3 Fundamental Trends for HR Technology in 2021

Big Data Future

New Year’s is just seven weeks away, but already HR technology analysts, essayists and pundits are making predictions for 2021. Forecasting may be a particularly dicey proposition this year, given the uncertainty hovering over most every aspect of life, from public health to politics, the job market to the economy, and career planning to education.

Be that as it may, employers are sure to begin 2021 trying to anticipate how their markets, customers and employees will react to the crises that began in 2020. Ian Campbell, CEO of analyst firm Nucleus Research, expects that next year “will see many of the long-term technology and business implications of the pandemic come to fruition.”

Trends that gathered steam because of 2020's uncertainty are sure to shape 2021's developments in HR technology. #HR #HRTech Share on X

Meanwhile, analyst Josh Bersin, speaking at the HR Technology Conference, said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a “big reset” to the world of work. “Companies are redesigning the ways things get done at a pace I’ve never seen,” he said. “They’ll need technology to support their efforts.” 

Of course, we’ve all read about the spike in remote work, the growth of digital recruiting, and increasing adoption of electronic payroll and touchless technology. However, some broader shifts are underway, as well, if only because both employers and HR technology vendors are reconceptualizing some of work’s fundamental tenets.

They can be summarized in three words: flexibility, productivity and integration.

Simpler Workflows, Less Distraction

For one thing, the increase in remote work has led more companies to provide simpler tools to streamline jobs and minimize distractions. Nucleus believes iPaaS and low-code platforms will begin growing more quickly as employers seek to make each individual more productive.

That focus on productivity involves more than tools, however. As Bersin pointed out, workers at home are torn in a number of directions: Their kids need one thing, their boss wants something else, the system goes offline, a deadline looms.

This dynamic, he believes, will encourage more vendors to integrate HR tools into work technology. “HR has to be a feature of the work, not a destination outside of the work,” Bersin said.

That idea is part of the momentum behind presenting solutions or content in the flow of work, meaning at the moment something is needed. Such efforts first became apparent before 2020, though they moved into the mainstream this year. Both ADP’s Next Gen and SAP SuccessFactor’s HXM, for example, present users with more options within a single session, avoiding the need to toggle between solutions.

When vendors can’t easily unify the user experience, they can simplify the workflow. A number are doing just that. Oracle HCM’s recent updates have made a point of smoothing out the processes connected to HR-related tasks, both inside and outside of the department. Modern Hire began offering customizable hiring workflows that cover jobs in hospitality, delivery, logistics, retail and healthcare.

Shifting to ‘Work Technology’

The themes in all this are flexibility and productivity. As Bersin said, the range of productivity solutions is growing, but companies still need adaptable platforms. As a result, “HR technology” is shifting toward “work technology,” and platforms are becoming more like Swiss Army knives and less like chainsaws.

That transition is evident in the Fosway Group’s 9-Grid for Cloud HR. (Though the report focused on  the European market, its findings apply to North America, as well.) In brief, a growing number of smaller, specialized products have entered the market even as full-blown HCM suites have become more powerful. As a result, employers are taking more of an “ecosystem approach” to HR technology, assembling packages of solutions tailored to their needs.

Which hints at the other theme: Integration. The idea of connecting one platform with another is nothing new to HR technology, and the willingness of brand-name vendors to partner with specialized developers has been a major factor in the industry’s growth.

When small companies partner with the likes of ADP, UKG or SuccessFactors, they’re put in front of a qualified customer base and given a strong set of bona fides. From the larger company’s point of view, making specialized tools available provides customers with a flexibility the large vendor might not be able to achieve on its own.

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