As businesses of all sizes begin to take advantage of technology solutions covering everything from finance to operations, marketing and, of course, the workforce, vendors with strong HCM components may find themselves in an increasingly advantageous market position.
The reason’s simple: Alone among organizational functions, HR touches every corner of the company. While a number of enterprise-wide solutions are on the market to handle logistics, telecommunications and back-office chores, few—if any—of them are put in the hands of most every employee from the executive suite on down.
We’re not saying that’s the driving reason HCM technology vendors have paid increasing attention to usability, simple implementation and customer service in the last few years. But the fact that they have indicates both an opportunity and a challenge to those providers who’ve set themselves the goal of offer organization-wide solutions—platforms that share databases, processing capabilities and interfaces across a company’s functions.
The opportunity lies in using the HR solution as a beachhead. By providing rank-and-file employees, middle managers, IT and Finance professionals, as well as HR practitioners, with solid experiences in usability, implementation, support, financing and procurement, these vendors earn an obvious advantage in terms of growing their business.
The challenges confronts vendors who either want to stick to their workforce-solutions knitting or still rely on legacy systems that must be upgraded to provide a tool set that both looks and acts in a consistent fashion.
Companies like SAP, which is steadily working through its product line so that one day SuccessFactors will look and feel like Marketing Cloud, shoulder a heavy customer service load while they address the needs of the customers working with aging products (SuccessFactors) support the users of products in transition (Marketing Cloud), work with with IT to ensure a smooth transition and guide those overseeing employee communications with managing the change.
Meanwhile, vendors who show little interest in expanding their capabilities to solve, say, logistics problems along with HR issues still have to keep the magic of their APIs up to date lest they lose a once-solid customer who’s attracted to the light of a single technology stack, dedicated support that applies across functions and a single master services agreement.
People Work as People Live
What’s driving this is the consumerization of technology in pretty much all facets of life. Inevitably, the popularity of simple technical tools that do everything from connect users to friends, navigate from one city to another, check the weather forecast or estimate the time your electricity will be restored after an ice storm had made its way into the world of work.
More recently, voice controlled technology like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa allow consumers to find movies to watch to set thermostats. Since consumers are workers, too, it was only a matter of time before employees began insisting the technology they use when doing business align with the apps they use at home. It’s not much of a leap to go from saying, “Alexa, play NYPD Blue” to “Alexa, how much vacation time do I have left?”
“In the past it was kind of like, OK, I’ve got to go get my W-4 changed. I’ve got to fill out a form. I’ve got to go down to payroll, I’m going to ask some questions, I’ve got to turn it over to somebody that knows what they’re doing. Not anymore,” said Pete Tiliakos, principal analyst for NelsonHall. “Now I can pull my phone out, go into my self-service, quickly put my W-4 in there, get my changes done. And oh, by the way, I can check on something else that I needed to do and I’m in and out and on my way.”
That kind of dynamic, Tiliakos believes, has pushed HCM vendors to put a relentless focus on user experience.
The technology behind this capability is, of course, artificial intelligence. But increasingly, analysts and vendors talk about use cases without reverting to technology-speak. The same can be said of organizations serving other sectors, such as marketing, sales, customer service and telecommunications.
Take Salesforce, for example. According to the website CRM Search, its user interface “maximizes consumer technologies to deliver a simple and rewarding user experience. This has delivered a profound effect in achieving user adoption.”
As we’ve written previously, HR technology customers are increasingly voicing their desire to hear more about solutions than technology. That’s not an unprecedented development: We don’t hear a lot Marketo users talk about its AI components. They’re interested in the consistency of its performance. HR is rounding the same curve.
That puts user-focused vendors with organization-wide ambitions in a good position. A consistent approach gives an business technology suite a competitive advantage, and HR’s the one function where that suite touches an entire universe of users and the people who support them.
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