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Josh Bersin 2021 technology guide vaunts employee experience

Josh Bersin’s annual HR technology market guide for 2021 pulls out employee experience as the hottest area, as the sector shifts to productivity-boosting tech

Noted HR technology analyst Josh Bersin’s latest annual report highlights the spread of HR applications into areas beyond payroll and employee administration as the biggest trend in this area of software.

In particular, the report sees increased importance for employee experience (EX) technology. In the report, Bersin writes: “The big shift in 2021 is something that has been coming for a long time: a focus on employee experience (EX). Employees just do not have the time, interest or attention span to log into an HR system, poke around looking for the right page, and then enter their vacation schedule. At most, they would be willing to chat with the system – but ideally, this would be an easy-to-use app that just fits right into existing tools at work.”

The 140-page report, HR technology 2021: a definitive guide, is in its 17th year.

Its main takeaway is a shift away from traditional HR to what the report calls “work tech”.

The application of data analytics to HR is also a big theme of the report, including the analysis of employees’ networks using graph databases, and the use of data to help with diverse hiring, pay equity, representational diversity, and overall fairness at work.

Bersin said in a statement accompanying the report’s release: “The overall strategy is to make more and more HR technology ‘disappear’ – that is to say, make it useful to employees, managers and leaders, and improve your overall employee experience. If it fits into our day-to-day work life, we’ll find it valuable and HR will benefit. If employees find it to be an interruption and have to learn how to use it, the verdict is simple: companies won’t gain as much value from it.

“Vendors that deliver productive and personalised employee experiences will be the market winners. The widespread corporate use of Microsoft Office, Teams and other Microsoft products will automatically give Viva a big market advantage here and will require other vendors to rethink product strategies in order to compete or co-exist.” 

Viva is a Microsoft technology that provides what the supplier calls an “employee experience platform”, based on Microsoft Teams, its cloud-based collaboration software that is part of the Office 365 applications suite.

“The overall strategy is to make more and more HR technology ‘disappear’”

Josh Bersin

Bersin’s researchers predict that this year will see a concentration on EX, with “systems for communications, surveys, case and knowledge management, as well as easy ways to build new workflows, chatbots and portals”.

They also flag Covid-19 as a major driver in the putative shift to EX.

In the report, Bersin writes: “While many of us spend hours a day on email, text or the internet, more and more of our business time is spent in Teams, Workplace (by Facebook), Slack, or instant messaging systems on our phones. These conversational interfaces are the most natural ways to communicate now (even email feels more like a real-time system), so we must make sure all our HR-related applications are designed to operate in the flow of work.”

The report also describes a growing market demand for software designed to support hybrid workforces, featuring contingent work systems and gig work platforms.

Alongside this, the report flags the advent of “in-house talent marketplace hubs that facilitate internal mobility, gig project work, mentoring and job sharing”.

While most of the report is North American in its tilt, in a tip of the hat to the UK, it draws attention to what it calls an “emerging market for internship networks”.

In the UK, Whitehat, a company founded by Euan Blair (Tony Blair’s son) has developed a complete end-to-end sourcing, training and management platform for internships. The company uses artificial inteligence to match candidates to gigs, it provides mentorship and training, and it helps employers file for government reimbursement.

Interns can evaluate employers, forcing them to take the programme seriously. The programme has been highly successful, says Bersin, among many financial services, tech, and retailers in the UK – including Google, Sky Publicis, WPP and Clifford Chance – and they are now expanding into the US.

The report contends that HR technology is entering a new phase, following on from what it calls the “systems of record” of the 1970s and 1980s, the “systems of talent” of the 1990s and 2000s, the “systems of engagement” of the 2010s, to “systems of work”.

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