Mark: Today, we’ve got an encore conversation. We talk again with isolved’s Chief Product Officer Pragya Malhotra. She joined isolved in September 2022, right in the middle of the pandemic, when many assumptions about work were changing, and HR was adjusting its mission to cope with full-blown transformations.
She’s got some stories about that, and also about the impact of remote work and the value of partnerships. She’ll share them all, on this edition of PeopleTech.
Hi, Pragya. Welcome. You joined isolved around seven months ago, I think.
And that means you began work at an interesting time. What was it like to take on this job in the middle of the pandemic?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, you’re right. I started this job about seven months ago. And it was around the closure or the wrapping up time of the pandemic.
But it was very interesting because from the start of the pandemic through the middle end, towards the end, HR’s role has transformed significantly.
The HR function has transformed significantly. Even the products and services we offer have transformed. And that’s because, in my mind, HR moved from more of a tactical, to a strategic, to an almost, “I sit right next to the CEO figuring out return to office, hybrid, in the office and all those policies.”
Because all those policies ultimately affect employee satisfaction, whether or not employees are coming back. It affects turnover or retention. So HR’s role changed a lot during that. And consequently, the applications, what we offer as support and services changed a lot.
So it was a very interesting time, and it was even interesting for me. So I’ve been in the HCM space for a good while now. And going from companies that operate in more of that higher end or the higher end target market segment, to strategic, to a mid-market function has been interesting.
So it was indeed interesting to come and take on this job. And services that we offer have to meet that mark. And also since all the employees right around the pandemic time became remote, the employee experience or organizing around that employee experience became even more important.
Very similar to how retailers define customer journey, HR started identifying a lot of the moments that matter, and how do we deploy resources effectively, accordingly for the moments that matter.
Whether that is the recruitment process, the onboarding process, the performance reviews, the promotions, the roles, responsibilities, all of that became centered around the product and services we offer. So the role of product and engineering and Chief Product Officer shifted a lot, and how do we facilitate those platforms in making that a reality?
How about the impact of remote work and hybrid work? Has that changed the work that you do and the emphasis that customers want from you?
Yeah, I think so. As I mentioned, traditionally there was a lot more employees in and around the office. And the interactions could be happening over hallway conversations, or going over and talking with someone, or leaving a Post-it note on their desk when they were not around. And that certainly shifted to more digital methods.
But even when people went back into the offices, it’s no longer a Monday to Friday culture in most organization. And things have become much more digitized.
Many, many organization, even in small strategic segments and in mid-markets, they have moved to these three days in the office or two to three days in the office, and couple of days remote from home.
So in that new way of working, the tools have to be digital to be able to enable that thread of continuity. Thread of continuity across functions. So the work, HR answers reaching out, instead of just a quick phone call or a quick walk over to someone’s desk.
These functions have now transformed. So HR service, in its very own nature, has transformed. And consequently, the HR technology needs to meet there. So we’ve seen a lot of that happening across the board.
More recently, we’ve seen the rise of ChatGPT. Very exciting. It’s gotten a lot of hype. But is there really something there, do you think? Or is the business getting ahead of itself, in terms of this being a cool new thing?
It is. You’re absolutely right. There is a lot of discussion, conversation just around ChatGPT in general. In my view, it has the potential. And there’s a lot of work still needing to happen, but there is a lot of potential for ChatGPT to come and change the landscape.
The landscape of customer service. The landscape of even sales support, after service. All of that landscape, ChatGPT can change significantly. Just in the last couple of weeks, with GPT-4 there now is…
You give a problem to the bot, and the bot responds with code for that problem. The possibilities and potential is endless, in my view. But as we start figuring out what is real…
How can the bot be the front and center of customer service? And really start providing that lens of service. So for instance, isolved, we are a great services organization. We put the customer first. We make sure that customer service is in its very core, it runs through the DNA of our organization.
So if we think about ChatGPT or any AI bot, how do we make sure that we offer customer service through a bot, but yet it lends itself to our secret sauce?
So there is going to be a lot of tuning, a lot of figuring out what does that automated bot service center mean for an organization? So are we getting ahead of ourselves? I think we are not getting ahead of ourselves.
We are preparing ourselves for what the future entails, and how will we tweak the capabilities or craft the capabilities to meet the uniqueness of an organization. That’s to be found. And we are all excited about that, and we are trying to figure out what that means for every organization.
I just have another question about the perspective, or put it in the context of today is partnerships. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of things going on. Have the dynamics of your relationships with partners changed?
Yeah. As isolved, we are very, very big in the partner network business. So we have about 220 partners in the network. And what that means is whether those are ASOs, administrative services offices, or they are professional employer organizations, there’s a lot of partnership opportunities for us.
And we facilitate a lot of products, services, technology solutions for our partners. And also, we partner a lot with… Through our marketplace, we offer a lot of partnership opportunities such as we partner with Work Number from Equifax, which enables our customers to be able to do employment verification for their users.
There’s a lot of partnership opportunities across the marketplace. And I think with us going hybrid, there’s even more opportunities that have come up.
And there is no more we only partner with East Coast or West Coast, it’s across the United States. We found new partnerships and post COVID, has facilitated many of those partnerships.
And there’s a lot of new businesses that have come up too. And we are partnering with many of those employers to be able to bring the best products and services to our end users.
How about partnerships and integrations? Have the dynamics of those relationships changed?
At isolved, when I look at partnerships, I look at it from a couple of lenses. The first lens being we have a very vibrant, very huge partner network.
So we have about 220 partners, whether those are ASOs, administrative services offices, or the PEO network, which enable us to get in front of their customers.
And we offer a lot of technology. We are like the primary SaaS vendor behind them, and our partners and our front end center with their brand. So we do a lot there.
And the new dynamics of workplace have made that relationship very stronger. And then when I think of another lens to that partnership, I think of the isolved marketplace where we host about 84 vendors, about 1,800 integrations.
And what we think of partners is the vendors that share our vision for frictionless employee technology experience. It really keeps people at the center of the workplace.
For example, we partner with Equifax, the Work Number which offers reliable, robust, secure solutions to meet our customers’ verification needs such as income, employment, property, SSN, education verification.
As I mentioned, we have about 1,800 integrations that happens. We have our REST APIs, our SFTP integrations where we facilitate inbound and outbound integrations throughout the ecosystem.
So in my view, in this remote, this hybrid environment, those partnerships have become even stronger. And a lot of new offerings have come up, so to speak, just with the prevalence of remote and hybrid work, whether they are related to compliance.
Making sure that as employees are working virtually from another location, what does that mean? So there’s a lot of influx of new technologies, new vendors, and we are partnering with them. So I think the ecosystem as a whole has become much stronger.
Could we step back and talk about technology in the broad sense for a minute? One of the things that really interests me about the business right now is people are always talking about technology that delivers employee experience, which seems funny to me. Employee experience is such a human thing. Could you talk about your view of technology in the employee experience?
Absolutely. In my view, employee experience is about making sure that the employee is the centerpiece. In this day and age, even though the economy is changing on us, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of open roles.
Retention has been an issue for so many organization. So through all of that, employee needs to feel cared for. Employee needs to feel that this is an organization that is going to take their career to the next level.
Employee needs to feel they have the choices, and also employees need to feel that they’re not… We’ve heard that there’s gig economy and the millennials, they are looking for multiple opportunities in [inaudible 00:13:37]. They need more feedback.
So how do we bring all of this together and make sure that the employee feels cared for? Employee feels that they are in charge of their career, they’re in charge of… They’re the driving force behind all of this.
So consequently, I mentioned earlier, HR has to elevate itself through digitalization. But also, putting the business in the driver’s seat by shifting responsibility for traditional HR tasks to line managers.
So the line managers feel that they have more decision power. They have more responsibility over processes such as recruiting and performance appraisal. So they can have that deeper employee connection. Enabling a bigger, better employee experience becomes so much more important.
And if you think about it, employees… So for instance, think of a hourly workforce. The employee needs to be in the driver’s seat of, “This is what my schedule looks like.”
Or employee needs to be in the driver’s seat of, “I’m going to work these many number of hours. And based on the number of hours I’m going to work, I’m going to get this much paycheck. And that’s enough for me. So then I’m able and available to take time off as I need.”
Or, “I need to see what roles are open. How do my skills align to these roles beyond my day-to-day?” All of this is around the employee, and employee needs to feel like they’re the center of this. So HR applications have to enable that.
And that’s what’s truly shifting when it comes to employee experience and technology, facilitating that employee experience, whether that’s through…
You may have heard of things like a skills cloud or skills platform, skills taxonomies. All of these are really enabling the employees to understand their skills, how their skill sets align with their current job, how do they align to their future job.
And so technology plays a huge role in this because if HR has to do all of this on top of making sure payroll is running, HR is compliant, HR is able to answer questions about benefits, that’s a lot of work.
So technology can make this work effective. Technology can make this work manageable, and technology can… With AI, a lot of this work can be driven by systems. So that is why technology is such an important driving force in this transformation.
Pragya, thanks very much for taking the time to talk today.
Of course. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for the opportunity.
My guest today has been Pragya Malhotra, the Chief Product Officer at isolved. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts.
To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.