UI

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.