It becomes a cliché to review a technology year as one of disruption and growth and to project the same ahead. Of 2016/2017 it is already said and probably accurate. HR don’t enjoy a reputation as the first to embrace new technology possibilities, an ironic position given our roles as champions of change. We need to delve further into the IT world.
Yet there are discomfort zones for everyone these days. I tease techies, brilliant at their tools, about their appalling grammar and at some point, my blog needed to feature a lesson! Despite my profession helping folks with technology, I find dictionaries easier than devices.
So, here, 3 past tenses each present 3 stories about HR technology in 2016 to prove that all rules in changing times are made to be broken, even those of grammar and what has gone before in HR. And if someone would like to write for me a guide to correct usage of grammar on Twitter, then I will be grateful.
Past Simple – It happened (and it’s over) 
….and at school we used to call it Perfect

  1. “Cloud” came and decisively conquered. That which has most significantly changed is much deeper than just terminology (“cloud” as a redefinition of “hosted”, for example). We assume now that products are cloud-based and ask instead whether what lies beneath is a system that was originally built for the cloud. Look to this from your potential providers. This has mattered for HR because the older platforms are not up to the challenge of rapid response to new stuff we need. Beware the buzzword, but it is simply not agile enough.
  2. Size ceased to matter. We can no longer define HR software requirements as those of the SME, mid-market and enterprise. The ex-mid-market became increasingly competitive in 2016, attacked from all sides. There is tussle emerging with the astounding functionality of niche software, such as in recruitment, employee engagement and, strikingly, in payroll too. In a medium-sized organisation (500 – 5,000 employees) I believe you are now safe to consider “little” systems to serve you well. Conversely, the ERP providers and vendors of HCM software who have dominated the large-scale client base, looked to capture those of us smaller, with streamlined product and package offerings.
  3. Performance management went out. HR talk of ditching annual appraisal was not quite new for 2016, but this year we did hear less about appraisal, review, performance. For HR systems, the implication is that some of the boundaries between tools and between modules within tools are altogether more confusing and this looks set to be the way ahead. Where does an ATS (applicant tracking system) end and an employee engagement tool start? Learning management (an LMS) meet team collaboration? HR cannot afford to be unrealistic in our adoption of these new ideas apace, but we can look further than traditional HR silo disciplines and expect a greater fluidity of ideas.

Past Continuous – It was happening

…. if you took O-levels then you know that this is Imperfect

  1. Satisfaction with HR systems vendors was proving distinctly imperfect. This proved to be one factor behind increasing market “churn”. Be aware of the potential to divorce product provider from service provider. Notice the differing takes on the partner ecosystems that vendors may now use to excel and to differentiate in service too in order to look after more diverse clients well and yet focus on R&D. That said, outsourcing appeared last year to advance not too much further. I prefer partnering as a past continuous concept (and see below about how HR departments need to find new ways of earning their own keep!)
  2. Our employees were getting ahead of us in expectation of experience, engagement and enjoyment of gadgetry. I refer you to a Wikipedia’s worth of articles about “Gen Z” employees, who at home are swiping, pinching and being sensed by their systems. Why should their interaction with technology be the lesser at work? I noticed, in my work with implementation consultancy, that the risk of achieving acceptance of new HR systems ceased to feature and gave way to danger that a new tool just risked failure to be good enough! New release designs aim for minimalism, personalisation and a focus, quite rightly, on all-employee user experience rather than that of core HR personnel.
  3. Time and Attendance was still a problem. Organisations in the UK do struggle still to find solutions that integrate effectively with half-decent payroll and core HR. In 2016 this has remained an imperfect area of the market in people technology in this country, despite a plethora of choice. It is fraught with difficulty and many of those cultural, as irregular hours and shift workers prove to be in the most difficult places, at the most difficult times and with either the most or the least demands of the technology an employer offers to them. How this will play out within a “gig economy” is a fascinating watch-point.

Past Perfect – It had happened
…..Oooh – my favourite, and more than 20 years since I said Pluperfect!

  1. We had thought analytics would disrupt. We had thought that HR (92% of whom reporting that high quality analytics are “critical or very important” to the business[1]) would be over-turned by the advance in predictive analytics and insightful data. In fact, it’s been slow on the uptake when it comes to true analytical insight but fast to see dashboard features, data drill-down and intuitive query language an assumed part of the core HR system list of features. This I put down not to a lack of development of product, but more to the chasm between the reality of what HR have managed to date on reporting and the potential.
  2. There had been increasing concern for data security (and see above on analytics too), when the concept of “people science” entered HR vocabulary. As Ulrich got a revamp in 2016, I wonder if HR need to begin considering new key roles in the department team with this key idea in mind. Can we continue to pretend a separateness from IT roles who care for organisational data and the rights and responsibilities that surround it, when HR are the guardians of employee duties owed and owing in other respects? And is that not a natural fit with a wider concern that all-things-people-data are taken care of?
  3. Tightening budgets had also become a worry for HR. Our operations needed to bring in income. Local authorities and educational groups looked to shared services. Recruitment agencies struggled against direct activity by engagers. To run a payroll bureau became pretty easy to do (and often badly!). The implication for HR and payroll technology is again the platforms on which sitting. If you are more comfortable in a grammar lesson than in a tech “hub”, then gain an understanding of, if not how, then at least the why of what is happening under the surface of supplier systems. A new platform is agile. It can readily be scaled up to service out, developed quickly to supply new functions and deployed in a de-centralised way.

2016 may be nearly a past tense, but its lessons for HR technology will create the future context for the functions of 2017.
Next, a tweet-friendly run-down of trends that be could #trending ahead. Starting with….
Give way #cloud – let’s ask about #mobile: As HR will start to assume that HCM software is cloud-based, we’ll ask instead whether applications are truly built for mobile and focus on a design that offers the true app experience for our employees. This means stuff as simple as, for example, what you’ve got to do with your fingers to use the mobile screens.
Find the full series of HR tech trends tweeted (grammar please?!) by @phase3c @KateWadiaP3C and in an Insights compilation coming soon.
Happy New Year!
neyro2008 / 123RF Stock Photo

[1] As reported by the Fosway Group, from whom the 9-Grid analyses are well worth a read on HCM and/or learning technologies in Europe

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