Mobile apps to take over HR technology

Smartphone apps are the next frontier for human resources technology, according to HR technology analyst Josh Bersin

Mobile phone applications that give companies the ability to offer online learning, manage employees and increase productivity are set to become a major disruptive trend in human resources (HR) technology.

A new generation of innovative technology companies are developing smartphone apps that will replace performance appraisals, measure the engagement of employees and help them achieve a better work-life balance, according to research.

Over the past five years, large businesses have moved their HR systems into cloud platforms run by big technology suppliers such as Workday, Oracle and IBM, while smaller suppliers are offering cloud HR and payroll services for medium-sized companies.

“It has reached the point where everyone who buys HR software will buy it in the cloud,” said Josh Bersin, principal at analyst group Bersin by Deloitte. “Now HR software is becoming mobile.”

The HR technology industry is reinventing itself, said Bersin, as innovative companies, often led by technologists rather than HR specialists, produce mobile apps that look more like productivity tools than traditional HR technology.

They are being snapped up by employers that have already moved their HR systems into the cloud, and are looking to take HR technology to the next stage.

“I have met with companies with core cloud HR systems, and they say they need a new tool for project management, learning and employee engagement. They are shopping for add-on tools that are mobile apps,” said Bersin.

Learning on the move

The fastest growing area of HR technology is in mobile learning, with companies replacing traditional training courses with tools that allow employees to learn in a more natural way.

Traditional online training material is too slow to adapt, becomes out of date too quickly, and cannot evolve quickly enough to meet the changing needs of businesses.

“The learning management industry is 20 years old and most of the software is unusable to many employees,” said Bersin.

Mobile learning tools, however, allow employees to share their expertise and learn from short videos that can be quickly updated.

Lifestyle apps keep the workforce healthy

Applications to help employees stay healthy and maintain a better work-life balance are also attracting the interest of large employees.

Businesses have begun to realise that employees are not productive when they are overworked and overloaded with email, said Bersin.

“People are working too hard. In the US, we are taking four days less vacation. People are working more hours, working from home, in coffee shops, on aeroplanes... There is no escape,” he said.

Half the Fitbits sold in the US, for example, are bought by businesses for their employees.

A system being trialled by Deloitte looks at the time consultants spend with clients, their billable hours and location, and compares that with peers.

“It tries to make recommendations on how you can slow down and spend less time working,” said Bersin.

Another application is able to analyse users’ voices to detect when employees are feeling stressed.

“Business leaders are concerned about brand, work-life balance and productivity skills, and they can get real-time feedback on what is happening at work just as they can from their customers,” he said.

Mobile performance management delivers instant feedback

The traditional business practices of once-a-year appraisals, promotions and discussions with the boss are no longer tenable.

Companies such as General Electric, IBM and Deloitte have “re-invented performance management” by introducing mobile apps that allow managers and employees to give and receive continuous feedback.

Organisations are introducing mobile apps that allow them to take pulse surveys of their employees, and “social recognition apps” that allow employees to receive feedback from their peers for a job well done.

Within two years, these applications will replace traditional annual employee engagement surveys, Bersin predicted.

“We are in an era of scale expansion. People are rolling out new programmes that are not perfect yet, but they are rolling them out to everyone faster,” he said.

Culture clubs

Businesses are showing interest in using mobile tools to measure the culture of their business. “That is becoming interesting and big,” he said.

Deloitte, for example, has introduced an app called CulturePath. It asks people 10 to 15 questions about their workplace, such as how much freedom they have, how safe they feel and how much collaboration there is, to assess the culture of the organisation.

“In most companies, the CEO believes the culture is a certain way. It may be that way around him or her, but it may be completely different out in the company depending on who the manager is,” he said.

Using technology to measure diversity

Diversity and inclusion has become a hot topic in companies across the world as workforces have become more diverse and people are staying in them longer.  

In practice, data shows that companies are not very diverse. Men are promoted more than women and minorities still face discrimination.

A number of recruitment tools now have tracking systems that measure how diverse the process is, highlighting any unconscious bias.

One tool, for example, can review video interviews and assess race and gender identity, as well as track how different groups make their way through the recruitment process.

Data analytics provides valuable workforce insight

Data analytics in HR is still in its early stages, but it is advancing rapidly. In early 2014, only 3% to 4% of companies were analysing HR data. The figure is now 7%, according to Bersin by Deloitte research.

Ultimately, the aim is for companies to collect and analyse data on their workforce in the same way they collect and analyse data on their employees.

Typically, companies start by using data analytics to improve their employee retention, then they look at fraud, theft and non-compliance.

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They are able to analyse unplanned absences, and use data to work out why some salespeople are more productive than others.

But the potential for using HR data to solve business problems is enormous, said Bersin.

“There is nothing in business that does not come down to people. I would not say HR is there yet, but HR people have access to this data. They can partner with business people and help them make decisions like never before.”

Future of HR technology is on mobile

Bersin predicted it would not be long before all employee interactions are carried out on mobile phones.

“We will be clocking our time, filing expenses and interacting with people just like we do with Facebook and our families,” he said.

The challenge for IT professionals will be to ensure employee data is kept secure, and that companies can integrate their mobile apps.

“The next big challenge is how we make all these systems work together. No one wants to log into three or four apps to go to work,” said Bersin.

Next Steps

Employee needs must take center stage with mobile HR decisions 

Read more on Mobile apps and software

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