Apps ride the next wave in HR software

Digital and integrated cloud-based solutions will change how HR and employees work
By: | Issue: June, 2016
May 30, 2016

There’s “a real revolution” underway in integrated, cloud-based human resources software, says Josh Bersin, of Bersin by Deloitte, a consultancy specializing in talent management and acquisition.

Besides freeing up IT to handle other tasks, these systems allow HR to be more efficient because data is located in one spot rather than spread through multiple systems that require multiple sign-ons.

Meanwhile, new HR apps allow employees to use mobile devices to check their benefits, complete a course or even schedule vacation time, Bersin says. “The whole technology marketplace is moving toward apps, data-driven tools and easy-to-use interfaces.” These tools focus on work-life balance, employee wellness, performance reviews and goal setting.

Getting ready

An influx of HR-specific apps will hit the higher ed market in coming years, Bersin says. Until then, HR and IT must develop a strategy for an integrated cloud-based solution. This may consist of one ERP system and several compatible software programs from different vendors.

While that process can take several years, he warns schools against buying innovative tools before cleaning up their core system. “Upgrade the core HR technology to cloud, reduce the number of vendors, shut down the legacy systems that are out of date and get to the point where you have an integrated database,” Bersin says. “If universities can do that, they are way ahead of the curve and can then start looking at these more innovative mobile apps that are coming to HR.”

Connecting the dots

Schools should continually evaluate the functionality of existing programs to make improvements. Last year, officials at Cornell University took a hard look at its external applicant tracking system, says Seth Brahler, director of human resource information systems. Cornell uses Workday for HR payroll and benefits. When the vendor integrated a recruiting module into its platform, Brahler knew he needed it. “There’s more onboarding functionality so we’re better able to serve our candidates so they can see where they are within each step of the recruiting process,” he says.

The school also uses other Workday modules for employee performance reviews and for federal reports required by the Affordable Care Act.

“You don’t have to worry about multiple systems having different upgrade schedules, and the various components talk to each other,” he says.

Currently, he says, no HR system is stand-alone and must connect to other external systems. The trick is compatibility and being able to move data seamlessly between systems.

Some key players, including SAP
and Oracle, are pursuing the goal of building complete HR suites, Brahler says. Smaller vendors offering a niche service are also assessing how they can supplement HR systems to avoid being put out in the cold.

Frankenstein system

April White Castaneda, executive director of HR at the California Institute of Technology, says her school has been building “a Frankenstein system,” referring to a core HR system and products that bolt on or stand alone.

The school uses Oracle as its HRIS, which isn’t cloud-based—yet. (The company recently purchased Taleo, a cloud-based service, which includes a social recruiting module that enables candidates to apply for jobs using their LinkedIn credentials.)

Castaneda’s department added LawRoom, an online compliance training platform with a higher ed component. HR also repurposed existing technology, such as SurveyMonkey—which it uses for event reservations and employee award nominations—and MailChimp, which sends 90 percent of department messages to users with multiple devices. It can track the number of clicks and monitors when messages are opened.

Within the next several years, Castaneda plans to move to a cloud-based solution that offers a uniform look and feel. By then, she hopes the cost of HR systems will drop and the technology will encompass an employee’s entire lifecycle with a single sign-on.

It’s clear that a technology renaissance is underway, with comprehensive, user-friendly systems on the horizon. But, as Bersin notes, HR must make preparations to be ready for it.

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.