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    Tuesday
    Dec012009

    Trapped

    I had yet another of what has become a semi-annual discussion with an HR Technology friend that runs all the HR Technology systems for his shop - Payroll, Benefits, etc. for a medium size organization.Flickr - guppiecat

    They run one of the major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions for all their HR Technology, and the ERP also supports Finance and Logistics.  The solution has been in place for over 10 years, and has undergone 3 or 4 major upgrades in that time.

    Over the 10 years when considering license, maintenance, upgrades, hardware, and labor, this organization has easily $10 - $15 million into this platform. Normal processing works perfectly fine, the payroll runs, employees get enrolled in benefits plans, etc., some manual processes have been automated, but no real 'transformative' HR technology has been implemented.

    Why is this important? 

    My friend, the HR Tech person, has been advocating for the last few years the implementation of new technologies for two of the main organizational 'pain points' : Recruiting and Applicant Tracking, and Performance Management. He (correctly), has determined that there are numerous third party solutions available offering far superior functionality, user experience, and configurability that the related functions in the ERP suite.

    He has articulated a plan, documented his strategy, and prepared a solid business case for these projects. Sure, there are cash expenditures and internal labor costs for these projects, but they are reasonable, and since the solutions he has recommended are delivered in Software as a Service (SaaS) mode, there are not any massive, up front capital expenditures.

    Unfortunately for my friend, and for his organization he has been unable to proceed on these projects.  And the reason for the decision is not completely what you think, it is not purely financial.

    It is rather a more philosophical issue that can be summed up as follows:

    'We are millions of dollars in to this system, and it already has the functionality we need? No way we are bringing in another technology'.

    This organization, like many others, is in the ERP Trap.  So much time, money, and internal investment into a solution that it can paralyze the organization from moving forward on any 'non-ERP' related HR and workforce technologies. A technical decision made, in this case over 10 years ago, continues to have repercussions today.

    This part gets kind of gross

    You have all heard the old legend that a coyote that gets caught in a steel leg trap will eventually chew off their own leg in order to escape. But the coyote, when trapped, does not immediately begin gnawing on its own leg.  That is a crazy, and quite painful reaction.

    No, the coyote waits, and only after the leg has gone numb, and all other possible escape options have been evaluated and discarded, does it take extreme measures to free itself from the trap.

    Back to my friend's organization.  How long until it goes 'numb' before it makes the decision to break free from the ERP trap and stop letting a decade-old decision drive today's critical workforce technology decisions?

    How bad does it have to get before they are willing to do whatever it takes to get out of the trap?

    Monday
    Nov302009

    Nations and Companies, Haves and Have-nots

    I read an interesting piece in Esquire online titled 'What Makes a Nation Rich, One Economist's Big Answer'.

    In the piece, the author asserts that some countries are wealthier, safer, and more successful than others not primarily due to natural resources, colonial traditions, or even technological advances. Flickr - peppergrass

    Rather, some simple and basic concepts of openness, transparency, and fair and trusted institutions are the most likely predictors of success as a nation. The author cites examples of the split US-Mexican city of Nogales and North and South Korea as examples supporting this theory.  North and South Korea have essentially similar climates, natural resources, histories, and there really is no 'real' reason why one nation should be any more successful and its inhabitants standard of living substantially better than the other.

    The author offers some macro-level approaches to the issue (trade embargoes, diplomatic pressure, support for open government) and some micro-level remedies (more and faster internet access, more robust encryption tools, and better cell phone networks.) 

    What I wonder is if some of these 'nation' recommendations could also to be applied to organizations?

    What if there really was not any inherent advantage in your organization's products, services, location, or otherwise that you could leverage to win in the marketplace? What if your success was largely going to be determined by the very same criteria we see in the success of nations? Namely, openness, transparency, employee access to information, no fear of draconian reprisals, and an environment where everyone has a right to be heard?

    What if the really important differentiator was culture, how people are treated, the willingness of employees to open up, and the organization's support of honest, open, and transparent communication?

    Maybe those are the really important differentiators.  So instead of draining every last ounce of managerial and company energy trying to uncover 'the next big thing', perhaps try working on those other capabilities or traits that are freely open to all.

    And maybe, just maybe the 'next big thing' will emerge.

    Friday
    Nov272009

    An HR Technology Wish List

    Since it is 'Black Friday' in the US, the traditional busiest shopping day of the year as people engage in a mad scramble (starting as early as 4AM) to secure the best deals on electronics, toys, gifts, essentially anything and everything.

    For many, Black Friday is about crossing off items on their family and friends 'wish lists' for holiday gifts.

    So keeping in the 'Wish List' spirit, here is my take for the 'Top Ten Wish List for HR Technology'.

     

    1. Stuff that works

    The worst, most disappointing gifts are the ones that once they are unwrapped, assembled, batteries Flickr - Jonathan Wput in, and activated don't actually work as advertised. Vendors: Deliver what you promised in the sales process. The truth is you know way more than the customer 99% of the time. Don't abuse that power. Make sure your stuff works.

    2. Make it simple

    If the shiny new object is too complex, has too steep a learning curve, or has tricky instructions it will quickly get crammed back in the box and shoved back under the tree. Most employees and managers do not have time or inclination to stop their 'real' jobs for very long to spend weeks learning a new technology. Simple is almost always better.  Who out there hasn't seen their little kids spend more time playing with the empty box the toy came in, than the toy itself?

    3. Free Monogramming

    Whatever the technology is, I want to be able to personalize it for my own tastes, role, and preferences.  I want the process to do this personalization to be simple, and completely under my control. Don't make me interact with the technology the same way as the 24 year old tech genius in the next cube.

    4. Decide already

    I am talking to the US Government and their seemingly endless sojourn towards Health Care refroms. Whatever is going to happen here will have a significant impact on HR and HR Technology.  Payroll and Benefits systems are at the core of HR Technology solutions, and the sooner we know what these changes are going to look like the better.  Figure it out for gosh sakes.

    5. Don't make me buy more than I need

    I want an HR Technology solution.  I don't necessarily want a new finance, accounting, and logistics solution.  Those may be great, and certainly others might have them on their lists, but they are not my problem.  It is like getting socks at Christmas. Yes, everyone could use some new socks, but does anyone get excited seeing them in the box? Don't sell me the virtue of 'integration', show me how the solution solves my workforce problems.

    6. A good return policy

    This is a big one.  I need a reasonable return strategy.  Who hasn't gotten a gift that was almost perfect but not quite.  The wrong color, wrong size, whatever.  Don't force me to live with this solution forever, either due to an enormous up-front fee that I can't walk away from, or such a lengthy and costly implementation that I feel like I am past the point of turning back.  If you believe in what you are selling, then you will have no problem providing a way out.

    7. Robots

    I love robots. I want a robot to make me coffee and bacon every morning.  I also want HR Technology to be smarter, more predictive, and proactive. The kind of technology that alerts me when situations warrant, offers some suggestions, and intelligently interacts with processes and people.  And makes bacon.

    8. Next Year's Model

    This year's hot new must have item?  I want it.  And next year when it is 'new and improved' I want that too.  And I want it automatically, cheaply, and when I am ready for it.  Don't make me pay through the nose to get the latest and greatest, or force me to buy a whole bunch of other stuff I don't care about at the same time. I am committing to a solution, don't make me keep professing my commitment year after year with more cash.

    9. Let me take it with me

    You know what my true favorite toy is?  My BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android.  My smartphone is so cool, powerful, and convenient that I expect to live my life via its tiny screen and itty-bitty keys.  That means the HR Technology that I want needs to be able to fit into my world and the way I want to interact with it.  If it doesn't run on an iPhone, does it really matter?

    10. A Puppy

    Puppies are cute.  Puppies make lots of other crappy things seem better.  So I believe a puppy belongs on every holiday wish list.

     

    So there you have it, the 2009 Holiday season HR Technology Wish List.

    What do you think?  Anything you would add to the list?

    Wednesday
    Nov252009

    What shaped 2009 in HR Technology?

    As part of their year-end special report, Mary Ellen Slayter at SmartBrief on Workforce asked some of the members of their Advisory Board to write a post about a workforce trend that shaped 2009.

    Since I believe I am the only 'Technology' person on the Board, I think it makes sense for me to look at the request from that angle, and try to uncover the primary trend or trends that impacted workforce technology in 2009.

    I think the primary trend that affected HR and workplace technology in 2009 is the growing importance of so-called 'social' technologies in the workplace, and in enterprise systems. This trend has manifested itself in several ways in 2009.

    Recruiting has gone social

    In 2009, we saw the emergence in a major way of the idea of 'social recruiting', a relationship-based, high-touch, and heavily technology dependent approach to recruiting.  Social recruiting, which some argue is really no different that traditional and successful recruiting, has substantion technology components, and for HR folks, a basic understanding of these tools is really necessary to effect a successful social recruiting strategy.

    The Applicant Tracking Systems (and related recruiting technologies) that got the most buzz in 2009 were JobVite and Jobs2Web, two solutions that at the center of their value proposition is there embedded integration with external social networks, and the ability of organizations to leverage the personal networks of employees and candidates to support the organizational recruiting process. And towards the end of the year, we have seen several posts advocating empowering the entire organization to support social recruiting, largely via the careful leveraging of technology and networks.

    Employees are Networking

    Growth for the 'big three' social networking sites, (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) continued relentlessly in 2009.  Most organizations and HR departments finally realized in 2009 that social networking was a significant societal and workplace trend, and began to confront and address the appropriate relationship between the organization and the employee use of these networks.

    Whether the response was defining a corporate social media policy, upping your efforts to actively block employee use of social networks, or actively seeking ways to leverage these networks and employee connections on them the topic was on the radar of most all HR departments in 2009. HR's response to this trend has varied of course, but it has become almost impossible to ignore.

    Enterprise Systems getting more social

    Later in 2009,  a fairly steady stream of announcements from classic HR Technology enterprise vendors touted either integration with external social networks and services, or the inclusion of Facebook or Twitter-like 'feed' functionality inside their systems.  Learning Management Systems integrating with Facebook, performance systems linking with Google, or core HRIS connecting to LinkedIn, there were examples of all of these in 2009, and I think it is just the start of an emerging aspect of the overall 'social' trend in HR Technology.

    Other vendors moved to incorporate concepts from the popular external 'status feeds' to help illuminate HR processes, a great example is the Activity Tracker from Talent Management systems vendor Halogen Software. The merging/blending/mashup of process with social interaction and communication inside of traditional enterprise technologies is one of the most important developments in 2009.

    Innovation, collaboration, connection

    In 2009 a slew of tools and technologies that support employee collaboration, information discovery, and internal expertise location were either released or enhanced.  From wikis like Socialtext and PBWorks, activity stream platforms like Socialcast, or more robust internal networking technologies like Cubetree or Jive Social Business Software, it seemed that almost every week in 2009 saw a new product or some new capability added to an existing product. This week, Salesforce.com, the leading provider of enterprise SaaS solutions for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) announced the upcoming 2010 release of Chatter, an internal employee networking application that will allow employees make status updates similar to Facebook and Twitter.

    HR professionals that really want to have input and impact into the future design and implementation of collaborative computing and the continuing 'socialization' of work need to start spending more time understanding how collaboration is and needs to work in their business, and then must be able to intelligently assess and recommend the appropriate technology to support those objectives.

    A look ahead

    I think in 2010, we will certainly see more of this trend, and it will likely manifest itself in new and perhaps surprising ways.  Before the end of the year, I will take a shot at some more detailed projections.

    What do you think, what was the big news in HR Tech in 2009? Notice I did not even mention Oracle Fusion, as I decided an announcement and a short demo in 2009 really does not count as a 'trend'.

    Hit me up in the comments.

    Tuesday
    Nov242009

    Five Ways for HR to Discover Technology

    Yesterday, Tim Sackett guest posted here with a clever, and I think mostly accurate view on why HR professionals have traditionally been slow to embrace, and at times have difficulty understanding technology.Flickr - iLoveButter

    Since Tim made some great points, I thought I would run a quick follow-up, with just a few ideas and resources for the HR professional that wants to open up and really start to embrace technology.  So in no particular order, here goes:

     

    Blogs - There are several excellent HR Technology focused blogs that I recommend. Systematic HR, The Knowledge Infuser, InfoBox, InFullBloom, the Human Capitalist, and the HR Technologist should all be on your reading list.  All of these blogs have unique approaches, objectives, and audiences but they all deserve a place on your Google Reader. And as technology continues to grow in importance to 'mainsteam' HR, more and more blogs will focus on technology themed topics.

    Conferences - Are you an HR pro that makes the annual trek to the SHRM National Conference?  While you may be able to talk with lots of HR Technology vendors there, if you really want to get more 'tech' out of your conference dollars, consider trying the annual HR Technology Conference.  It is truly the only event that matters in the HR Technology world.  This three day extravaganza of all things HR Tech is attended by all the significant technology vendors, offers dozens of sessions presented by experts, analysts, and vendors, and is really the place to learn and network in the HR Technology industry.

    Webcasts - Almost all the major HR technology vendors sponsor and/or produce their own free webcasts on general HR Technology topics as well as product-specific discussions and demonstrations.  For more 'vendor-neutral' content, check out the Human Capital Institute or HR.com.  On the vendor side, take a look at Workday who not only produce regular product specific presentations, but also partner with industry experts like Naomi Bloom for more 'strategic' presentations. Here I will shamelessly plug an upcoming HCI webcast I will be on, Transforming the Employment Lifecycle with a Hiring Management System,  December 2 at 1:00PM EST.

    Social Networks - There are the beginnings of some very lively and informative discussions on HR Technology topics on social networks. On Twitter, start by following the #HR_Tech hash tag. There is a monthly HR Technology themed Twitter chat using the #HR_Tech tag, and typically throughout the month many interesting comments, links, and blog posts are tagged with #HR_Tech.  Take a look at the Twitter folks that have added themselves to the #HR_Tech Twibe.  I also think there is plenty of opportunity for someone to leverage a LinkedIn group or perhaps a Ning network for HR and HR Technology folks to gather and share content and network.

    Spy on your Kids - No I don't really mean to literally spy on them, but I suppose you could. I mean that is really between you and your conscience. What I mean is to observe and talk to them about how they interact with technology.  What sites, devices, methods, user interface features do they value and gravitate towards?  There is a growing tendency for technologies that begin to take hold in the consumer space (and are often initially championed by young people) to encroach into the enterprise.  Think about it, the folks that were among the first to sense the myriad business applications for social networks, mobile, and consumer sites like Ebay had a major early mover advantage.  Stay on top of what your kids are up to with technology, and it just may give you ideas you can use today, and a leg up for tomorrow.

    What do you say, what other ways are there for HR pros to start getting more tech savvy?  What has worked for you?