re-engineering hr: five threads in technology

Have you discovered any new processes that need automation lately? The era of enterprise computing is coming to a close. Let’s talk about what happens next.

The era of enterprise computing is coming to a close. Enterprise HR solutions from vendors like SuccessFactors, Sap, Taleo, Oracle, Kenexa, IBM and a host of others has completed its original mission: to automate and improve all of the business processes that constitute HR.

This reality extends far beyond HR to the entire breadth of big iron computing. Have you discovered any new processes that need automation lately? Of course not. The vendor community has researched and re researched all of the possible ways that one might execute recruiting, learning, performance management, on boarding, payroll, scheduling and most forms of workforce management. Obscure components (like background checking, for example) have been quantified and integrated.

In many cases, the functions deliver better results than the did before automation.  What we did was to make routine paperwork the foundation of great work. In today’s enterprise, it doesn’t exist if you can’t document it. We have figured out how to automate all of the paperwork but little of the actual work.

Read that again.

We have figured out how to embed the paperwork so far into the work that it looks like the work. Our processes are repeatable and adaptive, but still, there’s more than administration. (Please note that this is the typical sales person’s complaint about Salesforce.com. The tool makes people who read reports happy. It does little to help people who do actual work.)

Most meetings in sales operations using the tool are spent debating about the meaning of categories. That’s because categories work great for reporting purposes. They are less useful for getting work done. They get in the way much of the time. You put something in a category so that you can count and examine it.

Well, we’ve finished defining the categories and created tools to fill in the forms. What’s next?

There seem to be a number of experiments but no real innovation in the business. If you examine the products and projects in the HR Technology universe, you’ll find projects that

  • Fix bugs and make tweaks to existing code;
  • Finish customer laundry lists of modest improvements;
  • Port the current tool to another platform; and
  • Build a single code stack from scratch

The most interesting of these is the single code stack project. All begin with the premise thast we know what we’re doing. They all assume that the major requirements definition process is over. Finishing laundry lists, fixing bugs and migrating to a new platform are all ways of getting more mileage out of the old code. It’s the work you do to make the cost of switching prohibitive. It’s how you keep a product alive and a customer engaged while the rest of the world has moved on. The single code stack, because it has only one data structure, offers some interesting possibilities.

While Naomi Bloom rattled on about data structured during her career, it’s only recently that customers began to understand the power of monolithic data. When software is integrated (assembled from multiple components purchased from different vendors), the absence of a shared data structure requires that the user have a way to map data every time a report that requires output from multiple pieces is run.

Those discrete data streams usually have repeating errors requiring at least some hand massaging. That’s how software keeps the silos of HR standing. It’s that same category problem. If it’s in the category, it gets attended. If it’s out, it’s out. Very obvious disconnects happen when HR is a sea of silos running separate software tools.

  • Candidates who could benefit from additional training don’t get it when learning isn’t a part of Recruiting
  • The company can’t figure out how well recruiting does when recruiting isn’t a part of payroll
  • Performance management inputs are meaningless without access to training through the learning management system
  • Performance management that isn’t a part of compensation management is where both functions lose credibility
  • Scheduling done in the absence of training and performance management gets the wrong people in the wrong spot at the right time.

In other words, the universe of things that HR does are not separate. The are all pieces of a continuum that has to be one thing with one data structure. Otherwise, you have to wait for the reports that might have complete data to make decisions about an artificial category.

We’ll see lots of HR Departments switching to single source alternatives. So, the big move in the near term is to help companies consolidate their operations onto single code stack platforms. The process will be accelerated by pressure from the executive branch to have real time reporting on questions that matter.

This series assumes all of that. In the next four pieces, we’ll look at the individual technology clumps that will drive innovation in HR going forward. A single code stack suite of basic tools is the table stakes.

The Series:

Re-Engineering HR: Five Threads of Technology

 
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