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Then and Now: Evolution Comes in Waves for HR Technology

Long before cloud computing and mobile apps, HR was consistently inundated with piles of paperwork. But with the evolution of HR technology influenced by the internet, recruitment, record keeping and payroll responsibilities have become drastically simplified, efficient and accurate.

Jerome Gouvernel, Vice President for ADP’s Product Incubation Group located in Innovation Labs, explains how HR technology has grown from the dawn of the internet to today and gives us a look into the future.

Q: How has the evolution of HR technology changed since before the internet?

A: How has it not changed? The advancement of HR technology created a fundamental shift from the purpose of transactional recording. When the ADPs and PeopleSofts [of the world] started coming out and being successful, it was really about recording transactions in a standardized manner. Which at the time was revolutionary, because there was actually no way to standardize a new hire. There was no single place where you could transmit information about a new hire. There were multiple systems or a mishmash of stuff. Usually, there wouldn’t even be anything recorded into the computer until the information hit payroll.

Q: How did HR technology evolve?

A: HR technology evolved to where the user had a platform designed to record anything, everything. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon. Companies spent a lot of money to record information for its own sake. But they didn’t find much value in that.

Q: What about when the internet arrived?

A: Nobody did anything interesting with it. All that happened was that big vendors turned transaction recording systems into internet-facing systems with varying success. As a result, they didn’t create any new value. Nothing really changed. For a very long time, I think the industry was stuck on that, and it’s really in the last six or seven years that we started seeing new ways of thinking about HR technology. The emphasis is no longer on recording everything. The emphasis is now on products that make things work smoother.

Q: How is that accomplished?

A: To make things work smoother, engineers and designers are going back to basic principles. They are asking what people are trying to do rather than what people are trying to record. What human problems are people experiencing? What are managers, leaders, teams, getting stuck on? What is the friction we could help eliminate, which is the complete opposite way of looking at it. It’s no longer a system approach. It’s a human approach. An Enterprise approach. That’s Design Thinking, which is giving birth to completely different types of solutions.

Q: What can we expect in the future?

A: It’s not about HR. It’s not about talent or any of that stuff. It’s just about understanding the basic behaviors of people. You try to figure out a way to tap into those behaviors instead of giving [people] things that work against them. That’s called behavioral economics (BE), and we’ve incorporated it as part of our Lean Design process. We released BE-inspired products to 6,000 users. In one case, 87 percent of those users completed a multi-step process that, on average, took them about 20 minutes to complete — without being forced to do it. I’ve never seen this happen. Ever.

Q: How fast are things changing?

A: It’s cliché to say that things are changing faster all the time, but I think it’s true. There are actually waves of major change, and then within each wave, there are wavelets of innovation, and I think we’re on the cusp of a major wave of change with the incorporation of BE. A major shift in software design. Once we reach that wave, we’ll find that software no longer requires users to come to it. Software will find the users and will come to them in various ways; internet, email — it could be through Facebook Messenger, or through all sorts of other channels. As that happens, the speed of innovation will increase even more so than it has, because we are going to break down problems into smaller problems, which means quicker solutions. I think the rate of innovation will continue to increase.

So how soon do we move from cloud computing and mobile apps to software that finds users? While it’s impossible to truly forecast the future of technology, if Gouvernel and the forward-thinking folks at Chelsea Labs have anything to say about it, it will be a lot closer to sooner than later.

Diane Faulkner

By Diane Faulkner, ACC, SPHR

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