UNLEASH from the other side: a new age of HR tech

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The HR technology landscape is undergoing a transformation. While this change has been in motion for the past few years, it was fully realised at the 2019 UNLEASH conference. And even from a personal standpoint, despite attending the event a number of times, this year felt like a first for me.

Having recently moved from the senior ranks of a large corporate organisation, it was the first year I didn’t wear a suit, the first year I picked trainers instead of shoes and the first year in my new role as MD of a HR tech start-up. My shift from one of the biggest players in the HR tech sector to a burgeoning start-up was not a decision I took lightly. Yet, if I needed any further convincing that I’d made the right choice, I need not have looked much further than the core themes that arose at the show. 

Across the board, senior HR professionals, industry experts and even vendors were unanimous companies are beginning to move away from one-size-fits-all global systems. HR influencers and brands alike were united in the observation that the world of work is changing and, as a result, companies are having to rapidly adapt to meet their employees’ expectations.

The shift from legacy systems to specialist platforms

From large suppliers to specialist vendors, it was widely acknowledged that one-size-fits-all, global systems were not designed to deliver consumer-focused experiences. Of course, the complex back-end of these systems is still required to facilitate essential items such as payroll and compensation planning. But HR platforms now need to be part of the fabric of everyone’s daily working life.

Legacy HR systems – some built over a decade ago – struggle to adapt to the way the modern person works. Ultimately, the world of work has moved at a much faster pace than their technological change. Typical employees now want to use platforms that are akin to their simple systems at home – for example, messaging apps on mobile devices. The blurring of the lines between work and personal lives means that it is no longer a case of technology for technology’s sake, but providing a true consumer experience.

This consumerisation of IT and the resulting demand for intuitive, personalised experiences in the workplace, is pushing HRIS vendors away from being solely ‘destination platforms’ – where employees go to carry out a mandatory HR task – to ‘platforms of choice’ that are part of their users’ daily lives. While one-size-fits-all systems have a huge breadth of solutions, they are spread thinly and lack the depth of service. Companies are turning to specialty platforms then, because they have been built on a modern code base adept at meeting the needs of today’s workers.

The importance of integration

That said, the functionality gaps between big, global systems and the innovative, newer systems cannot be ignored. This is partly why the main word to come out of UNLEASH was ‘integration’. Interestingly, the HR industry is moving away from the phrase ‘best-of-breed everywhere’ – this has now become outdated. Due to the range of data available and the ongoing slew of information it is now easier to integrate specialist platforms.

As opposed to the lock-down systems of the past, it is now becoming more common to opt for more agile solutions, capable of integration. A company may run a number of specialist systems that are able to integrate and feed into a central aggregated pool of data.

Specialist systems that neatly integrate into the ‘central HR experience platform’ ultimately give customers more choice and ensure they have an end-to-end solution that meets their people needs and processes. Simultaneously, integration allows them to retain the culture that led them to success in the first place by keeping their workforce engaged and enabling higher levels of productivity.

Data-driven employee insights

This new level of integration not only allows for HR functionality, but also the essential use of people analytics. Organisational leaders and HR teams constantly worry about how their people are feeling. However, time and logistics can make it difficult to understand the true sentiment of their workforce. Across all levels, as big and small companies scale, only valuable data can provide this level of insight.

However, gathering this data is reliant on employees interacting with these systems on a daily basis. Behemoth platforms are typically only accessed four to five times a year – when employees need to book holidays, for example – and only really provide a people record. By making a system part of everybody’s daily lives, through an intuitive platform and smart integrations that feed into a central pool of data, an MD like myself can pinpoint user behaviour and patterns within the company. As part of that constant access, we can know employee likes and dislikes and what makes them tick, leading to a happier and healthier workforce.

The resounding message of UNLEASH was this: our personal lives are entwined with technology and our professional lives are no different. For this reason, we are moving away from traditional HR and entering into a new age of daily-access HR. And with this new focus on people and usability, the future of HR tech is one that I am excited to help shape.

About Joel Farrow

Joel Farrow, MD, EMEA, Hibob

Joel Farrow is Managing Director, EMEA of HR tech platform, Hibob. Since founding his first company at the age of 20, Joel has co-founded four businesses, and successfully run one of the largest cloud divisions for SAP. He spent more than five years at SAP and leading both SuccessFactors and Concur in the UK to great success. During this time, he also became a British cycling coach and a very proud husband and father of two boys. 

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