Q&A: ADP’s Ashish Bidadi on New HR Tech, Low Code and UX

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We spoke with Ashish Bidadi, senior director and technical product manager at Lifion by ADP. We spoke of the technology the team leverages as it designs and builds ADP’s Next Gen HCM, and how the industry is taking advantage of new approaches, like low code.

I think it’s fair to say that, at this point, mobile technology is ubiquitous in HR technology. From your perspective, how do you think it fits into the HR tech ecosystem? Are mobile considerations driving HR tech development, and do they drive the way employers think about what they provide to their workforce? Or is it still done hand-in-hand with development for desktops and other devices?

It’s a good question. I can say with a high level of confidence that mobile is extremely important for clients and for HCM providers. Mobile development should be leading the way rather than following web development. At Lifion by ADP, we follow a mobile-first mentality. This has become more important as client work forces increase in size and the use of mobile is more common place; especially considering the times (referring to the COVID-19 pandemic).

We talked with @ADP's Ashish Bidadi about evolving HR technology, the dynamics of low code and UX. It's in this Q&A. #HR #HRTech Click To Tweet

Employees and managers require more flexibility, and that’s where we’re putting our focus when it comes to mobile. From a market standpoint, based on competitive analysis, mobile has been a part of every competitor HCM product roadmap for some time.

What we’re starting to see more of is people making a case for being mobile-first. And in addition to that—and I’d like to think that Next Gen is also leading the way on this—while integrating mobile with a lot of cutting-edge technology, to provide a solution that is more flexible to our clients. That includes machine learning, AI, and global mobile solutions. Those are just some of the things that clients are expecting.

There’s one more thing that I think is really critical when it comes to mobile, something that can really differentiate you from many competitors and that’s talent focused products. Talent is an area where ADP & Lifion can offer a lot of great products and bring them into next-gen solutions, including mobile.

How do you distinguish talent from HR? I sometimes hear the terms used interchangeably, but sometimes separately. What’s your view?

I think looking at talent separately from HR is not the right approach. They’re intermingled, at least from a strategy standpoint. If you’re thinking of developing a successful HCM product suite, talent has to be ingrained in that strategy.

Now it’s different when you start talking about roadmaps and implementation, talent can be broken out into its own domain. Once you start getting into data models & business logic, talent is separated out from other HR systems.

But at the end of the day, the end user is front and center. They often care about things that are table stakes, things like ‘I need the ability to take time off,’ ‘I need the ability to apply for leave,’ or ‘I need to look at my pay information.’ At the same time, clients and users expect more than that. For instance, if individuals are performing well over several quarters, can we put them in a “high performers” bucket? Can we see how do they compare to others who aren’t performing well? Are they a flight risk? Can they be compensated immediately, before the next annual evaluation? This is how we could ingrain talent as a cross-functional domain that sits across compensation, payroll and potentially workforce management as well. We should be leveraging all of these different data points that our core HR system provides. I think it would be a huge missed opportunity if you didn’t consider that as part of your overall HCM strategy.

If I can shift gears and ask you about designing and developing the product itself. Were you following a mobile-first process?  

Next Gen is powered by a low-code platform that enables development of complex HCM applications in an accelerated way. It also gives us the ability to develop for multiple regions of the world, using a single set of tools.

Our platform allows for a lot of flexibility, but in the mobile world that can actually work against you. Due to the small real estate on mobile devices, we’d need to provide application teams with more guidance around recognizable UI/UX patterns to ensure users can familiarize themselves with how to use a mobile app. If patterns are very different across various processes users will notice, and this can lead to unhappy users. Or, worse, it can lead to bad data getting inputted into the system.

To address this concern, we’ve taken a multi-pronged approach to our solution. At the very beginning of our mobile initiative, we saw this challenge and we said, “How can we normalize this experience, but still leverage our platform?” From the very beginning, we invested pretty heavily in a conversational interface. We know that many of the table stakes HR features are transactional in nature, therefore we felt a conversational UI was the easiest and the fastest way to help users accomplish their HR goals, rather than to fill out forms. This was when chatbots were taking off everywhere. In the HR world, if you wanted to take time off, you actually pull up a chat interface, put in your vacation information and the chatbot walks you through the process of taking time off.

We built that, and all of that can be customized using our platform. it’s not hard-coded like other chatbots. Application teams can customize it, even configure it based on specific regions of the world. This really resonates with our clients. It enabled us to maintain a high quality, consistent experience while leveraging all the capabilities of our platform.

We quickly realized that conversational UI doesn’t work for every use case. We knew that we needed to provide our application teams with ways to present more screens and functionality, but still provide a consistent user experience on mobile devices. To accomplish this, we leveraged the flexibility of our low-code platform to develop a tool that enables application developers to build rich mobile views.

Then, also, to ensure a high quality and consistent experience on mobile, we baked in specific UI components that are optimized for mobile, and limited the number of components available.

While we may have 50 or 60 different web components, on mobile we offer a subset. Finally, we heavily leverage the concept of templates. Our platform design team defines templates that can be leveraged by the application teams. That way, for example, if you want to build a screen that has a list view and a detail view for a single list item, there’s a template for you to work with.

Would building this platform—well, this product line—be possible without low-code tools?

That’s a very good question. ADP has invested in various technologies, or we can refer to them as platforms, where it wasn’t necessarily low code or would in some way still allow for globalization or would allow for a little bit of accelerated development. But what we’ve found is Next Gen has had the most success in this direction.

We want to concentrate on the upmarket segment, which includes companies with a global presence. For such use cases, we’ve found our low-code approach to be most favorable. For instance, our low-code platform allows us to localize for a large number of countries very quickly.

There are a lot of positives with the low-code approach, but there are also some challenges. Anytime we want to introduce a feature to provide an experience for end users, we approach it from the perspective of a platform and ask ourselves how it will benefit the entire ecosystem of applications. That’s worked, to a certain extent, but in some cases clients have unique needs that only apply to certain applications. In any situation, we try to satisfy every requirement, but in situations where we’re unable to, we ask ourselves whether this is the right problem to solve. If it is, then we look at whether we can make a tradeoff and follow a hybrid approach.

You mentioned chat and chat interfaces. When do you find that they really work and when do they not? Should they be the standard approach for mobile products? Where do they fit in your thinking?

It’s a topic that I’m very passionate about because it’s been the product that most clients gravitate toward, especially during the sales process. So we know people want it.

When we actually look at the use cases where chat can be applied, we consider a simple three by three grid. Imagine on the X-axis you have “Level of Complexity” of HR use cases, broken down into: Simple, Medium and High. On the Y-axis, you have “Steps to Complete A Process,”  broken into: 1-2, 3-5 and 5+ steps. For chat, we’ve found it’s most optimal to focus on the simple and medium complexity use cases, which take one to five steps.  

Now, sometimes you may have a use case that starts off as a simple flow but can evolve into something more complex. To address this, we’ve started to design a way to take users from a chat flow to a pre-filled form.

We’ve even gone so far as to start looking at leveraging machine learning. Look at policy acknowledgements. That could be really simple to do in chat. “Hey, here’s your policy, please acknowledge the policy.” It’s a yes or no. But what if the user wants to know a little bit more about a specific part of the policy? For example, what’s the smoking policy within a particular building? Our models can pull information out of policy documents and pop that up onto the screen. This is where our machine learning models can take over and show information as it’s needed.

And finally, let’s say the machine learning models aren’t able to handle a question at all. We can hand off the flow to live person. Think Amazon. You’re asking questions to a bot about a specific order. If none of the answers are satisfactory, you’re handed off to a live agent. That’s the direction we’re going with our platform. There’s are a lot of interesting opportunities there.

ADP Next Gen HCM is designed for how teams work – helping you break down silos, improve engagement and performance, and create a culture of connection. Learn more at flowofwork.adp.com. ADP Next Gen is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report.

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