When Ellen Page determined the recruiting system that came packaged with her organization's new human capital management (HCM) technology suite was falling short of expectations, she thought she'd have to live with the shortcomings for the life of the vendor contract. Page, director of talent acquisition for Franciscan Health, a hospital system based in Mishawaka, Ind., was facing a fiercely competitive recruiting market for health care talent and needed a platform that was more mature and candidate-friendly to avoid losing job prospects to competitors.
Page's dilemma was solved when she came across an "overlay" solution that could sit on top of her existing recruiting platform and transform the candidate experience with a new front-end interface. The solution provider, InFlight Corp. in Easthampton, Mass., optimizes existing or aging systems by using a cloud-based application programming interface (API) that integrates with Web-based applications "on the fly" without disrupting systems of record like HCM or applicant tracking system (ATS) platforms.
Such overlay solutions can appeal to HR leaders seeking ways to modernize or retrofit existing platforms without having to spend millions to purchase new core technologies.
Page said InFlight's solution made her organization's job application process more intuitive and easier to complete and optimized the existing recruiting platform for mobile use by candidates. "We wanted to enhance any step we could to make applying to a job easier and faster for candidates," Page said. "When an applicant only has to click on a radio button to indicate what they want rather than having to use a drop-down menu to find a selection, for example, small improvements like that add up."
Page said placing a new front-end interface on the recruiting platform helped improve metrics like candidate drop-off rates, conversion rates and her department's net promoter score. Her recruiting team created a presentation for senior leadership to help demonstrate the value of investing in the overlay tool.
"We created a video that compared the old job application process to the new one," she said. "The difference was substantial and the improvements easy for executives to see."
The overlay also eased demands on Franciscan's HR shared services team since it no longer had to field as many help requests from candidates struggling to complete job applications, Page said.
Trade-offs of HCM Technology Suites
Investing in HCM technology suites often involves a trade-off. The one-stop-shopping nature of these platforms ensures a common user interface among systems; the simplicity of having only one vendor to deal with; and the assurance of easy integration between disparate platforms like recruiting, performance management or learning.
The downside of suites, because of their one-size-fits-all nature, is that some of their individual systems may be less advanced or user-friendly than others and may not possess the quality of stand-alone or "point" solutions on the market.
It's in optimizing those weaker applications where overlay solutions can provide the biggest value, HR technology analysts say. This category of solutions includes micro-application providers like InFlight, enterprise low-code software tools, HR virtual assistants and other tools designed to serve as a new user-friendly "front door" to existing technologies.
Such tools can help streamline workflows, unclutter user interfaces and mobile-optimize platforms. Experts say overlay tools can help HR functions that are making do with platforms that aren't always optimized for diverse user experiences "out of the box."
For example, in addition to streamlining job application processes, InFlight's solution can help make processes like completing time sheets or enrolling in benefits more user-friendly and efficient.
"If the user interface for time sheets is cluttered and confusing, for example, and the sheets are difficult to use, employees will constantly be contacting technical support or asking colleagues for help," said Karl Wierzbicki, vice president of marketing for InFlight. "The design of time and attendance applications also impacts whether your organization is getting accurate data."
Ron Hanscome, research vice president specializing in HCM technologies for Gartner, said the company's research found most organizations need to augment their presumed one-stop-shop HCM suites by 20 percent to 30 percent with new capabilities to meet all of their HR needs.
"Companies have found there are limitations to how pervasive the experience with HCM suites can be," Hanscome said.
He noted that vendors like InFlight and other providers of overlay tools fall into Gartner's category of "EXTech," defined as a diverse collection of employee-facing solutions designed to influence and improve the employee experience and organizational culture.
Hanscome said large providers of HCM suites joined the employee experience movement by creating their own tools to offer more-personalized worker experiences across their diverse technology ecosystems. Examples include Workday Journeys, Oracle Journeys and SAP's Work Zone.
Trevor White, research manager specializing in HCM technologies for Nucleus Research in Boston, said overlay tools play an increasingly important role for many human resource information technology (HRIT) leaders.
"If these products are used as a stop-gap measure until organizations can move to a more modern solution, they serve a good purpose," White said. "They also can help companies buy themselves some time so they're not forced to rush into a vendor choice without conducting proper due diligence."
Rebecca Wettemann, a principal with Valoir, a technology research and advisory firm in Arlington, Va., said overlay tools can help make fragmented HR data more accessible and useable for employees and HR professionals alike. One of Valoir's technology predictions for 2022 is that increasing use of low-code and no-code apps layered on top of existing HR platforms will enable end users to see and use data in ways that better fit their needs.
"In this scenario, the underlying application becomes less important and what becomes more valuable is how you present information to end users, which is why the overlay approach is having a lot of success," Wettemann said.
Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.