The Best HCM Technology Serves Two Masters

Usability

What are the most important things for executives to keep in mind when they’re deciding which HCM technology to invest in? On the website of the Australian HR Institute, Marc Havercroft, SAP Vice President of HCM Cloud & Digital Strategy and Transformation, argues that executives should keep three fundamentals at the top of their minds:

  • Ask who is the customer? (He says it’s the workforce, not HR)
  • Don’t buy what you don’t understand.
  • Succeed to plan, plan to succeed.

UsabilityThese are all reasonable points, but his focus on the workforce as the customer seems off-base to me. By saying that, we don’t mean to single out Havercroft, but to highlight all of the discussion that’s going on about “the consumerization of HR” and the need more simpler transactional apps for the employee’s use. While it’s true that more transactional tasks can be shifted into the employee’s hands, and thus give HR more time to spend on developing business solutions, you still can’t get around the fact that HCM technology products have to satisfy two sets of customers: The employees, yes, but also HR.

Havercroft writes that, “we [HR] need to make decisions based on the nature of our workforce rather than what appeals to us as a user. To make these kinds of decisions effectively, we need to bring the workforce into the decision-making process, including the line managers, sales, IT, etc.”

HR Practitioners Are Users, Too

No one can argue against involving the workforce in selecting tools they’ll be required to use regularly. Nearly all vendors claim their systems are simple to use but we can think of a couple whose idea of simplicity is the assumption that everyone knows how to use Excel. When workers are the end users of a badly designed app, HR is sure to catch calls that were, on paper, meant to go to the vendor’s support desk. If that wasn’t the case, then the user might call the IT’s internal help desk before calling HR, where someone’s going to (a) figure out the solution themselves, (b) handle the user’s task from the back end or (c) call the vendor for back up. By that point, several people in several departments have wasted time and stoked their frustration with HR, whether it deserves it or not.

So, yes, the workforce needs to like the tools it uses. But so does HR. Ease of use and logical workflows are as important to fulfilling HR’s administrative mission as they are to employees entering their time sheets. A technology solution that doesn’t satisfy both sets of users isn’t going to deliver the optimal levels of time- and cost-effectiveness you should be looking for.

This is particularly important when you consider the pressure HR is under to become “more strategic” and “contribute to positive business outcomes.” Ironically, while company leaders exert that pressure, HR professionals lament their struggle to “get a seat at the table.”

It’s true that HR departments need to become more assertive when it comes to injecting themselves in business discussions, but at the same time organizations that truly understand the contributions HR can make to implementing strategy and streamlining operations should understand that HR needs tools that allow it to take on all of its responsibilities in the most efficient way possible.

Like any business technology, HCM systems have to satisfy several constituencies in order to succeed. Making sure employees are happy with the tools you give them is an important consideration, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of enabling HR to do its job effectively and economically.

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