HR TechnologyConference 2012: Mobile, LMS, and Cloud Update

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We just completed another HR TechnologyConference and the attendance set records.  While I didn't have a chance to see everything, I had a chance to meet with quite a few vendors and see many products and tools in the market.  Let me share just a few findings and some hot topics of interest.

Mobile Technology – Immature Market but White Hot

I conducted an expert session on the uses of Mobile technology in HR.  It was very interesting, and we all have a lot to learn here.

  • Of the 150 or so people in the room, only 3 or 4 worked in companies that had "standard mobile platforms" and a mobile device management strategy. So even if the HR managers wanted to put together a detailed plan for mobile, they are hampered by the lack of standards within their own IT department.
  • Exxon, Halliburton, and a few healthcare and pharmaceutical companies mentioned that they have strategic programs in mobile, and they are grappling with the issues of "what devices to standardize on" and "how to secure data when employees lose their device." In each case the HR group is partnering closely with IT, because the issues go far beyond HR. HR, on the other hand, is getting a lot of pressure to enable applications for "bring your own" devices.
  • We discussed which applications really belong on a mobile device, and the entire group agreed that the answer is everything. We are at a point in mobile computing where employees want it all: email, calendaring, document editing, as well as time and attendance, expense reporting, employee directory, training, and even some talent management. The idea that companies will buy standalone mobile HR applications is probably going to come and go pretty quickly – because these mobile devices are now "complete platforms." 
  • Vendors like SuccessFactors, Workday, and PeopleFluent see this – and they are developing all their apps for mobile devices now. Oracle announced its mobile development toolkit, Silkroad demonstrated its Point product for mobile, and most vendors realize that "mobile" is the future. SAP claims they now design apps for mobile first.

  • The word "mobile" probably needs to be tossed out the window. The group agreed that these devices are no longer "mobile" devices, but rather "tablets" or "new interface computers." They have mobile features (GPS, location awareness, cellular networks) but the idea that they are somehow "different" or "lesser" than PC's is obsolete. We need to start thinking of them as "iOS" devices and "Android" devices – they just happen to be mobile too.
  • A few companies mentioned that they are standardizing on Apple, but the general consensus among all the companies is that there are still too many platforms in the market and companies need a "platform neutral" strategy. Nearly every vendor promoted HTML5 as the new development environment, so there appears to be enough momentum that we can pretty much drop technologies like Flash and Flex as fast as we can (or hope they get HTML5 enabled).
  • Several companies mentioned that their IT departments simply "do not trust Android." Apparently the Android apps market is fairly unfettered and it is possible to download insecure applications, which of course give people access to vast amounts of employee data. I am not sure what Google is doing about this, but I'm sure they're getting the message. Despite this issue, several retailers told us that they must support Android, because all of the low cost phones run Android.
  • I asked the group "how important are HR apps on the mobile devices?" and the consensus was very important. The general agreement was that once a company gets its basic productivity applications on these devices, HR applications come next. Employees immediately want to use the device for the employee directory, time cards, expense management, training, etc. So once a company comes up with a mobile device strategy, the HR applications become mandatory.
  • There is a tremendous interest in mobile learning and knowledge sharing (video, audio, etc.) applications. SuccessFactors, SilkRoad, and even IBM showed off some of their mobile learning tools, and my personal opinion is that mobile learning will be a "killer app" that drives even greater adoption of mobile devices.
  • In the area of mobile learning, I just got back from the GP Client conference and we saw some amazing new mobile applications being developed by GP's mobile team. Don't think about mobile learning as "content delivery on mobile devices" – or even "mobile LMS tools." Mobile learning means building a real application that people use, and embedding performance support and learning into the app. 
  • Lowes, for example, has to train thousands of its retail employees how to bring together hundreds of home improvement products to help customers design new projects. Rather than building a training application, GP helped them build a mobile application that lets customers design their own "projects" at home, select materials, and then come into the store for help. The store employees then use the customer-designed project and add their own expertise to help the customer select, purchase, and use the products. And in the process the employee learns about what Lowes sells and does.  That's what great modern mobile learning looks like – the "learning" part is embedded in work.
  • Bottom line: we as an industry are going to be delivering all our HR applications on these "mobile" devices, and the sooner vendors build multi-platform end-to-end solutions the better for everybody.

LMS and Learning Platforms Update

I had an opportunity to present our LMS 2013 research and discuss trends in learning technology to a fully packed audience at the conference. (I was expecting the room to be half-empty, but it completely filled up.) You can read our blogs on the fast-growing LMS market separately, but here are some comments and thoughts from the audience.

  • Companies are still (and probably always will be) struggling to figure out which LMS to buy and what to do with the legacy LMSs they already have. Quite a few companies have Taleo-Oracle or SAP and they are looking to the vendors to make clear product roadmaps available.  As many of you know SAP has two LMSs and Oracle has four, so it's important for vendors to clarify their product roadmap to customers.
  • I highlighted many issues in this market, including the fact that LMS platforms have to do many things; today the focus is on supporting social learning, knowledge sharing, extended enterprise training, and making the whole platform much easier to use. 
  • Our research shows that there are now more than 200 LMSs in the market and the analogy I used was the way a garden grows. As one tree gets bigger, it makes room for smaller plants to grow, so no matter how fast companies like CornerstoneOnDemand, SumTotal, or Saba grow or ERP vendors consolidate LMS systems, they simply cannot innovate in all areas of learning technology. Thus lots of small vendors enter the market. So despite the tremendous amount of consolidation which has occurred, the number of vendors is still large and the biggest company only commands 8% market share. Buyers still have to shop around, define their requirements and use-cases, and unfortunately issue RFPs.  (I know that everyone hates these.)
  • Quite a number of companies asked how to manage their "federated" training function – ie. sales training wants their own system, but HR owns the corporate LMS. We've written the book on this, so if this is your challenge I recommend you read The High-Impact Learning Organization or call us – there are some very clear best-practices on managing the federated model. And a critical part of this is standardizing on a "learning architecture" (a set of constrained technology choices and practices for L&D) and making sure you have a corporate LMS that meets your needs.
  • There was a discussion about the role of content management systems in the market, and I reinforced how this technology category has collapsed and now only makes sense for large content development shops.
  • Generally speaking there continues to be tremendous interest in modernized LMS platforms – so please do read our LMS 2013 research and we will schedule more webinars on the whole topic.

Cloud and Other Topics

Bill Kutik mentioned that there were 40+ product announcements this week, so I won't even try to cover them.  The big cloud HRMS vendors (SAP, Oracle, Workday, Ultimate, Salesforce.com, and ADP) were all on stage and everyone seems to have gotten religion about cloud computing in HR. Mike Capone from ADP rightly stated "welcome to our world," as ADP has been delivering cloud services for decades.

When asked about the big business benefits of cloud computing, Stan Swete from Workday, Adam Rogers from Ultimate, and Sanjay Poonen from SAP highlighted the benefits of "all customers being on the same release, enabling customers to gain the benefits of new features continuously." Clearly this is big benefit to both customers and the vendors (they don't have to try to support back-level releases). But the cloud has the potential to provide even greater benefits than eliminating the mess of on-premise software.

I think one of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is the way we can integrate these systems into daily work. John Wookey, the SVP of applications for Salesforce.com, described how their strategy is not to build an end-to-end HR system, but rather to deliver features and capabilites into employees' already-existing work systems (in this case Salesforce).  Work.com consists of a set of embedded modules that integrate with Salesforce to help all employees and managers set goals, reward and recognize each other, develop themselves, and support the performance management process.

This approach is transformational for business, because no matter how "great" we make HR software, it is really only used "when needed." All the wonderful things HR does (coaching, leadership development, assessment, onboarding, training, etc.) shouldn't be locked up in the "HR System" but integrated into employee's daily work environments.

With cloud systems becomes more possible because these systems are very easy to buy (no capital investment) and vendors can provide integration tools directly. The problem is getting vendors to standardize and integrate with each other, preventing a bunch of "proprietary clouds."

I flew home from the conference wondering when there will be some form of API-driven standards (or partnerships) that let cloud HR vendors interoperate with each other. Oracle claims it should be based on SQL and Java (doubtful).

In the meantime there are plenty of partnerships to be had (Workday-Salesforce is a great example), and my belief is that cloud computing will force vendors to create more interoperability.

Think about analytics. If you want to implement a BigData or Talent Analytics strategy (and who doesn't), you have to pull data out of all these systems into some central place. Again we need these systems to interoperate – at the data level as well as the application and user interface level.

Evidence of this trend: many of the inquiries we have right now are questions like "How does cloud vendor X's application tracking or learning management integrate with cloud vendor Y's HRMS?"). So as the cloud market expands, watch vendor-to-vendor interoperability become the next big issue.

A Healthy, Vibrant Market

The exciting news is that the HR technology marketplace is very healthy. Workday's IPO will be a big success (despite the company's huge burn rate), and the market cap of companies like CornerstoneOnDemand, Workday, LinkedIn, as well as valuations for SuccessFactors and Taleo mean that many investors are putting money into this market.

This has resulted in dozens of very interesting companies now focusing on candidate assessment, mining the connections of people in social networks, talent analytics tools, engagement tools, social recognition systems, work management and feedback tools, and tools to help companies build internal communities, career portals, and all the things that get left out by the bigger vendors.

I also think we all should thank Bill Kutik for his tireless focus on making this conference a huge confab for people in this market.  I sometimes feel the conference is a little "over-sponsored" (not only did we get promotions in the hotel room, but the escalators had logos on them and people were leaving brochures behind the urinals in the bathroom!). As Bill said, vendors pay the bills and make this conference possible.

Lots more to come, as we launch our talent management and HR systems research in the coming months. I welcome your comments and feedback and hope others share their perspectives as well.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management. His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations, and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.

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