Future HR

How to get the best value out of HR systems

originally posted in Inside HR Magazine  http://bit.ly/13ocsjj
There is a correlation between technology and organisational maturityThere is a correlation between technology and organisational maturity. Source: iStock

There is a direct relationship between organisational maturity levels and the value derived from HR systems, writes Rob Scott

Clients often ask me what the primary influencer is when selecting new HR software, and are generally surprised when I respond that they should first ask their executive management team what they really think of their HR department and what current and future expectations they have of this function.

The executive view is generally very telling, and while there are many factors which influence the selection of HR software – including key business drivers, people focus areas, industry challenges, budget availability and existing vendor relationships – one overriding influencer, and one that is rarely applied sufficiently, is the impact of organisational maturity. Your maturity level is a direct result of how your executive team defines and drives the concept of value (including people value) through the business. It is also the lead indicator of what the HR function will succeed at, and hence the likely value an organisation will get from an investment in HR software.

Your views of people
I like to think about HR software as a mirror. It generally reflects the reality of management’s view of people. In many cases, I see HR departments being blamed for “poor service” and “terrible software” – and while HR incompetency may be a contributing factor, the real issue is often a misalignment of what the HR function does and what the organisation needs in relation to its maturity level.

Some organisations see people primarily as a cost, whereas others see people as a means of producing broad financial and societal returns. While there is no right or wrong position, what your organisation maturity level reveals is the true “expectation” executives have of employees. It also frames any value they would assign to proposed HR initiatives and tools.

According to the Maturity Institute’s framework (ARC) there are nine other “pillars” aside from how people are viewed that when measured together, determine an organisation’s stage of maturity . The “stage” effectively shows the current limit of HR’s value and expectations.

Aligning to maturity levels
When a company has a low level of organisational maturity (e.g. stage 1 or 2), it is unlikely that senior management would regard the HR function as strategically influential, nor see significant benefit in introducing solutions like performance management, career & succession and analytics. In this scenario we often see HR managers using a “stick” approach to drive process compliance with line managers, but few managers actually derive any business value from these HR tools, because the executive team fundamentally don’t see the need to use them to execute their goals. At a maturity level of four or five, there is a completely different expectation of people by executives who understand the importance of these tools to create business value.

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The argument against using maturity for software selection is tied into the “HR best practice” and “best practice technology” belief. Stories of engaged employees, massive cost savings and improved shareholder value are the typical rationale provided by software vendors to buy all their software. I am yet to meet a vendor who is prepared to accept financial accountability if the “best practice” they want you to buy does not work.

Aligning your HR software selection and purchases with your maturity level will give you the greatest opportunity to succeed in HR and build credibility at the executive level. As you improve your maturity level, the need for more strategic and sophisticated HR systems will become obvious and support from executives will easily be attained.

HR systems and organisational maturity

  • There is a direct relationship between your organisational maturity level and the value you derive from HR systems.
  • HR systems are like a mirror – they reflect how your organisation views people. When people systems are in disarray, it is often a sign of a low organisational maturity level, not poor software or process.
  • When HR managers and executives understand and accept what their maturity level means, the role of HR and expectations become clear to both parties.
  • Improving your level of organisational maturity is the real catalyst for HR to become a strategic influencer in your company.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.

SaaS HR technology: the new face of HR?

Featured in Inside HR Magazine – October 2014

The next three years provide an opportunity for HR to evolve people practices into a modern digital environment

There is significant value to be derived from HR evolving people practices into a modern digital environment, writes Rob Scott

Compared to traditional on-premise or ERP HR technologies, true SaaS technology has fundamentally shifted the business discussion from one focused on getting HR technology to work effectively to an emphasis on how HR can generate business value through people. While not dismissing the value that many companies continue to derive from traditional on-premise HR solutions, there is no denying the comparatively long and often complex journey traditional HR systems demand in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

Time saving and agility: important ingredients
Executives are realising the long-term impact and financial advantage of effectively managing their people value chain. Together with emerging workplace trends such as remote working, ad hoc team creation, social collaboration, project orientation and hyper-specialisation, the luxury of having time to build solutions to support these new work environments is quickly diminishing.

The workforce itself is changing. It’s a more flexible workforce that is fast becoming a collection of diverse, specialised individuals who have different contractual relationships with a company. And there is an expectation that the tools they use to be productive are simple, yet effective – integrated in a way that supports collaboration and is accessible from anywhere on any device. In a recent survey conducted by Microsoft, 31 per cent of employees said they would be willing to spend their own money on an app if it made them more effective at work.

The last thing an organisation wants is to be held back by software that absorbs a great deal of time and takes even more effort to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace and workforce. The need for agility and swiftness are two critical elements for future business competitiveness, and for these reasons, SaaS HR software is being recognised as a supportive catalyst.

We are moving to a digital work environment rapidly, and mechanisms such as social tools, mobility and gamification are providing the platform for enabling HR to step up to a strategic analytic and evidence-based advisory role. While many ERP tools are bolting on some of this digital capability, the underlying technology and design of these products have not been built with a digital framework. True SaaS HR products have been completely rebuilt from the database objects to the user interface and fundamentally support and integrate with digital design thinking.

HR needs a new set of skills
HR professionals, particularly those from a social sciences background, have generally been reluctant to build personal skills and knowledge in technology. In many respects, this has limited their ability to be effective in driving traditional HR technology projects. New SaaS tools have largely solved this problem because of the simplicity in how these tools are set up and maintained. SaaS tools have fewer configuration and modification options than ERP solutions, which in my mind is a good thing for HR. Too often, ERP tools are redesigned at great cost but with little business benefit.

I believe there are other complementary areas where HR functions can build competency and expertise. First, social intelligence – understanding how social thinking is introduced into business and HR strategies and enabled through digital technology. Second, analytic intelligence – making sense of lots of new people-related data that will be created as the digital work environment evolves. This includes data from wearable technology and from everyday objects that are connecting to the internet (internet of things). Analytic intelligence will have a strong predictive focus rather than a reactive statistical slant.

The next three years open up a window of opportunity for HR to evolve people practices into a modern digital environment. There is significant value to be derived, and HR must now become self-sufficient in making this a reality.

Key SaaS trends for HR

  • True SaaS HR software is quite different from ERP products. When you pull back the covers, the underlying design is geared to support a digital HR environment.
  • Modern organisations no longer have the luxury of extended time to redesign their HR solutions – SaaS tools offer agility and simplicity.
  • Now is the time for HR professionals to take ownership of HR software projects with no need to be intimidated by a lack of IT knowledge.
  • News skills for HR in social and analytic intelligence are critical to understand how software will create people value.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.

Your Future HR System is an Open Data Platform

technologyLet me start this blog off by drawing a comparison between Banking and the Travel Industry. Think about how you interact with your Bank digitally. You can do general banking at an ATM, on-line or through a smart phone app, you may use applets which help you calculate loan repayments or the future value of your deposits. But that’s where it generally ends. Try applying for a Mortgage and suddenly you’re confronted will loads of paper, duplication of information, signatures in black ink, proving your credit worthiness, physically going into the bank, multiple approval layers and reviews and possibly a lengthy waiting period until you have an answer.

Now think about the travel industry ~ your ability to build a personalized flight itinerary, buy insurance, book a hotel and car, check what others think about your choices, selectively introduce influencing factors such as price, time and loyalty points, get progress alerts and much more ~ all done without much fuss and no people interaction. You can choose which website or apps to use rather than being confined to the actual service provider and even use your smart phone as the mechanism to store and scan your electronic boarding pass. The only time you engage with a person is at the security check and boarding gate. This is a mature digitized industry, and arguably a higher risk one than Banking.

If we compare current main-stream HR/Talent software (including SaaS) to these two industries, most would agree that they are more like the Bank scenario. On the positive side vendors are including functions such as ESS, Social Recruiting and On-line Learning which are empowering users and streamlining processes, but there are some fundamental changes required for HR to achieve equivalent digital maturity, implied efficiency, fantastic end-user experience with choice as that of the travel industry.

Here are some of the key elements that would need to change.

1.       Modernize the Database Layer

The relational database management system (RDBMS) has been the cornerstone of transactional processing and reporting in HR systems for over 25 years. The need for this type of structured storage remains, but as we see new data types such as graphic, recognition, video, voice, gesture and style (eg. what I click on) being generated for work purposes, the RDBMS is not the optimal solution. There is a requirement to introduce non-SQL type databases which are able to leverage and manage the data inherent in these new data types. Non-SQL databases would allow HR to move beyond a fairly rigid and logical-based limitation (think workflow) and introduce personalized services, offerings and actions based on your unique data and interactions.

2.       Standardization to Individualization

Much of the constraint in HR efficiency is inherent in the need to control and dictate a process that supports the HR software rather than focusing on the outcome. We have spent years telling managers that standardization is critical, but in reality we limit the availability of choice in HR processes because of software constraints and by implication to make HR’s life more manageable. HR vendors needs to move past this hurdle and allow users to achieve the same outcome, but through an individualized approach. The underlying data remains the same, but the “How” becomes a choice. (Think about your choices when booking an airline ticket).

3.       A Dynamic Data Hub rather than the Source of Truth

We are seeing some HR solutions starting to venture down this path with interfaces or search capability to LinkedIn, Facebook and other 3rd party tools. The type of data that will be important to HR in the future will be generated outside of the core HR system by individual employees, contingent workers and applicants. We need HR solutions that can integrate to potentially thousands of external and individual databases to share information. The future Workforce will ultimately give employers the right to use their data whilst they are employed and will expect data generated during employment to be shared back to the originating database. The notion of the HR system being the source of truth for people data is outdated and is constraining innovation and creativity.

4.       The HR System becomes a Platform

Removing the need to use the vendors HR software or front-end in order to access data or perform actions will allow for greater integration and ownership by line managers and employees. Much of the frustration experienced by line managers is the need to go into “another” tool to execute an HR activity or get information to support a decision. In a similar way that Expedia.com piggy-backs off the data and system of the individual airlines, hotels and car renters, HR systems should allow for direct transactions through other tools (this is not the same as interfacing). A platform approach will allow for greater flexibility and agility at the company and individual level, and will give rise to continuous improvements in other systems (finance, procurement, workforce planning etc.) to use HR data to achieve a common end result. As an example, think of how a project manager could use his project planning tool to provide performance feedback rather than going into the HR tool itself or the scheduling manager at a consultancy could “pre-approve” leave for employees “on the Bench” from his WFM software.

 

Many of the new HR cloud and SaaS software products are fantastic solutions, but fundamentally they have not changed for over 25 years. I implemented my first networked HR system in 1987, and while we had no smartphone apps, high speed internet or fancy front-ends, most of the modules we have today, existed in those older system.

We are stuck in a logic and transactional mind-set and as we witness the emergence of powerful new data types,   it’s time to break these shackles and build software that will allow HR to surge ahead. If a high risk industry such as Travel can achieve this, there is no reason that HR can’t do the same.

The rise of the SMATE

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Photo Credit – amanda.murphy4 – Flickr

There are times in our recent history where particular events have epitomized the turning-point in global views, perceptions and behaviors ~ like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “Cold War”, the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid, 9-11 and the rise of terrorism, 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis. These events cause “global ripples” and while many people are impacted directly, there are many more people that feel the change in indirect ways. For HR, a turning-point has been Cloud & SaaS solutions, taking center stage in late 2012 – the direct impact is on HR departments from an empowerment perspective, but the real value impact is achieving organisational goals through people.

HR Cloud and SaaS solutions are fundamentally shifting and empowering the HR environment, putting HR in a renewed position to influence organisational objectives and create value through people. But these new solutions are vastly different from the typical ERP products that dominated for decades, and the individuals who became the “life-savers” or “Stars” for those projects were just that because of their experience and insight into managing complex technology tools. They were the technical experts who dominated workshops and discussions to figure out how to set up the HR solution technically.

The latest cloud and SaaS solutions require significantly less technical prowess, and with this we see the client conversation shifting from “how to best configure the software ?” to a more HR flavored discussion of “how do I create value through people ?”. This shift in discussion from technical to people may be easily overlooked, but is more fundamental and deserves greater consideration than perhaps one may think.

HR leaders are starting to take genuine ownership of cloud HR system projects because they are now able to have discussions which are not being dominated by the technology questions (which were all very important by the way) nor left feeling inadequate to contribute in workshops that were driven by the “Technology Stars” using a language and approach which was foreign to them. In HR Cloud and SaaS projects, HR owners will rightly have a different expectation of the project language, approach and outcomes. Cloud and SaaS has lifted the technology complexity for HR and this will spur them on to want to discuss the HR “How” rather than the Technology “How” – the big question is who is best positioned to lead this new discussion with HR….enter the SMATE.

This new discussion with clients and team members will require someone quite unique – an HR SMATE, or an HR Subject Matter & Technology Expert. Many current HR system consultants may be inclined to assume they are a SMATE by virtue of their closeness to HR technology, but the reality is that a true SMATE is a bit like hens teeth – pretty rare at the moment! While many technology educated people have worked in HR systems for years, their point of reference for HR and best practice is mostly framed by the HR technology they know so well – their discussions with an HR professional has been fairly process and system oriented, and most HR professionals will quickly pick up the lack of depth in HR expertise. Likewise many HR people have a mindset about technology that doesn’t go far beyond the UI (user interface) and get lost in discussions on architecture, object management, databases and interfacing. This is frustrating for technology people who understand the critical nature of these discussions to the solution outcome.

HR ERP implementations primarily needed to lead with a technology mind-set ~ the individuals could learn HR/Talent processes to support discussions. It hasn’t however been easy to motivate an HR trained person to learn technology at a level that would enable adequate discussion across coding, configuration and architecture. But cloud and SaaS HR solutions changed that with technical requirements becoming more system set-up (We however still need hardcore techies for integration and custom developments). In a very short period of time HR professionals can learn the ins-and-outs of a cloud tool set-up and confidently introduce these requirements into an HR discussion, The tide has turned and it is easier for an HR professional to become a true SMATE than for a technology oriented person to do so.

We need true SMATE’s to rise up and become the catalyst for new system discussions with HR executives and project owners. To become the driver behind HR/Talent systems delivering value beyond transactional activity. SMATE’s will engage in deep-dive conversations around people behavior and social science thinking in the same way technology people drove technical discussions during ERP projects. Where this happens, we will see greater HR successes.

The organizations and consulting firms that nurture HR SMATE’s will be putting themselves in a strong position to create true HR value and help HR functions become a significant contributor to their organisational goal achievement  – the true HR SMATE is the next HR system “star”

Do HR Systems Need A Sexy UI?

UI graphicMy Scottish heritage drives me  to blurt out “Och Aye!” ( meaning oh yes) on this one ~ why shouldn’t our HR systems with all their new-found business support enjoy the best presentation on our desktops, tablets and smartphones? There are so many creative advancements taking place in the UI ( user interface or more accurately, human-machine interaction)  world that it is easy to be charmed by their mystique and the experience they take you through ~ but while the demos might look great, we need to consider the practicalities of using these tools on top of what (in many cases, but not all) are essentially HR solutions with a traditional data model design. Naomi Bloom has been a lone voice for a while on the realities of trying to make an old HR technology architecture perform new tricks, versus the benefits of a system designed for purpose. It’s the classic “Lipstick on the Pig” scenario when you introduce modern UI principles on top of an old back-end.

Take for example “kinetics”, the tools that emerged to support gaming consoles like the Wii and Xbox. It basically detects your body movement and converts your movement into system commands. So how practical or effective would this be for an HR product? – probably not at all is my guess given that HR systems are not fundamentally designed to leverage that form of input and neither is it practical to capture text in that way. A technology company in Lithuania offers a kinetic interface for online banking solutions, well all I can say is it hilarious to watch the actor swinging their arms around to transfer money from one account to another. Can you imagine a new  employee casually walking  past an in-progress performance assessment using the new HR kinetics ESS tool – the arm-swinging manager and employee may send him scuttling to find a new employer.
The big buzz word in UI design is “Experience” and it’s driven by the multitude of consumer applications that are leveraging everything from Voice, Gesture, Eye-tracking, Multiple-touch, Movement, and more to create a memorable and different ways to capture and deliver information or results. Golden Krishna a senior UI designer from Samsung is promoting the “No Interface” approach, which will learn about your preferences and create an interface that is unique to your style. We are already seeing some of this thinking emerging in Google predictive products (Like Google Now). The advancements in this space are increasing at a rate of knots, to the extent that it is unlikely that HR business application vendors can keep up as part of their normal product development cycle – they will need to decouple the UI capability from the remaining solution architecture elements.
So while many HR systems are stuck with their traditional data models, the useful and feasible UI enhancements, particularly those on mobile applications, should focus on turning the HR data into embedded analytics and decision making support as well as greater portability of the HR business processes. There is a lot more that HR vendors can do to make these elements a greater user experience  with richer functionality and content without the need to leverage the latest UI gimmicks.
HR Vendors who have built their products with a user process mindset (rather than a data model) will have greater short term opportunity, especially in the ability to directly interact with employees, to leverage newer UI developments. But while it is tempting to vigorously exploit these, vendors must ensure they don’t inadvertently create new complexities in HR systems which reduce usage and start corridor sniggering.

Dear HR Vendors, are you thinking about Personal Data Stores?

keysWe have all seen the headlines regarding the amount of new data we create every year – it’s in excess of Two Quadrillion Megabytes (that’s 2 with 21 trailing zero’s) – by any standards that is a huge number and it continues to grow, spurred on by growing continuous connectivity to the internet, mobile access and tonnes of free storage space . In this process of creating data, we are also breading a new culture of data ownership – one of personal empowerment, which is giving rise to the Personal Data Store (PDS).
When you think about it, organizations have gathered, stored and managed personal data to serve their own benefits, and allowed employees and managers to access the data on a “right-to-see” basis  – they have had to carry the cost of creating and managing this data too, typically through ERP and cloud based HR/Talent systems. Much of the data organizations want from the workforce is now being created and managed by employees in cloud based tools and applications.
Over the next few years these Personal Data Stores will mature and help individuals to gather, store, access, update, use and share their data in a sophisticated and powerful way. In particular these tools will allow individuals to choose what information they wish to share, with who and for what purpose the data can be used, including the creation and sharing of new data based on the initially shared data. Personal Data Stores won’t just contain employee related data, but will help individuals manage vast amounts of data relevant to different business and personal relationships they create. These could include Health records, Scholastic and Education records, Business transactions, Employee transactions, Identity data, Life events, Government records to name a few.
While this may not initially trigger off too many alarm bells, the more you think about it, the more you’ll realize the implications on your relationships with employees created by the shift in power of data ownership from the organization to the employee. The Personal Data Store will become a new epi-center for business opportunity. Personal Data Stores are destined to become the “electricity supplier” of the 21st Century.
What will this mean for future HR systems as data ownership and management become person-centric ? Here are some of my thoughts:
  • HR systems will need to cater for an individual type API – the ability to interface with multiple cloud based Personal Data Stores or to buy into a PDSaaS (Personal-Data-Store as-a-Service) platform;
  • HR systems will need to export new and updated data back to the individual Personal Data Store;
  • Organizations will need to accept an employees “Terms & Conditions” to use shared data;
  • The ability to pay the employee for use of some data or pay for data used to generate business value or continued use of historic data after the employee has left the employ will become necessary;
  • HR systems or other systems will need to accept disparate data elements that could assist the organization eg. a list of Face book contacts that have access to possible job candidates;
  • Sophisticated OCR, facial,voice and other recognition tools to “read” non-text based shared material;
  • The Personal Data Store will in effect become an ESS tool – updating the PDS will update the HR system; and
  • HR systems will need to accept new types of verification that is attached to the shared data eg. a qualification may come with an integrated verification flag provided by the learning institution.
While I’m sure this is a but “far-out” for many readers, there are  some obvious advantages that this new data ownership model could have:
  • The quality and accuracy of HR data is improved;
  • The richness and completeness of employee HR data can be improved;
  • Reduced cost and effort for HR functions to maintain HR systems;
  • Improved reporting and opportunity to leverage new information for the company benefit;
  • Reduced duplication of data;
  • Richer and easier on boarding for employees and contractors; and
  • Lower data privacy risks
We have a way to go before this becomes main-stream, but it is already starting with some social tools such as LinkedIn. Personal Data Stores are more sophisticated than the current social tools, but if our history of the Internet and technology growth is anything to go by it won’t be too long before this becomes a reality. Lets hope the HR Vendors are leading the charge.

Retailing outsourcing and Banking “deals”: Two of a (bad) kind

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It didn’t take much time after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) for the truth to emerge – that at the heart of the GFC lay greed for organisational and personal financial gain, and that those organisations were happy to do this at the expense of anything or anyone. The aftermath saw a lot of anger from governments, up and downstream suppliers as well as the general population, who lost jobs, livelihoods, lives and reputations.

 

 

“One would have expected that organisations would learn from these mistakes, even if they were not in the financial services industry but clearly they didn’t. The likes of Coles, Target, Cotton on and many more have once again been blinded by greed.”

 

The retail industry has done something just as bad in my view. They were prepared to hang innocent and desperate people out to dry, and in this case have blood on their hands with the death of many people from the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013. The collapse of the illegally built factory claimed the lives of more than 1,000 workers. This was the clothing retail industries equivalent of the GFC except we can now rename it the “Global Fabric Catastrophe

 

The reaction from retailers has been sickening. To try and cover up the facts and to suggest that the supply chain executives and others were not remotely aware of the physical conditions of employment  which the garments were being produced under, and the wages the employees were earning were not nearly commensurate with the work effort, is an insult to our intelligence. How can retailers believe a monthly salary of $69 for a sewing machine worker, who lives in a single room apartment with her family and shares 4 toilets amongst 100 people, is proper and fair? It’s blatant exploitations, and comes pretty close to slavery.

 

The reality is that if the human disaster did not happen, the plight of these people making the garments would not have been exposed. And just like the financial crisis of 2008, the industry would have continued to feed its greed through new schemes and deals at the expense of anyone.

 

One has to ask what role the HR functions of these organisations played. I would love to know if any one of the HR executives or CHRO’s from these organisations believe they and the HR function are to blame in any way for this calamity. My best guess is that they won’t see the relationship between HR and this event. That’s because their level of HR Maturity is low and they are not a real strategic player in any sense, even though they have an executive seat.

 

The fact that a culture of greed was not identified and properly managed and influenced by HR and others is indicative of the reality that most so-called “Strategic HR” functions are not strategic nor business focussed at all. I wonder if the local organisations would allow their own staff to live under such conditions as the people in Bangladesh – clearly not, but yet HR allowed its “extended” workforce to live in misery, and capitulated in all respects around fairness, quality of work environment, health and safety and its moral obligations to fellow human beings.

 

Dealing with HR and business maturity is becoming a priority. How many more disasters do we need to go through in other industries before we understand that making a profit and giving returns to shareholders is fine, but not at the expense of people and in this case their lives.

 

It’s time for HR service providers to take accountability for what they sell

charlatanCross post from HRmaturity.com  (please visit this site for some great blogs and thought leadership on HR Maturity)
Today I spent some time wandering around an HR conference and Vendor expo in Sydney. I like doing this partly to ensure I’m up to speed with what’s on offer, but also to look for any fundamental changes taking place in the HR industry. On my agenda today was to ask all the Vendors & Service providers I met one pertinent question -“Did they have any accountability for their product/solution success after the sale?”

As I expected, most of the answers contained elements of ongoing support contracts, help with the design/implementation/creation of the solution and similar rhetoric. I couldn’t find any vendor that would categorically take any accountability for the outcomes expected from their offerings.  The key argument was that they were not in a position to take accountability as ownership passed from them to the buying client and decisions made by the client could not be influenced by the vendor.

Here is the problem with these arguments – it’s a convenient “cop out” and smacks of simply wanting to take the money and run! It was a similar argument that many consumer product manufacturers used in the 90’s when they said they could not be held responsible for how a consumer used their wares, and if it killed the consumer in the process, well that was simply not their problem (to be harsh and blunt) – but times have changed and many countries now have strong consumer protection laws in place where the producer of a consumer product is accountable and responsible for ensuring the product brings no harm to the buyer and does what it purports to do. Of course there is an equivalent onus on the buyer to use the product as it was intended and according to instructions.

This notion of responsibility and accountability between the producer and buyer of consumer products didn’t happen quickly. There was a maturing and education process that took place over years to get producers to understand that they could still make profits, but they had to do it responsibly and take accountability for negative impacts experienced by the buyer.

If I look at so many HR departments, they are littered with tools, solutions, ideas, schemes, strategies and other paraphernalia that was procured over years, all with great expectations of achieving fantastic outcomes, but they didn’t.  And so, the failed solution got thrown out onto the proverbial HR solution junk heap, and the search for something better and greater continues. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to push all the blame onto HR solution providers and vendors, but I reckon there are many that would go out of business if there was a legal obligation to ensure their HR wares achieved the outcomes they claimed.

I would like to see HR vendors and service providers playing a far stronger and leading role in assessing if a buyer is positioned to use their tool, solution or idea before committing to selling it to them. The onus should rest with the seller, (who after all is supposed to be the guru in terms of their solutions) to help educate the buyer around the necessities for their solution to be successful, and have the professionalism and guts to withhold a solution if these critical elements are not in place. In short, HR vendors need to skill up in making a professional diagnosis, and assessing any risk and negative impact that their solution will have on an organisation, its employees or associates. There needs to be severe penalties for those that “sell and run”.

Making HR a successful and value adding part of an organisation requires the commitment of all stakeholders and it’s time for the charlatan HR vendors to change their ways or move out of the industry.

The Clash of the (Social) Titans is Near

2012 ushered in a new era for HR software solutions. It will be a year that we saw some really big deals going down as the big boys of the ERP world manoeuvred themselves into  strategic positions within the cloud ecosystem. The writing was on the wall and vendors that didn’t have a cloud based solution and strategy (or at least claim they had one) were likely to  face some difficult times financially and competitively over the next three years.

With the advent of HR cloud based tool, we also saw the introduction of social and gamifcation layers being added directly into these new products. Not just as optional extra’s, but often forming the epi-centre of the product driver. Particularly in areas such as Performance Management, where communication and discussion needs between employee and manager were ripe for something new to spur what was typically a dismal failure in most organisations.

As society was settling down to the acceptance of social media as a legitimate means of sharing knowledge, ideas generation and general chin-wags in the work environment, the HR vendors saw the gap to add this functionality into their solutions to drive out better HR and Talent management. And the good thing is it works ~ you have to be prepared to adapt your work environment, leadership styles and accept that the control that was prevalent in hierarchical organisations may not work in a social environment, but if you get that right, there is a lot of good stuff that HR can do. That’s not the problem!

Who owns the social layer?

While the HR vendors were thinking about how to leverage social layers within their products, the Enterprise social guru’s were making strong headway into major organisations. Tools like Yammer have moved many organisations into a new ‘Knowledge Management” and information sharing era – building stronger communities and starting to see good paybacks on tacit knowledge lying wasted around in their staff’s grey matter.This is good too!

So what happens when Mr HR Director goes ahead and purchases a subscription to a new cloud based HR solution that also uses a proprietary social layer tool?  The reality is that many of these tools rely on the end-user using the solutions social layer, not a third party tool. OK, well having more than one social tool is not a big deal, I hear you say, we have more than one in our private lives like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, so things should work out.

This is where I think the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan and it’s going to get worse. If I look at the emergence of other cloud tools in the Finance, Rostering & Scheduling, Procurement and other business areas~ many of these tools are integrating proprietary social layers into their products just like the HR vendors, and they all have an expectation that you need to use the SM layer.

If I’m a user of the Finance tool and use its social layer, I might find that I’m having to repeat my knowledge post, great idea, message of recognition or piece of gossip on the HR tool – that’s of course if I remember to do that when I next use the HR tool. Not to mention the owners of the Enterprise Social layer who will be putting pressure on all employees to share and discuss on the corporate system. Then of course there is the confusion of whether I said something via email or on a social layer, or was it perhaps a text message.

Who will win the battle?

Maybe someone will come up with a clever technology layer that can plug into all these new emerging social tools embedded within discreet products to help manage the data flow and curb the likely confusion and risks. Until then I can see a number of battles taking place, with someone loosing and someone winning. The looser unfortunately may also see value disappear  from their beloved cloud solution. What we should acknowledge is that custodianship of the social tools is not an HR right!

I think we will be seeing a bit of fur flying in 2013 – a good thing in my view. Its the only way we will see the need for something new to help us manage our changing work places.

Let me know your views.

Iphone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S III – The same “love” is found in HR systems

The lead up to the launch of the iPhone 5 as well as the actual announcement leaves nobody with any doubt that marketing (if used correctly)  is a powerful mechanism to convince and manipulate people into taking a position and influencing future behaviours (in this case buying patterns).

It has an unfortunate side-effect… one that brings out a darker side of the human psyche and has the potential to be destructive to the person being influenced by the marketing spin, but also to other people who don’t hold the same view. Its called Technology-Fundamentalism.

During the lead up to the announcement of the iPhone 5, I would periodically read articles on the likely features and changes to the phone on “balanced-view” websites. What struck me more though, were the comments section at the end of the article, where readers can provide their owns views and comments. To say that it often turned into a ‘war of words’ is an understatement, the iPhone fan-boy club would be absolutely ruthless generally towards anything Android and visa versa – I have no doubt that many of these on-line discussions could turn into nasty brawls if all the contributors where physically sitting in the same location. Why is this, and is this healthy ? – has effective smartphone marketing turned people against each other to the extent that they cannot acknowledge the positives of another product without feeling that they are going against their Smartphone doctrine.

It got me thinking about the world of HR software, which I take a particular interest in. There is a lot of similarity in the dialogue between smartphone owners and HR software users/vendors/consultants. And it is very prevalent in the SAP, Oracle, Workday, Taleo, SuccessFactors space – most people working with these solutions tend to align themselves with a company or a product and fight “Tooth & Nail” to convince you that their chosen product is better than the others.

I have no doubt that in each of the mentioned products there is functionality,  components and  tools that are better than the other products, but they are also likely to have their weaknesses which are either obvious or are not discussed so that they create the impression of “Perfection”.

And people in this space go to extremes (fundamentalism) – I was once hosting an HRIS session at which all the main ERP / SaaS players were in attendance. I spent some time chatting to the country MD of Workday, which obviously offended the SuccessFactor guy, who thought it correct to lay a formal complaint to my employer. Admittedly, these sort of behaviours are extreme, but it shows you how people can be absolutely in love with their technology, that they will go to great extremes to if required.

On a practical level, I have seen functional consultants making fundamental mistakes in trying to convince clients that they can MAKE their product do what the client needs (and often the client agrees because they don’t know better), when clearly there are other solutions and options that are better. You can do just about anything with most HR technologies if you want to, but that doesn’t make it right.

So being passionate about you product (or your phone) is good, it drives one to greater depths of understanding that can be very powerful, but there are limits, that if you pass, you become obsessed and start thinking everyone who is using another HR tool (or uses another phone) is making a huge mistake. That’s the sad part!

To all the SAP, Oracle, Workday and other product fundamentalist – take a step back and explore the other solutions and offerings – you’ll firstly be amazed at the similarities, but also realise that there is other ways to do things as effectively as your product does. Your ability to help your clients will be significantly improved and you can broaden your understanding of HR technology significantly. Who knows, you may even find it easier to switch from your Samsung or iPhone…..