Both HR and HR technology have had to be adaptable and resilient this year during what thought leader Josh Bersin calls the Big Reset—a new way of thinking about life and work due to the coronavirus pandemic. He spoke at the HR Technology Conference and Exposition held virtually Oct. 27-30.
“Companies have gone through a digital transformation this year at the equivalent of what might have taken 10 years before the pandemic,” said Bersin, an HR industry analyst and founder of the Josh Bersin Academy for professional development in HR. “Technology is needed to support digital transformation, and the HR tech market has grown explosively this year. Productivity is one of the biggest issues brought on by the pandemic, and the flow of work is a critical concept having a significant impact on HR tech vendors.”
He added that HR itself has turned into a more innovative, adaptable part of the company, working on cross-functional teams and taking on new roles managing safe workplaces and back-to-work planning.
“More and more, HR tech is enabling the HR function to support the new work experience of people in the organization to develop and grow and integrate work with life,” he said. “One of the big themes going into 2021 is how to create more adaptable systems that make the organization more resilient. HR technology needs to be more like a Swiss Army knife.”
Core HR Systems
These systems that manage fundamental employee data for payroll, benefits and attendance are still the essential HR technology component at every company, Bersin said.
The big enterprise resource planning software vendors—Oracle, SAP and Workday—dominate the market but are struggling to keep up, he said. “They can’t build everything and are realizing that they must partner with the smaller vendors. The typical conversation I have is that a company bought vendor X but still needs a talent marketplace, or a hiring assessment tool, or a learning experience platform. Instead of an off-the-shelf system, companies are laying tools on top of their core HR system to make it more flexible, more experiential and more productive.”
But the big vendors are making major upgrades, Bersin said, mentioning ADP’s Lifion, which allows the HR system to be configured to operate in different ways in different parts of the company. “It’s the most flexible architecture I’ve seen,” he said.
Oracle has a redesigned, integrated cloud platform called Oracle HCM, and SAP SuccessFactors enhanced its user experience with the HXM Suite, a cloud-based HR management system with a focus on engagement and experiences.
ServiceNow will increasingly become a bigger part of the HR ecosystem, Bersin said. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based software company “pioneered and innovated the building of a configurable workflow system with case management, knowledge management, alerts and scheduling that sits on top of core systems.”
Talent Management Suites
These products cover employee performance, learning, recruiting and engagement. “The top criteria to consider is how easy are these platforms to use and how configurable are they for the management practices that you want to implement,” Bersin said. “The idea of an end-to-end talent management platform does not play anymore. Employers are looking to buy tools that fit into the specific management architecture of the company.”
He added that while recruiting has slowed down because of the pandemic, it is still going on. “This is where AI [artificial intelligence] has been the most successful—companies like Eightfold, Pymetrics and Phenom are intelligently matching people to opportunities,” he said. “More and more, AI-matching is being used for internal mobility. This is also where the recruiting and the learning areas of HR technology are coming together in a trending solution—the talent marketplace.”
Employee Experience Tools
This area started as survey measurement but has gotten more complex over the years. “The employee experience market has grown up,” Bersin said. “It’s not just HR-involved. Different parts of the company are responsible for different parts of the employee experience.”
He said that employee experience technology is moving toward continuous response and action. “What started as manual annual and pulse surveys measured by HR has moved to survey data being directly fed to line managers in order to make decisions. The newer versions of the tech are getting intelligently instrumented to trigger response to what workers need, shortening the distance between insights to action,” he said.
The products in areas like rewards and recognition, performance management, team management, and employee engagement are staring to overlap, he added. “A prescriptive action platform will ultimately collect data from these four areas and give managers and individuals the tools they need to improve performance.”
The last big advance in corporate learning and development was the emergence of the learning experience platform freeing up the content buried in a company’s learning management system. “What we need now is a way for people to learn in the flow of work and build capabilities,” Bersin said. “Learning in the flow of work is about context, curation and integration with productivity systems. Capability academies can be used once employers figure out what the business capabilities are for the company and then arranging a variety of learning experiences so employees can continue to develop those capabilities.”
Learning consumption remains high, he said. “It’s important to focus on both business and soft skills. The old formal leadership development programs are still there but not as useful as they used to be because younger people are more interested in learning how to move forward in their careers.”
He added that virtual reality learning has “absolutely gone mainstream and is one of fastest growing areas.”