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Inside HR Tech Column

http://www.hreonline.com/images/SteveBoese106x106.jpgSome Things to Consider

What are some of the common themes, attributes and characteristics that make an HR-technology solution "awesome"?

Friday, August 30, 2013
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In seeking this year's crop of HR's most "Awesome New Technologies" I see patterns that can help HR leaders make the best technology decisions for their organizations. 

In the last Inside HR Tech column, I  highlighted some of the individual companies and solutions that struck me as interesting, innovative and, in one way or another, "awesome" (in a nod to the "Awesome New Technologies for HR" session at the upcoming HR Technology® Conference and Expo). I heard from quite a few readers about that column, mostly thanking me for pointing out a tool or technology they weren't previously aware of. I also heard from some software companies that were not mentioned in the piece. Most of these notes were along the lines of, "Hey we are 'awesome' too, please be sure to consider us in the future."

The truth is -- and I know this for certain as I have seen at least 50 or so software demonstrations over the last two months -- there are numerous interesting, innovative and highly capable new and new-ish HR technologies in the market. Many, if not most, of them wholly suitable, relevant and accessible for small to mid-size organizations.

But rather than writing another column featuring individual and specific solutions and providers, I thought it might be valuable to try and point out some of the common themes, attributes and characteristics of what makes an HR technology solution "awesome," and try to give the HR leader some guidance or hints about what to look for when considering new technologies for their organization.

Let me first just establish one caveat: There are many other and well-documented success criteria that must be met for successful HR-technology-project outcomes beyond the software itself, such as executive-level support, a dedicated project team, effective communication and adequate attention to change management. The coolest and most "awesome" software in the world won't be able to demonstrate success and positively impact the organization without all of these "non-software" pre-requisites in place. So the following aspects or commonalities among the most-interesting HR technologies I have seen this summer should be taken for what they are worth: just an element of an overall software decision, implementation approach and integration process that all technology projects must navigate.

So, with that (too long) set-up out of the way, here are the five characteristics I have identified in almost all the "awesome" HR technologies I've encountered:

Modern design. HR technologies that are meant to be deployed in the organization beyond the HR professional power users and out to front-line employees, managers and leaders simply have to look like they were designed in this century. Every employee is an HR technology user, and every employee is accustomed to using modern and powerful apps on smartphones and tablets, and most have become immersed in social networks, eCommerce sites and visually appealing and "designed for everyone" technologies. All of the best HR technologies I have reviewed recently would not seem out of place, design-wise, if compared to sites such as Facebook or Amazon, or even apps including Instagram or Pulse. More directly, if you want your new HR technologies to be accepted and adopted, they have to be acceptable to the average employee. One idea to make sure you're on the right track: Have "regular" employees on the software-selection team and have them participate in any demos or trials of HR tech you are evaluating.

Rapid deployment. While there will always be some HR technology project that will have a significantly long duration (like replacing the core HR system of record for a large multinational organization), today's fast-paced business climate demands more accelerated project timelines and faster time-to-results. Most of today's "awesome" HR technologies offer features such as free product trials, clearly defined and posted pricing plans, cloud-based and on-demand delivery and user interfaces that support fast adoption with limited to no formal training. Some of the most impactful HR technologies are those that are limited in scope, do one thing really well and are aligned with a specific pain point or challenge. In some ways, smaller and more-targeted projects can pay off to a greater degree than the traditional "big ERP" endeavors.

Solve a "real" problem. To build upon the last point, it really is not enough for new HR technologies to just look slick and to just have an easy-to-use interface. They have to solve real problems or, conversely, help organizations seize opportunities. And often, these kinds of opportunities and challenges are precise and even tactical in nature, and can be best met by technologies that are specifically designed for a problem. Examples could include a new candidate interviewing technology to help assess technical talent with a "live" coding challenge, or a platform to manage and engage employees in corporate volunteerism and philanthropy. It even could be a more "technical" solution that ties together a few disparate systems into a common interface and experience -- the larger point being that, sometimes, the most important HR technology projects are the most targeted.

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Device-agnostic. Perhaps in a year or two, pointing out or highlighting that a particular enterprise or HR technology can be deployed and used on tablets and smartphones will not be needed, as that will become a standard capability of all serious workplace solutions. But we are probably not there yet. If you think about your own set of existing HR systems -- and their ability or lack of ability to function where and how your employees want to use them, i.e. on their Galaxy S4s and iPads -- then you will agree that demanding and validating that new HR technologies are truly device- and platform-agnostic is still an important distinction -- and certainly one that is necessary for one to achieve "awesome" status.

Plays well with others. HR solutions, particularly ones that are designed to support single or discrete processes, are often hamstrung by an inability to get data in to them from other source systems and out of them to destination systems. Many of the newer and really innovative solutions I have seen recently address this by building partnerships and deep integration with older, more mature platforms, as in the case of a modern "social candidate sourcing" tool that works well with legacy applicant-tracking systems. Another example is a benefits-decision support and enrollment portal that has pre-built integrations with major healthcare providers, thereby eliminating a particularly onerous task from the list of a customer's IT staff. Making sure that you assess and plan for needed integrations up front will save lots of time and money down the road.

Admittedly, there is not a simple or easy-to-follow recipe for success in enterprise technology. If there were, someone would have certainly patented it by now. But I do think if you look at enough technologies and talk with enough HR leaders, you can begin to see some common themes emerge for both superior technologies, and the best, or at least most-likely-to-be-successful ways to implement said technologies.

If you are able to attend the HR Tech Conference in October, you will get a chance to see how the six HR technologies that receive the designation of "Awesome New Technologies" measure up across my criteria for awesomeness. And you will get the chance to see and touch many, many more innovative technologies besides the selected six at the show. (Believe me, I could have included 20.) This is an amazing time in the HR technology market, and it offers tremendous opportunity for HR leaders at organizations of all sizes to impact and improve workforce management, capability and business results.

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 sboese@lrp.com.

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