A Seismic Shift in HR Technology – Focus on User Engagement

Over the last several years, there has been a movement underfoot that has changed the landscape of HR Technology. It started with a few small steps by a handful of providers and now seems to be shaping nearly all future development within the HR Technology space. The shift to which I am referring is a distinct focus on the user and a user’s engagement within a platform. As I began my career back in the late 80s/early 90s, HR technology was focused solely on functionality. At that time, there was zero attention paid to a user’s experience. Usability was an afterthought…which is why “green screen” is not a complimentary term these days. Those systems were meant to be functional and there was no concept of user experience and anticipating what a user wanted. From those wonderful days of green screens, we advanced to windows-based solutions that seemingly delivered utopia – for that time. We were blessed to no longer have to press a PF key to initiate a transaction and we could use this revolutionary technology called a mouse to move around a screen. However, while windows-based systems were certainly an enhancement over IBM’s green screens, there was limited to no engagement by an end-user. If you roll forward a number of years, there began to be some consideration given to the end user’s experience, at least that seemed to be the case. The end result was a better experience for the user, but certainly didn’t “engage” the user. Which takes us to today. Whether you want to believe that the user experience focus stems from the Millennial generation flooding the workplace or the fact that web 2.0 technology has become so pervasive and almost ubiquitous, the fact remains that any technology must engage the user or they will focus elsewhere in a matter of seconds. Just ask the HR professionals at your clients. Of the clients I interact with, a primary complaint is that they feel employees do not use the systems that HR puts before them. The question that should likely be asked in these situations is…why? Why doesn’t an employee want to log on to update their address? Make their benefit election? Change their beneficiary? The answer is likely because the user wasn’t engaged in the process. They either found the experience to be cumbersome, confusing, or a combination of both. In today’s world of e-commerce, they have come to expect more from a web interaction (please visit Amazon.com as a case in point). However, in recent years, enough HR professionals have asked the “why” question, which explains the reason that User Engagement is now a key priority of the top HR technology companies throughout the US. CIO Magazine recently shared results of a TowersWatson study that provided a glimpse into what is driving senior HR leaders’ decisions today. They surveyed 628 HR organizations and asked them why they would consider Workday (a large market product with an exceptional user interface). Amazingly enough, 58% stated they would consider Workday because of its user interface. Furthermore, they ranked “user interface” as the #1 reason – above cost, global capabilities, and functional requirements – they would make a purchase a decision for Workday. The point of this article is to highlight our need, as our clients’ consultants, to help HR help themselves. While I would never, ever recommend a client lower their standards for quality or functionality, I do believe we are at a point in the history of HR Technology that we do not have to choose one over the other. There are some incredibly rich and powerful technologies in the market today that will engage the user from first interaction. We would be more than happy to sit down with any employer to have this discussion, evaluate the marketplace, and begin engaging their employees so that the efficiency and effectiveness of HR can be maximized. Maybe HR can have their cake and eat it too! For the nostalgic types out there, here is a visual trip down memory lane to accompany the above…taking you from IBM’s finest green screen to today’s engaging technology.

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