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7 years ago
Predict (Still in) the Future


HR technology has hit two critical tipping points this year: more than half of companies are now hosting their human resources management system on the cloud, and more than 60 percent of companies now use mobile for at least some critical HR tasks.

PAW Workforce

But in one key area — predictive analytics — HR leaders seem to be stuck in neutral.

Cloud-based HR software has been around for more than 10 years, and business leaders have finally gotten comfortable with the idea of hosting core talent management tools and data outside of the company, said Derek Beebe, director of HR technology at Towers Watson & Co. “The security concerns they feared early on were never realized because vendors tripled down on security for their solutions,” he said.

Because the cloud allows for constant updates and new releases, vendors are focusing most of their innovation efforts on cloud-based software forcing on-premise customers to wait much longer for those features, said Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for consulting firm Sierra-Cedar Inc. (formerly Cedar Crestone Inc.). “That makes the cloud much more attractive.”

But upgrades are just part of the benefit proposition. Companies report experiencing better results with less hassle. Sierra-Cedar’s 2014-15 HR Systems Survey shows that cloud-based HRMS software delivers higher user experience scores, which translates to higher end-user adoption, while requiring less time and resources to manage them. “Because the user experience is more effective, end users are more interested in using the tools, which is driving more self-service.”

Mobile and the Consumerization of HR

Anything that drives engagement is good news for businesses, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of human resources advisory and research firm Bersin by Deloitte. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 survey shows that 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent call the problem “very important.” “It is the first time in 14 years that we’ve seen engagement as a top issue,” Bersin said. “That is forcing vendors to change their approach.”

For years, most HRMS vendors have sold customers on the idea of integrated talent management software that automate HR tasks. “Companies still want that,” Bersin said, “but they also want features that promise to attract, engage and satisfy employees.”

The move to mobile is accommodating this shift as vendors provide employees with the same rich experience from workforce apps that they have come to expect from consumer mobile tools. “These apps are all about helping employees access information and put things into context,” said R. Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc.

Towers Watson’s 2015 survey shows 61 percent of companies now use or are adopting mobile for HR, up a whopping 17 percent since 2014, and vendors are giving them lots of options to choose from. Workday Inc. moved to a Mobile First development approach years ago, and last year reported a 400 percent increase in transaction volume coming from mobile devices. Most of the big names in HR tech, including iCIMS Inc., Kronos Inc., SuccessFactors and Taleo Corp. as well as the niche vendors, now offer a host of mobile apps for recruitment, performance management, learning, goal setting and other HR features.

Though not all apps are equally appealing. “We are beyond the early adopters, but we are not quite to full acceptance,” Beebe said. Companies have been quicker to adopt mobile for tasks to drive efficiencies around recruiting, wellness, and performance management, he said. But they have been slower to adopt mobile for core HR tasks, like time and attendance, and absence tracking.

This may be because vendors and HR professionals have to be more cautious about these tasks because of the compliance and regulatory issues, said Sierra Cedar’s Harris. “Data privacy is still a big concern.”

The Elusive Promise of Analytics

While mobile and cloud are delivering on the promise of efficiency and ease of use, the much-anticipated value of workforce analytics has yet to be realized.

“Everyone wants to know how to build a robust analytics strategy that will tell them who to hire, who to promote and why people leave,” Bersin said. And vendors are trying to deliver on that vision.

Almost every recent acquisition and new feature rollout has had something to do with analytics, and harnessing the power of machine learning, visualization and algorithms to provide HR practitioners with easy-to-use powerful predictive tools.

In the past 18 months, Workday Inc. acquired Identified, a back-end workforce analytics company, to develop its workforce analytics offering; IBM Corp. launched Watson Analytics, a cloud application that promises to take the complexity out of retrieving, cleaning and analyzing workforce data; and HireVue Inc. rolled out HireVue Insights, a predictive candidate and interviewer recommendation engine. Vendors are also working furiously to build predictive analytics tools and dashboards into their offering.

There’s just one problem. “Most of these tools do a lot more reporting than actual analytics,” Wang said. They automate tasks and provide visualization tools that make finding and organizing data easier, but they aren’t necessarily helping companies to do complex analytics that can support future decision-making.

Sierra-Cedar’s survey shows that over the past three years HR leaders have said that they are going to be investing in analytics software, but the number of companies actually doing it is stuck at 12 to 14 percent, Harris reported. “The number never goes up.”

This is not entirely the vendors’ fault. Companies like Workday have made huge investments in analytics features that can make managing and analyzing data easier, but HR leaders still need at least basic analytics capabilities to make the most of these tools.

That is where they often fall short, Beebe said. The lack of analytics skills on HR teams and the lack of partnerships between HR and other departments to share data are causing adoption of these tools to stall — despite the huge amount of interest in harnessing analytics for talent decision-making. “It doesn’t matter how pretty the charts are; if you don’t understand the science behind the data, it isn’t going to work,” Beebe said.

Beebe said that the move to analytics will be slow as HR adds these skills to their teams while cleaning up their data sources and establishing baseline measures for key data points. “Unless you have a baseline, you can’t measure change,” Harris said.

A Long Way to Go

By: Sarah Fister Gale
Originally published at

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