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    « Second Life Enterprise | Main | Employee Scouting Reports »

    Next Generation HR Technology

    Last week on the HR Happy Hour show we welcomed the Fistful of Talent crew to talk 'Next Generation HR'.

    Where are the next wave of HR leaders coming from, what do they need to know, and how will they drive change and superior business performance.  Heady stuff.

    Most of the guests on the show advocated for change; change in approach, change in education and training, and perhaps some re-assessment of the traditional role of HR.

    And just like the HR professional is faced with change, so are the technologies that are used to support Human Resources,  Talent Management, and workforce collaboration. Some of these changes are already in motion in full force, some are just beginning, and some are speculative, but at least to me, reasonably likely.

    What's Begun

    The move from enterprise systems being installed on company premises to being installed, maintained, and upgraded by the software vendor via the Software as a Service model (SaaS), is already firmly underway.

    The trend started with ATS, progressed to Talent Management, has started in ERP, and was always in place for collaboration platforms. And many mid-sized to large organizations that are stuck with aging, expensive, and difficult to manage premises installed ERP systems will begin in earnest to evaluate SaaS-based alternatives that by design are more flexible, cheaper, and typically much more user friendly.

    For the HR pro, this means less reliance on the IT organization than ever before.  When HR applications are deployed via SaaS, only a fast internet connection is needed. Also, since SaaS licences are usually priced on a per-user monthly subscription, they are not Capital Expenditures, but rather funded out of Operating Expenses, and therefore typically much easier to fund from internal HR budgets.

    What's Beginning

    Increasingly Human Resources enterprise systems will connect with and in some cases integrate with external or consumer oriented networks or platforms. Whether it is a company like Sage Software entering into a strategic partnership with consumer portal tool Netvibes, SumTotalSystems integrating Learning and Development applications with Facebook, ATS vendors like JobVite connecting with LinkedIn, Twitter, and others. or SAP building ties with the Jive Software platform for to integrate business intelligence data with wikis, the trend of the enterprise connecting with the external environments has started.

    For the HR pro this presents a number of challenges.  First, if your organization is one the actively block access to external social networks and platforms, soon you will really need to re-assess that position. Look, I won't repeat the same old arguments about loss of productivity, risk of company secrets being leaked, or employees posting inappropriate content on social networks.

    Let's face it, employees are already losing productivity, leaking secrets, and acting inappropriately.

    Either you, as an HR professional either believe this will be important for future organizational success or you don't.  If you do, you probably need to do more than whine and complain about it, and develop and present a cogent business case where loosening of restrictions and application or integration of social tools can derive positive business outcomes. More and more of the leading HR Technology solutions will embrace this trend, and you can either get out in front, or watch it roll by and maybe, if you are lucky jump on later.

    What's to Come

    Speculating on the future is dicey at best, but what the heck let's give it a shot.

    Social emedded into process

    Enterprise systems will continue to add and emphasize 'social' features, further blurring the lines between business process support, external social networks, and collaboration and expertise locator technologies.  More solutions will focus on how end users in HR and employees in the enterprise actually interact with the application and that interaction will more strongly influence functionality and design. Examples might be a performance management process with dynamic ability to connect with subject matter experts on a particular competency or a workforce planning application integrated with external demographic data and content.

    Mass Personalization

    Just like many consumer sites 'remember' you and present content and functions according to your demonstrated prior interactions or stated preferences, more HR Technology solutions will move to simple and flexible personalization.  Why do services like Amazon and Twitter have such tremendous uptake and growth? Part of the reason is that the experience to some extent is user-determined.  Amazon can present recommendations based on your prior activity, and the activity of other users with similar behavior patterns.  Twitter allows a user total control of the experience. In enterprise systems we will see much more extensive, simple, and adaptive personalization so that the systems fit individual desired interaction methods and preferred uses.


    HR Technology will go more and more mobile. Access to information, notifications, the ability to progress workflows for recruiting, performance, or training and development will become the norm. Need to connect with a colleague, post a quick status update to the team, seek out the company's top expert on a particular topic, access some learning content, perhaps a podcast or video?  All of these will be increasingly performed on smart phones and other mobile devices.  Interaction with enterprise systems will be more flexible, available from a multitude of sources, and optimized for each. Systems that are flexible enough to be easily adapted to a variety of mobile platforms will have a tremendous competitive advantage.


    What do you think?  Where is HR Technology going? What will be the true 'Next Gen' solution?


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    Reader Comments (15)

    Great post, and right on the money. I would add that, although HR will have less dependence on IT operations, they'll have to become much more tech savvy to use these more powerful, more personal tools in the right way. Highly configurable tools require good business decisions about those configurations and an understanding of the downstream consequences of upstream configuration choices. With more embedded intelligence, HR has to take responsibility for reaching agreement on what practices/policies/business rules/workflows/content to embed -- and then to support it. Smarter software being used very widely reduces dramatically the need for HR administrative types while increasing the demand for those with deep subject matter knowledge, analytical KSAOCs, and a strategic mindset, capabilities that remain in short supply in many HR organizations. With every generational change in HRM software architecture, and this is the 9th during my career, the opportunities increase for great HRM to drive business outcomes when HR technology is deployed by strategically-minded HR leaders.

    November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi Bloom

    Great article, Steve. Why on earth has it taken so long for HR to transition from enterprise to SaaS? Technology changes too quickly for the limited HRIS resources to keep up. The HR person needs to know who owns the data or how it can be transition it to another system if needed to sell it to Sr. Management.

    My favorite line: "Let's face it, employees are already losing productivity, leaking secrets, and acting inappropriately."

    November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBonita

    I'm not sold on SaaS replacing ERP; maybe it will for simpler and smaller companies, but at larger and more complex companies that I consult with, there is no way SaaS would be able to meet their custom requirements. Of course, they could forgo those complexities and embrace SaaS, but I don't think that is going to happen much, because many of those complexities are for executive-level comp and benefit plans, and union requirements. When we replace their ERP systems we can't get them to simplify, so why would they simplify for SaaS?

    I do agree that there will be a more complex mix or suite of software from various sources focused on solving specific business requirements. From a user's perspective that is great; from an IT perspective there can be an increase in integration costs and risk. And with corporate data spread out among various SaaS providers, providing some good business intelligence via comprehensive data stores gets pretty dicey.

    November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Bogner

    @Naomi - Thanks very much for your thoughts. As always you make some excellent observations. The actual technology gets easier to deploy, but the knowledge and expertise required to deploy it efficiently gets even harder. A challenge for HR and HR Technologists both.

    @Bonita - Thanks so much for reading and commenting, it means a lot coming from a true HR Superstar like you!

    @Steve - Well you may be right about that, I guess that is why these 'predictions' are sort of speculative. I think that the move to SaaS in the ERP market will start in the mid-market and slowly but surely work up the market. I have been in those organizations too, whose unique requirements forced them to heavily customized ERP. But you know as well as I, those solutions are expensive, slow to adapt, and many times don't really do that much to impact results anyway. We will see, and it will be interesting to watch. Thanks very much for your comments.

    November 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    i think recruiting and sorcing is headed towards a flat data model. Parsed resume information and parsed data from sites such as facebook, myspace, linkedin are going to be what sourcers work from. we use technology from www.inparser.net, infogist, and egraber.com to help us manage our data and turn it into something we can work with.

    November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

    It all comes down to much better insight. We have beaten HR process to its logical point of efficiency, now we need to be able to use the data in these systems, whether ERP, ATS, HRIS or other some system(s) of record to make better, data driven decisions. This cannot happen with the current set of technologies as the units of measurement are arbitrary, inconsistent and inaccurate. So the next gen HR technology needs to help develop this new foundation.

    As for SaaS or ERP, SaaS is simply a deployment mechanism. Integration is not necessarily more complex, it is simply a different form of integration using methods that are much easier than in the previous iterations of technology. However, in the next gen data driven HR technology world, much of the complexities in this new distributed model start to become addressed.

    Ultimately, for next gen HR technology to hold the mantle of "Next Gen", it is going to need to take a significant leap and HR leaders will need to jump along with it.

    November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark Birch

    Right on for the innovation that is tying social networking technologies with eLearning (such as the SumTotal project). If in fact the popular networking sites replace the typical job board/resume model for sourcing and application management, the application tracking vendors will have to scramble to stay current with these new paradigms. And SaaS? the ease of product use is unrelated to delivery method -- suppliers of both on-premise and SaaS applications need to ensure that mere mortals can learn to use their products quickly regardless of delivery method. HR professionals can then become more proficient in understanding the nuances of their company's business rather than having to become more technical to do their jobs.

    November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Katherine Jones


    You've hit the nail on the head with SaaS.

    For the HR pro, this means less reliance on the IT organization than ever before. When HR applications are deployed via SaaS, only a fast internet connection is needed. Also, since SaaS licenses are usually priced on a per-user monthly subscription, they are not Capital Expenditures, but rather funded out of Operating Expenses, and therefore typically much easier to fund from internal HR budgets.

    I'd also add that Open Source is another area of amazing potential. Companies such as Compiere (along with SaaS vendors) are introducing greater choice into the marketplace. Add independent software vendors (ISVs) and organizations and their employees can do so much more than, say, last decade allowed.

    November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Simon

    Nice article Steve. You make a good point about mass personalisation. I think this is definitely the way to go, but it could be difficult to show a sufficient benefit to the bottom line to justify its upfront development costs. The way around this is to more closely link the HR processes with business process so that the benefits are more quantifiable and immediate. Something we need to consider is whether the trends you suggest will drive a bigger divide between those who are comfortable with using technology and those who are less inclined.

    November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Lowe

    Oh, irony. The fact that last year Lawson's CEO, Harry Debes, predicted the end of SaaS - http://www.zdnetasia.com/insight/software/0,39044822,62045141,00.htm.

    Of course he did. Large enterprise software companies don't want install-based systems to go away. We're still years from that, but even Larry Ellison at Oracle begrudgingly gets that and has been releasing Web-based software.

    But the fact is we already are in a full-blown SaaS model and most HR suppliers we work with deliver their products and services this way - and the price points are reflected accordingly along with easier UI's, elevated customer support and more.

    There's a great new Bersin report out on Talent Acquisition Systems 2010 - http://www.bersin.com/uploadedFiles/091609_ES_TAS_ML_Final.pdf. In it touches on many of the points you do including:

    - Customers wanting more social integration (although most aren't happy with what's to choose from now).
    - Better integration with HRIS and third-party service providers
    - Contact management offering a high priority
    - Better global customer support and regional compliance

    Another irony - doesn't IT usually buy the analyst reports?

    In regards to mobile functionality, I've heard that Kenexa, Taleo and SumTotalSystems have or will be rolling them out. But I really like your comment about mass customization although I wonder how that'll play in the enterprise.

    You're the HR Tech Man, Steve. Keep evangelizing to the faithful.

    November 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Hi Steve,

    Further to the comments already received such as loosening the strings on allowing employees access to Social Media Sites, I liked the idea of employees being able to access suggestions & feedback much like you do on Amazon and Twitter. Wouldn't it be great if after an on-line performance review that recommended you improve a particular competency and there were suggested external sources as to how you could do this.

    Your article really opens up the imagination! Thank You!

    P.S. Your blog does not recognize the format of my URL--My website is http://www.hr-hub.ca

    November 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Shemilt

    @Hilary - Thanks for sharing your observation on how technology is changing sourcing in your indusrty

    @Mark - Great point about insight, it does not help the organization to have the best shiny new tools, if they don't help to deliver information and real insight to the business

    @Katherine - I love your point that the technology should support the HR pro, and not be a burden in and of itself

    @Phil - Great point on Open Source. That is something I should have considered, and need to do more research on.

    @Jerry - Super question. Will these trends make tech even more inaccessible to the average HR pro? I hope not, but a great question.

    @Kevin - Thanks for the links to those resources, and for your excellent observations. You are definitely in the know on this and I appreciate you sharing with the readers here.

    @Paul - Thanks and that is an excellent suggestion, I appreciate you sharing it with all of us.

    November 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Wonderful and resourceful article on how to simplify HR solutions, this will also help in designing new web development in this direction. We would love to put this information on our website http://www.simplify.co.in

    Thanks & Regards,

    Simplify Team

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