, a much greater emphasis on global talent, which will lead to solutions that deliver global databases of talent to serve as sort of an internal LinkedIn for the organization, so that managers can understand the assets available to them within the company. Second: the end of on-premise software in favor of cloud-based solutions. Third: HR solutions with interfaces designed for the workforce, not HR.

Mark Smith:

At the core, we expect to see some pretty interesting user-experience and usability improvements. We've all seen organizations that have a hard time getting adoption and usage rates, but in a lot of cases the new apps we're seeing today are designed for users at any level of the organization.

We do lots of research around what HR and the business need from these apps, and the No. 1 requirement from vendors is usability -- "make these things more usable" -- which is why we're starting to see this evolution of application design.

The other tech development we're starting to see is this concept of linking together particular sets of activities -- like performance management [and] career development -- from a workflow perspective. In many systems, managers still have to switch back and forth between different applications, which doesn't help their productivity, so making these transitions seamless is something we expect to see more of from the vendors. 


Alexia Martin:

I expect to see continued excellence in the enterprise-systems arena. Oracle, SAP, Workday -- all of them are continuing to refine the best practices in their solutions.

I think we're seeing improved user experiences, more socially embedded processes, more mobile capabilities and lots more focus on business intelligence and workforce optimization options like workforce planning.

And, of course, more acquisition activity, which means vendors are going to be spending more time integrating their products.

Bill Kutik:

I really believe in the consumerization of HR technology. What started off being designed purely for HR staffers to use is already being used, although painfully, by line managers and employees. And they're not going to put up with that pain much longer.

They're going to expect a company's enterprise apps -- at least, in the form presented to them -- to be as easy to use as the commercial web apps they use every day. We're already seeing this beginning to happen.

I see it every day in my smartphone, which integrates data and processes in a way that my desktop or laptop never does and find myself thinking, when I use it, why don't my own personal productivity apps like Microsoft Office and Firefox, work as well as my Android smartphone?

I believe, as many others do, that the integrated HRMS and talent-management suite will soon become the only way to go. We will see the death of the third party talent-management-suite vendors unless they produce tremendous innovation in their products. And I expect they will. 


Jim Holincheck:

I think we're at an interesting time in that there are a bunch of things happening at a macro level in HR technology, with the impacts just starting to ripple thru business apps in general and HR specifically.

The three main ones are mobile -- we're really only scratching the surface there in terms of what might be possible for HR technology.

Social is another one -- we're starting to see solutions emerge for enterprise social networks, but there are all kinds of interesting potential directions in which those may go.

And finally, everything related to information -- you hear people talk about Big Data and the like, and it's really just getting our arms around analytics in HR, but the opportunities are going to increase further with the amounts of data being generated from a variety of different areas, not just from within a particular enterprise but from social networks, government reports and so on.

It's still relatively early in Big Data's lifecycle in terms of the tools available to be able to handle all that data and make it easy enough for people to gain insights from it in order to make workforce-related decisions, but it's coming.

Paul Hamerman:

There are a lot of exciting innovations going on in HR technology right now. It's a really good time for HR people and vendors alike. I expect to see a greater focus on creating good user experiences for employees and managers and using mobile and social to make those experiences more engaging.

Many systems were built during a different time and have gone stale. But I think HR systems are today are becoming more flexible -- they're being designed for the cloud-deployment model, to be configured and not customized.

This flexibility is starting to show up graphically: We can illustrate our business processes with visual tools, define our organizational structure with visual tools and even orchestrate systems integration using these kinds of tools. 

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Because of space constraints, we had to edit some of the answers the experts gave to some of the questions we included in the print magazine. Here is some of the material we had to delete:

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What sort of trends/developments would you most like to see occur in the space?

Naomi Bloom: 

I'd like to see progress around the issues of integration and interoperability. No one has a homogenous environment -- everyone's using different pieces of different things, some of which they're outsourcing, some of which are in the cloud.

How do we hook all that stuff together at a reasonable cost, and get decent results? The HR/XML Consortium tried to achieve it, but it has not.

We need some kind of industry-wide object model. It's been my dream for a long time, and it remains a dream unfulfilled. But now a lot of people are talking about this and how we might do it. I will donate my object model starter kit to any reasonable group that comes forward with a reasonable plan for achieving this.

We need to have a massive breakthrough in integration, interoperability in the cloud, and the only way to do that is to have agreement on what different stuff means, and not have to negotiate it on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa Rowan:

Another thing I'd really like to see happen would be for HR technology to be considered less for what it does for HR and more for what it does for the rest of the enterprise. In other words, everyone in the organization ought to be able to answer the question: What's in it for me?

If you build it, they're not necessarily going to come. You have to give them a reason to come there, to make it meaningful to their day-to-day job. 

Josh Bersin:

On the buyer side, companies that are buying technology just have to take it conservatively. I believe in the model that says you should be conservative in some parts of your technology and innovative in others.

You have to decide whether you're willing to invest in new technology, or wait.

Given the huge range of offerings out there, it should be about where you are as a culture. Also, the old-fashioned HR systems were systems of record. Now, what we need are systems of engagement, systems that people want to use, and get use out of, every day. It's an entirely different concept from traditional HR software, which was, essentially, forms automation.

A good example is the market for social-recognition software, such as tools so employees can give each other recognition. I've seen some really old, traditional companies put these tools in the hands of their employees and they've had tremendous uptake because the tools are so engaging.

That's a good testament to the way the software is being designed. The old-fashioned HR software -- step one, followed by step two, and so on -- that's going to become a lot less used.

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What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen in HR technology implementations?

Jason Averbook:

People calling them "implementations."  We prefer the word "deployment" -- with deployment, you're deploying a strategy, whether it's to recruit better, pay people better or track talent better.

The implementation of technology is only a small part of it. The important thing in today's world, especially with SaaS, is that it's most important to say "I'm deploying a strategy, of which technology is 10 percent of it."

Mark Smith:

In many cases, HR organizations underestimate the importance of integration, whether it's the different apps working together or the underlying data.

In a lot of cases, they don't have implementations that automate the integration of data between apps. A lot of vendors say, "Don't worry about it," but it ends up being a big issue because HR doesn't always look at the service-level agreements and understand what the issues are for integrating all this data, and nine months later, they've got a situation on their hands. Integration can be a real pain point.

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