The battle in HR software: software for corporations or persons?

Summary:If you thought HR software comprised Payroll, HRMS and Talent Management modules, think again. There are amazing new products that serve more than just your company. LinkedIn has become the biggest of these PERSON-based products and how well these solutions fit with solutions designed for CORPORATIONS should make for interesting viewing. Read (and comment on) this three part piece!


Part 1 – The Evolving CORPORATE HR Products

Some unexpected surgery prevented me from attending LinkedIn’s  annual user conference a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas. That event, believe it or not, was possibly the one software event I absolutely wanted to attend this year. Why? Read on…..

For decades, HR software has been designed for CORPORATIONS. This software kept companies in compliance with regulatory bodies and out of jail. It made sure employees were correctly and timely compensated. And, these systems enforced adherence to HR, recruiting and other related processes and controls.

SumTotal Systems slide from Analyst Meeting
Slide from a SumTotal Systems analyst briefing - Note the first three bullet points indicating the move to more of a person-based solution - Copyright 2013 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved


But, a new crop of HR solutions are entering the market and they’re different. They’re different as they were designed first and foremost for PERSONS not corporations. These differences are quite telling.  LinkedIn may be the poster child for the PERSON-based HR world.

Now, the move to PERSON-based HR products has been underway for a time.  As the PERSON-based products catch on in the market, the CORPORATION-based solutions are attempting to get some of that functionality into their products.

You’ve doubtlessly heard the announcements as one traditional HR vendor after another has been making their solutions more PERSON-friendly.  SumTotal Systems even made a reference to people in their new strategic direction. One of their strategic objectives states: “Innovation – putting people, not technology, at the center of innovation”.  

blog - corp vs person HR sw 1
Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved - TechVentive, Inc.



HR vendors have made traditional CORPORATE HR solutions easier for job seekers and job holders to use on mobile devices (finally). Now, most firms have HTML 5.0 based products that actually function well on numerous devices and don’t look like someone ported a desktop app to the small form factor of a cell phone. I like this trend as it does make the products more usable.

But the best part of this evolution is that traditional vendors had to realize that remote, mobile users don’t need all of the functionality, bells and whistles that a full-blown CORPORATE desktop user wants or needs. No, the remote, mobile user values speed and economy not slowness and piles of unnecessary functionality. Just give them the basics, fast.  The problem with earlier mobile solutions was that CORPORATE-based vendors didn’t want to re-imagine their desktop solutions for the mobile world and simply ported the old stuff to new handheld devices. It was a kludge.

Another big focus of late has been the redesign of many products’ user experience (UX). In plain speak, the old CORPORATE systems had the look and feel of some circa-1999 vintage client server solution. These products had all had the familiar Windows drop-down menus and rigid navigation paths. Heaven help you if you were trying to do a simple transaction – old UX design required the same of this transaction as it would of your firm’s most complex and daunting HR transactions. The old way worked, of course, but it had the elegance of someone dancing with a blindfold on.

UX redesign work is making traditional HR vendors rethink HOW work is actually done and it’s making these vendors acknowledge that not all users, transactions, etc. need the same solution every single time.  New UX redesigns are producing smarter CORPORATE solutions. The new UX’s often anticipate the next step a user will want to complete. The new solutions even use analytics to predict the next transaction a user should/will embark upon.  Again, SumTotal describes their UX change as: “Similar to Amazon and other consumer technology, the system understands the user’s profile and what they are trying to do and can offer relevant advice and actions to help the user be more effective.

I like the new UX work. If you haven’t done so already, check out the new UX from SumTotal, Workday  and other HR vendors.

There is one weak link in all of this though. Numerous HR vendors are trying to enhance the UX and other PERSON-specific functionality in their solutions via analytics or big data. That’s a great idea but the execution of this concept so far from most vendors is too limited, too constrained. The vendors are describing their HR databases, in toto, as the BIG DATA source for their analytics. No, big data feeds are monumentally larger than HR and ERP databases combined.  The use of analytics to predict user needs, transactions, etc. is spot-on but the sources of insight must be expanded. OK, I suspect vendors will expand their analytic reach in time but readers should expect this current capability to be a version 1.0 functionality for now.

And, that leads us to one of the most interesting challenges facing CORPORATE HR vendors: how to incorporate social media correctly into their, sometimes, decades’ old solutions?

Social has been something that Talent Acquisition/Recruiting vendors appreciated years ago. They saw a person’s social network as something a recruiter or employer should exploit. So, old solutions added capabilities where employers asked you to email blast job openings to people in your social networks.  And, sadly, this was one of the more enlightened, progressive ideas. On the negative end of things, some employers actually demanded passwords of employee’s personal social network accounts so that the employer could do a deep dive on the content of their workforce’s personal content. That’s a social colonoscopy!

Both employers and HR vendors have utilized social media poorly to date. But, it’s starting to change as firms like Facebook, LinkedIn and others are in ascendancy. These new PERSON-based firms are changing the HR software and business process landscape in big ways.

How? (click to part two)

Topics: Enterprise Software


Brian is in a unique position to diagnosis the winners and the losers in technology and services. He was the longest running (10 years) and most senior director of Andersen Consulting's (now Accenture's) global Software Intelligence unit - a position that required him to pick the best possible software solutions for hundreds of clients gl... Full Bio

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