Technology is impacting the HR world much like other industries. Web and mobile technologies are simplifying the administration of many paper-based processes. Employees are now able to access needed information 24/7, and new solutions that extend the scope of HR and Benefits are entering the market. The opportunities to change the way HR is managed and even perceived within an organization are greater today than at any time in the past. However, while the technologies are advancing, the “ecosystem” supporting these new systems and often the infrastructure and/or vision inside of many companies are often lagging behind, or not aligned, to take advantage of the opportunities. This is about to change, and for those open to change and willing to commit the resources, there is an opportunity to move HR to a whole new level within an organization.
HR Technology has evolved. Ten years ago, most employers had separate systems for Payroll, HR, Benefits, Time and Attendance and then maybe Recruitment or Performance Management. Many were still operating with paper forms and Excel spreadsheets. Today there is a technology arms race going on where many vendors are consolidating most of these capabilities into a single solution. Per a 2014 HR Technology Advisors survey, 86% of employers were looking to move to a single system. This is a major transition.
If you were to ask the major technology vendors about their vision, they would see their products as systems of engagement and not just a system that performs transactions. HR systems can now be viewed as a tool to communicate with employees and promote one’s culture. It can be used as an education tool and as a way for employees to share ideas. New products or services can be delivered to employees to help them maintain “work-life” balance. HR systems are becoming “living” and growing systems that may start with automating paper-based process, but should become systems of engagement from employer to employee and between employees.
The problem is that this vision is often well ahead of the way most employers are viewing HR Technology. Many in HR are looking for systems in the traditional way. They are looking for features and functionality to pay people, manage time, and run reports, and not a system that may transform the way they interact with their employees. The C-Suite often still views this as a corporate overhead expense, and somewhat a necessary evil intended for use only by the HR staff. This narrow view may be one of the obstacles to change.
On the vendor side, the way the market that provides products or services for employers and their employees in the HR/Benefits/Payroll areas has evolved may not be aligned with what this new HR world may need. This current vendor “ecosystem” creates even more obstacles to change. At a high-level, we see employers looking for simplicity. Not only are there too many moving administrative parts in HR, but as employee self-service expands, the need for simplicity will be even more important to get optimal results. Today’s vendor market is still delivering products and services in silos with the average employer working with as many as 15 vendors that provide some product or service to manage HR or for the employees. These vendors are often disconnected, creating a web of solutions that don’t work cohesively. This environment may be responsible for the problems in HR, including compliance issues, bad data, poor reporting, and employees not having access to the information they need when they need it.
The opportunity to bring HR to the next-level is here today, but it does require a change in behavior. This change can start with what employers look for when selecting the platform to manage their HR in this new environment. When looking at a system, many employers will look to see what can be tracked or, perhaps, how the reporting module functions.What most employers are not looking for is whether the system publishes their API or whether the platform will accept HTML code, or allow one to upload videos for employee engagement. Do they have a mobile app that is customizable? Can you send text messages to employees with important information?
The reality is that for most employers, most of the systems designed for their market size will work from a feature functionality standpoint, if not already, within the next 1-2 years. The technology, in the end, will become the commodity. There are only so many ways to process payroll or for an employee to request a day off.
All of this takes the focus away from where the gaps really are. Most employers lack the internal capacity or vision to leverage these new technologies in an optimal way. One problem in attaining this objective is that many think the technology vendor they purchase their system from provides the type of support needed. They do not. The HR vendors provide technology platforms. They will support implementation and provide training. What they do not do is provide the services needed to maximize the use of the technology; build an engaging employee experience; integrate third-party products or services; and develop an ongoing growth and maintenance program.
The good news is that as technology evolves and more and more users adopt solutions, the number of third-parties providing products or services that compliment or support the most widely used solutions expands. The market is at the beginning stages of this evolution where employers can find resources from vendors other than their HR technology vendor that can provide the needed services to optimize the use of the system.
The opportunity to change the way HR can impact an organization is greater now than ever. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, it requires a new way to think of the process and the market. Are your vendors disconnected from the process? Do you have the needed resources? Is there a vision of a different future? The difference in the end will not be the technology. The difference will be in the vision, resources, and commitment to build a more engaging organization.