HR Innovations in the Planet of the Apps | Inquirer Business
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HR Innovations in the Planet of the Apps

INNOVATION IN human resources (HR) has taken an interesting new turn.  In the past, most of HR innovations were about automation of HR data.  In the 1980’s, the automated HRIS (human resources information system) replaced the 201-file system inherited from the military.  Today, venture capitalists are investing heavily in “social and referral recruiting, talent analytics, assessment science, online learning and mid-market core HR systems.”

New users


Josh Bersin says, “Today the most important factor in HR software is no longer the functional feature set, but rather the ’degree of user engagement.’  Can people just sit down and use it? Do they use it every day? Or do they find it a drudgery and only use it when they have to?”

Three decades ago, automated HR systems ran on mainframes.  Their main purpose was to store, automate and manage employee data.  The main users of HR systems in the past were the HR managers and their HR staff that ran payroll, stored volumes of employee data, administered training, managed performance reviews, and tracked attendance, and all forms of leaves.


Today, HR systems have new users – the employees, the managers, and job applicants.  The new HR technology is based on the concept of “self-service.”  In the past, the applicant tracking systems were “electronic filing cabinets” of resumés.  Today, technology has enabled job applicants to click their mobile phones, submit their profiles online, take a job interview using the phone’s video camera, and take online assessment without being within smelling distance of the HR Assistant.

New purpose

HR innovations over the years have changed the purpose of HR systems, from “systems of record to systems of engagement.”  HR technology today makes it simple to seamlessly update employees’ status, know their benefits and monitor their usage, locate teammates and resource persons for their jobs, and take courses.  Once upon a time, these were all paper-based processes.  Now, all these can be done without having to log into the HR system, as they are all online and part of one’s daily work routine.

The CEOs’ penchant for productivity and real time information has redefined new HR systems. Some CEOS would rather that employees think about goals not as things they want to know during the planning session and the performance appraisal time only. They would rather that employees have a maniacal focus on their goals. Online goal management systems must be agile, easy to use, and “always in use” so that managers can manage their people 24/7.

New learning modes

Conventional training took employees away from their jobs to attend classroom courses.  The early innovations allowed them to log into the LMS (learning management systems) to find a course they want to take.  New training modes today allow training and working to be done simultaneously, no longer “when they have the time” only.  Learning can be fully integrated with work through videos, instructional modules, and learning opportunities in the context of work.

When you separate learning from working, people don’t learn at work, or people don’t work while learning.  The age-old belief that on-the-job training is the best form of training is still true.


Mobile versions

HR technology developers realize that employees access HR applications more in the smartphones than in PCs.  Today, HR apps allow users to “tap and swipe” rather than “click and type,” and HR systems are now being redesigned for mobile applications.  When you make HR apps more accessible, easy to operate (one or two taps rather than dozens of clicks and types), you ensure a higher level of employee usage and engagement in your HR systems.

Data analytics

Bersin believes, “Typically, companies spend 30-60% of their revenue on payroll (people). This enormous expense goes into salaries, benefits, training, facilities, travel, and many other areas. If we want to improve profitability, customer service, revenue generation, or product quality, shouldn’t we carefully analyze the biggest expenses we have?”

This means “datafying” your HR organization to drive value. As a consultant, I am enamored with data.  Time will come when I will probably offer my services free; but clients will pay for the data I share.

If you agree with Bersin on the immensity of organizational expense on people, why aren’t you investing enough in HR analytics?  Bersin further says, “Our research shows that only 4% of large organizations have any ability to “predict” or “model” their workforce – but more than 90% can model and predict budgets, financial results, and expenses. So the problem is not only one of poor analytics skills in HR, but a historic problem of lack of investment, poor data quality, and old fashioned HR systems.”

HR and IT heads tend to choose HR technology for their functionality and ease of use.  The wiser ones choose on the basis of intelligence and analytics capability.

(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at

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