HR Tech Buys Should Be Strategic, User-Friendly

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Aug. 18 — When introducing new technology for human resources functions, professionals in the field must think first of the non-HR people throughout the organization who will be using it, consultants agree.

“Most importantly, HR leaders must avoid the mentality of ‘build it and they will come,' consultant Michael M. Moon told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 17 e-mail. “Without getting all areas of HR, the business, employees and managers on the same page about what kind of system and functionality is needed, adoption will always be low even if you can find software that is easy to use and is useful to employees.”

“HR has never been great at marketing,” Jason Averbook, an HR analyst and consultant, said Aug. 16. “We need to be able to convince the workforce to use these tools.”

Likewise, Kevin Oakes, CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 16 e-mail that “often, convincing business professionals to use HR technology is getting them to adopt the practice that the technology enables in the first place. For example, no technology in the world will convince a leader to write a development plan or conduct a performance review if he or she doesn’t want to. Technology can make these tasks more efficient and more effective, but the desire to do it needs to be present.”

“The experience people have online is what’s going to make or break your success,” Averbook said. For example, he said many companies make the mistake of designing their internal intranets for employees so that they are little more than user-unfriendly “link farms,” or lists of hyperlinks. This sort of poor design stems from the fact that “most HR technology has been deployed first and chosen for the HR department,” he said.

User friendliness is essential, Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for Matawan, N.J.-based talent acquisition software provider iCIMS, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 18 e-mail. “If it isn’t easy, HR professionals won’t want to use it, hiring managers will be slow to adopt, candidates will be less engaged and you won’t see the full benefits of your investment.”

And make sure to ask people’s opinions. “The biggest obstacle to successful adoption of HR technology is not involving the right people at the right time,” Moon said. “During selection this requires identification of all the stakeholders and requirements. Most organizations forget it is the managers and employees that have to use the systems they implement. They should be brought in earlier” to point out to HR where there are problems with the existing processes and what their needs are. Otherwise, she said, one ends up with white elephants such as “a new automated time management system [that] still doesn’t allow employees to clock in on their mobile phones, the one device they almost always have access to.”

On a related note, Averbook said, it is all well and good for the HR department to use analytics and metrics, but the key is telling a coherent story based on the fancy technology. “At the end of the day, if when we present this to the business, we don’t do it in a way they understand, we’ve wasted our time.”

“According to a survey conducted by iCIMS, nearly 70 percent of recruiters agree that a fully-integrated talent acquisition suite is the ideal solution,” Vitale said. “And, now that top candidates are in the driver’s seat, employers need to deliver a stellar candidate experience, increase hiring speed, and ‘sell’ candidates on their positions. Having one centralized location for all HR data and solutions is essential to effectively manage every part of the hiring process and achieve an efficient recruiting and hiring experience.”

Developing a Tech Strategy

Averbook called for HR to put strategy before tactics when considering new technology. “Most organizations have a list of tactics, they have a project plan. They don’t have a strategy. If you don’t have this, you’re throwing away technology. You’re putting in place technology without a way to measure the impact. ‘Go live’ isn’t a goal of workforce technology; it should be the beginning. You can’t buy and should not buy technology without it.”

HR tech purchases are often haphazard, Oakes said. “The vast majority of companies are not using one unified HR platform. Instead, it’s often a pieced-together, best-of-breed approach that combines legacy technologies with newer applications, and too often those applications don’t communicate. Many times this is the result of a lack of centralized purchasing and decision-making. This is particularly true in global, decentralized companies.”

Vitale echoed the sentiment. “The technology and experience also has to be flexible and operate seamlessly with other systems. Employers often purchase several solutions for their HR needs—to source candidates, conduct background checks, perform assessments, collect references, etc. So without a system of record to provide strong integrations between these solutions, it can be a disjointed experience.”

“The bottom line that HR pros should communicate with leaders in other departments is that adopting one easy-to-use platform that seamlessly integrates various HR solutions will help save time and money from a recruiter perspective, improve the hiring manager and candidate experience, and impact ROI,” or return on investment, Vitale said.

Oakes has a tech background, having founded SumTotal Systems and served as chair of Jambok, which was sold to SuccessFactors/SAP. He said he was basing his remarks on discussions with chief human resources officers and chief talent officers, as well as his own views. Moon is CEO and principal analyst of ExcelHRate Research & Advisory Services and founder and principal consultant at MMM & Associates.

Averbook was speaking during a webinar sponsored by Talent Management magazine.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

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