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    Entries in Technology (378)

    Monday
    Feb012010

    The people that actually use the technology

    Last week amid much hype, Apple unveiled their long-awaited tablet computer, dubbed the iPad.

    Pause for a moment while the 'feminine hygiene' product jokes mill about for a second in your head.  Are you ready now? Good.

    Almost immediately after the details of the product were revealed, a seemingly collective shriek was emitted from various technology news sites, pundits, and longtime fans of Apple.  Most of this outcry was centered on the perceived shortcomings of the iPad.

    No camera?  No ability to multi-task?  No USB ports?  And on and on.

    One clever post compares the iPad to a rock, with the iPad only coming out ahead by the slimmest of margins.

    These criticisms are nearly entirely focused on a cohort of individuals that want the iPad to be a more complicated device.  One that would require a more skilled operator, that would likely fail more frequently, and one that would be more difficult for inexperienced or disinterested users to fully leverage.

    And yes, to some (maybe more that I want to admit) users these the absence of these more advanced and complex capabilities render the iPad superfluous and unnecessary. Let's call these people 'power users'.

    But for many, the ease of use, anticipated fast web browsing experience, and the simplicity with which their desired tasks can be completed on the iPad will offer a compelling value proposition. Calling up a web site, checking e-mail promise to be faster, easy, and dirt simple. Let's call these people 'casual users'.

    So we have on one hand the vocal but relatively few 'power users' clamoring for more and better everything, and what is likely a far wider (and quieter) population of 'casual users' who will likely find the iPad a pretty amazing little device.  The iPad will likely sell millions of units despite these criticisms,(remember many of these same power users thumbed their noses at the first iPod).

    I think there are some lessons in all this that enterprise Human Resources technology creators and implementers can learn from the iPad and from consumer technology, popular consumer web sites, and public social networks in general.

    For me, the lesson is this:

    In the enterprise of say 10,000 people that are the planned users of workforce technology (e.g. a performance management system), maybe 100 or so people could be placed in the category of 'power users'. They need the most advanced functionality, can adapt to a less than intuitive design, and often are willing to spend long periods of time learning how to use the technology.

    The other 9,900 or so people are 'casual users'.  Ease of use, simplicity, clear workflows and speed in which tasks can be completed are of primary importance. Use of workforce technologies are almost never their 'job', they are meant to be compliments to help them perform their jobs better.  They technologies can't be seen as a burden, time suck, and require lengthy and frequent pauses to ask for assistance in their use.  And the power users probably can't help all of them anyway, there are simply too many of them to effectively serve.

    When an organization deploys workforce technologies to ALL 10,000 employees, the needs, concerns, capabilities, and attitudes of the casual users are of utmost importance.  But it is almost exclusively the power users, and their management that participate in the vendor evaluations, make the purchase and design decisions, and (often) are influenced by which solution has the most of everything.

    But for the casual users of most workforce technologies having the most capability does not matter, only the right capability does.  For the vast majority of these users, their real jobs are creating, fixing, selling, answering, not interacting with the latest features in the performance management tool.

    The iPad, as has been pointed out everywhere, does not have the most capability, but for a large population of casual users it may have the right ones, and while critics, pundits, and technology experts are all taking turns bashing the iPad, it may very well be that Apple knows what it is doing and is hitting the perfect balance of features, usability, and design that these casual users want.

    Workforce technologies should always keep that balance in mind.

    Thursday
    Jan282010

    The HR 101 Series

    The King of NYC Victorio Milian, at his Creative Chaos blog has organized and published an ongoing series titled 'HR 101'.

    The goal of the series of articles: to provide introductions and insights on many of the seemingly 'non-HR' subjects (Finance, Statistics, Law, etc.) to the many HR professionals that read his blog.

    There are some fantastic pieces in the 'HR 101' series, and I was honored to be asked to participate with an article on HR Technology.

    I highly recommend you check out the 'HR 101' project, you will find wonderful pieces from Jason Seiden on 'Statistics', Joan Ginsberg on 'Law', and Fran Melmed on 'Internal Communication' (and many more).

    Thanks very much Victorio for allowing me to participate in the project!

    Monday
    Nov162009

    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.

    Mobile

    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?

     

    Monday
    Nov022009

    BYOT - Bring Your own Technology

    Spent some time Sunday morning (the extra hour of 'sleep' we got in the US), reading some excerpts from a book titled 'The Tower and the Cloud',  Chapter One : 'The Gathering Cloud: Is this the End of the Middle' by Richard Katz.

    The book is an examination of the technological changes and forces at work that will dramatically impact and inevitably alter the structure and delivery of higher education in the US and worldwide. One of the Flickr - prestamost interesting observations from the first chapter concerns the how the academic institution will be effected by the increasingly technical acumen demonstrated by its incoming students:

    As the explosion of content continues along with the increasing maturity and availability of web-based academic services and applications, tomorrow’s students will arrive on campus with their own IT architectures and service arrangements. These students—and tomorrow’s faculty—will have little use for or patience with college or university offerings that under perform or force them to lose precious connections to people and processes that they have accumulated since childhood.

    This idea has certainly been discussed and observed in the workplace or professional context as well. How does the organization react when new employees (typically Millennial or Gen Y age) enter the workforce carrying with them (and expecting to leverage) different, and many times superior technical capabilities than the organization has deployed?

    Whether it is Gmail with its huge storage capacity, external social networks for connection and information sharing with their personal communities, cloud based file storage and collaboration services, or free web-conferencing and conference calling on demand, or event the latest in slick technology the new (and existing) employee has the ability, and perhaps the expectation that they can and should be able to leverage these capabilities in the workplace.

    In 'The Tower and the Cloud', Katz suggest these factors (and several others) will force a fundamental shift in the traditional role of the university as the 'center' of learning, research, and access to technology. Since information access, computing power, and ability for experts to connect directly with students (and potential students) without the need for the physical university as a kind of broker the university will be forced to adapt to this reality, and evolve in order to survive.

    In the corporate world, while it does seem that such dramatic changes are less likely (at least not as quickly), there are certainly some implications.  In an environment where employees (especially younger ones) move much more frequently from one firm to another, does it still make sense to spend the first 'X' days/weeks/months teaching these employees all about your unique and in many cases proprietary systems? Or would that time and effort be better spent building bridges from these internal systems to the ones that employees are already familiar with and have already adopted?

    Technical capability, access to information, employees understanding and leveraging of networks, cloud capability and new and better solutions for collaboration all are advancing faster than most organizations ability to keep up.  Finding the correct balance between forcing employees back inside the corporate 'technology box' and leveraging the tools and capabilities they bring with them is one of the most important challenges for organizations today.

    The ones that strike the correct mix will be in far stronger position than the ones that don't.

     

    Thursday
    Oct222009

    Satisfaction Guaranteed

    Buyers of enterprise software have typically have had very few, and mostly unpalatable options available to them to remedy a systems implementation project gone awry.

    Let's say the company is seven months in to the project, the software is either not functioning properly, the project team is either understaffed, incapable, or dysfunctional, or funding has been withdrawn.

    What are the options?

    1. Cut bait - Scrap the project, send away the consultants, don't renew the software and maintenance licenses, and perhaps write-off the project costs to date, (and possibly look for a new job). The project was important but not important enough to cripple the organization.

    2. Vendor wrestling - Needed when the primary cause of the problems are software bugs. Hopefully you have enough juice to lean hard on the vendor to get some action on outstanding issues, and while you are at it maybe you can wring some free training credits or a couple of passes to the next user conference out of them.

    3. Clean the decks - Sack the consultants you are working with, install a new project manager, form a new 'core team', and re-launch the project.  Toss in a (second) big kick-off meeting and make a few stirring speeches about lessons learned, and a need to change processes, etc.  This might work. Maybe.

    4. Re-open the vendor evaluation - This is the old 'it's not me it's you scenario'.  Maybe the organization did not take enough time in the vendor selection process and a 'fit' between the client's needs and the solutions capabilities did not materialize.  Starting all over again with a new solution might work.  Or it might not.

    5. Sue - Who can the organization sue?  The software vendor, the consulting partners, maybe both.  There are some celebrated and high-profile cases of organizations suing for damages over failed enterprise software implementations.

    6. Get a refund - What? Refund?  There are no refunds in enterprise software are there? Typically not.  But this week Halogen Software, a leading provider of Talent Managment software announced a new 'money-back guarantee'. According to the company:

    After using one of our assisted implementation programs to bring any one of our products into your organization, if you’re not happy with it, we will refund in full your unused subscription fees – as long as you let us know within 6 months of your purchase date

    Halogen is the only vendor in this class that offers such a program, and I think it's uniqueness is a testament to Halogen's faith and track record of excellent customer support. 

    But it is also telling that in projects that can be incredibly complex, expensive, lengthy, and risky that having a guarantee of any kind is extremely unusual. Full marks to Halogen for having the courage to offer such a guarantee, we will see if any other vendors follow suit.

    Does anyone have any knowledge of other enterprise software vendors that offer a comparable guarantee?

    While you contemplate the question, have a look at my favorite 'refund' scene, from 'Breaking Away'