cloud

THERE’S MORE TO SAAS THAN SIMPLICITY

written for and originally published in Inside HR magazine (Feb 2015)

Despite the simplicity and effectiveness of new SaaS tools, maximum value will only be realised by making fundamental changes to key areas in business, writes Rob Scott

You could be forgiven for thinking the relative simplicity and user-friendliness of modern HR SaaS solutions need less business transformation effort to embed them effectively into a HR and business environment. The oft vendor pitch of having a newly acquired SaaS HR solution “up and running” in a very short timeframe is very appealing to buyers, particularly if they’ve had prior ERP project experiences encompassing flashbacks of complex and error-prone planning, designing, testing and cut-overs etched into their long-term memory.

However, the lure of a swift, pain-free and cost-effective implementation can mask the very real need for a transformed business environment that supports the new SaaS HR solution. The HR SaaS value and business benefits won’t be achieved by simply switching on the software – this is insufficient and must be augmented by making fundamental changes in at least six key areas. The honeycomb below portrays the facets of effective HR SaaS value creation, and as you can see, there is more than “simplicity” at play.

What’s different about HR SaaS?
I am often asked whether HR SaaS solutions are the same as older on-premise solutions, but “just in the cloud”. While functionality is often similar, the principles behind SaaS design, delivery and value creation are fundamentally different and will require a different approach and focus to on-premise projects. As you read the honeycomb elements (see graphic) the obvious “cloud dilemma” is the disparity between the time to implement the SaaS solution (usually four to 12 weeks) and the time required to transform the business. The latter takes much longer and requires careful and advanced planning.

SaaS value

Ownership: On-premise HR solutions are generally owned by the IT function because of the inherent technical complexity and association to hardware; however, HR leaders are becoming the primary SaaS buyer and must therefore take primary accountability for the solution. For many HR lea
ders this will be foreign, but the ownership change is a key driver of value creation.

Skill: HR functions must build system administration (configuration), data management, project management, analytic, social media, mobile and gamification insights in order to appreciate, manage and leverage the capabilities of modern HR SaaS systems. These are not complex skills to learn and should ultimately become standard knowledge areas for all HR staff.

Behaviour: Modern HR SaaS solutions are designed around regular interaction and collaboration with other employees. These are not transactionally dominated systems, but rather tools that remind, inform, connect, advise, analyse, predict, gather, share and enable people’s effectiveness in unique ways. Interventions will be required to activate these new behaviours.

Relations: HR must actively co-ordinate relationships between the CIO, IT function, marketing, finance, the vendor (who owns and houses the software) and external support services. These relations are both strategic and operational in nature and dependent on the new HR skills noted earlier.

Practices: Gone are the days when you apply updates to your HR system annually. SaaS solutions are automatically updated three to four times a year, meaning HR will be accountable to lead a review (with support from IT and others) of new functionality and determine if and how it will be used. SaaS solutions offer “choice”, and HR must think beyond the concepts of standardisation as a best practice.

Leadership: Executives and senior managers dictate organisational maturity. Without the right level of maturity in place, HR is often fighting an uphill battle of acceptance, which will result in SaaS tools being sidelined and unlikely to return business value.

SaaS tools are in many ways a saviour for HR. The simplicity of these new solutions is offering organisations great opportunities to rethink people engagement and value generation using modern technologies. HR must step up and embrace this with understanding and commitment.

HR SaaS: what you need to know

  • SaaS HR software solutions are fundamentally different from earlier on-premise solutions and require new business transformation initiatives to get maximum value.
  • SaaS HR solutions are much simpler to set up and use, however, this simplicity and ease of use should not cloud the important business environment changes required to support these tools.
  • Taking ownership and accountability for the HR systems is no longer technically biased, it has moved to a functional level predominantly, which must be led and co-ordinated by HR.
  • The IT function remains important for technology strategy, integration, standards, security and quality control of all systems, but HR must be accountable.

Will you renew your HR SaaS contract?

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It’s been 3 years since the HR TECH world witnessed the SuccessFactors and Taleo acquisitions by the largest ERP vendors, SAP and Oracle – these were deals that fundamentally changed the global HR, Talent and Payroll technology landscape, including the role and relationship of the vendor and implementation partners(Si’s) with clients. 

The battle for dominance among the then newly adoptive parents, SAP and Oracle, the ever-popular Workday and a host of other best-of-breed HR SaaS and cloud products centered around the lucrative 3 year annuity contract. Vendors and Si’s stripped out all but the bare necessity costs in order to live up to the reputation that SaaS was an easily justifiable ROI. 

While the vendors have been focussed on maintaining their data centres, building and deploying updates and new functionality  as well as executing competitive selling strategies, the SI’s have re-jigged their implementation approaches and staffing models. Certainly the last few years have been underpinned by tough business transformation for vendors and Si’s. For many service providers in this space, their attention has been split between their internal changes and the ongoing needs of their clients. This may come back to haunt the vendors and SI’s.

Keeping profitable from selling SaaS solutions is very different from that of ERP.  If you needed 2 to 3 long-term ERP project to keep you business profitable then you now need 6 to 9 times more SaaS projects to achieve similar revenues and margins. That’s tough and the real issue is that the effort required to sell a SaaS deal is not commensurate to the implementation time – it still takes significant time. 

2015 is a year of reckoning in many respects with quite a number of annuity deals which were struck in 2012 up for review. What will the client retention rate be for SAP, Oracle, Workday and others, and what is an acceptable benchmark? Salesforce.com is a SaaS stalwart with a retention rate of +90%, so perhaps we should expect similar scores from the HR SaaS players. I have my doubts – some of my intel would suggest some vendors are closer to an 80% CRR  (country specific). 

Ultimately the client will decide to stay with a product/vendor based on their experiences with the SaaS product, vendor and SI’s as well as any broader technology objectives and strategies. While ERP implentations provide lengthy on-site opportunities to develop deep and trusting relationships and easily positioning the next piece of work, the SaaS approach doesn’t. If the vendor and/or  SI have been the proverbial ‘Hockey Stick’ and not actively and regularly engaging with their clients through high quality 24/7 support programs, continuous improvement initiatives, thought leadership exposure and robust future design and strategy workshops, then they are at risk of loosing clients, and deservedly so. 

Time will tell. 

Your (HR) data will find you

I’ve never been a fan of telling other people what to do, think or say. I find it arrogant and demeaning at both a personal and professional level, and aside from situations warranting it (e.g. your immediate safety), you quickly lose respect and credibility. In many ways HR reporting has committed this same offence. For some reason HR leaders continue to produce standard HR reports and dish these out at regular intervals to management and executives for examination and supposed insight into their business operations. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met too many leaders or managers who are excitedly waiting for the next HR report to land on their desk or email in-box.

Standard HR reporting has reached retirement age, and should be put out to pasture. It’s a reactive way of looking at your business and people management, and has its roots in a time when HR had to spend hours and days collecting, fixing and consolidating information into spreadsheets before distributing a report that added little value. Managers don’t need a report to tell them they have 3 vacancies unfilled, or that it took 47 days to fill a position or that 7 appraisals are still outstanding. They know all of that before they get the report. Sadly I still see many HR functions fixated on producing their “monthly report”.

Most modern HR systems have dashboard, trend analysis and mini analytics that replace the need for Standard HR reporting. This is much more effective and removes the constraints (and arrogant assumptions) of standard reporting by offering line managers a choice of information to support their decision making, and more importantly, they get it immediately. At a minimum you should be providing this approach to managers.

This approach doesn’t however go far enough. If line managers don’t know what questions to ask or what data or information is relevant, they won’t get the best outcome. This shouldn’t be seen as a loophole for HR to get back into a telling mode, but rather an opportunity to define how information finds the line manager based on their people related and enterprise social on-line activity.

Its good to see some of the leading HR vendors moving into this space together with strong predictive analytic tool-sets. The algorithms behind these tools are complex, but also configurable to suit your environment and solutions. It does however require a significant rethink about decision making in general, not just related to HR information, but including the interplay between other internal and external data sources.

Check out my previous blog “Is WFM  the new HR?

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”

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.