Few HR Tech Platforms Untouched by Mobile Trend

By Dave Zielinski Dec 6, 2016
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​The mobile wave that washed over the recruiting industry has reached the rest of the HR technology universe and shows few signs of ebbing.

While initial uses of mobile technologies within HR were largely limited to recruiters redesigning careers sites and application forms for candidates who were searching for jobs on their smartphones, today few HR technology platforms remain untouched by the mobile trend.

HR departments' adoption of mobile technologies grew 21 percent this year and is forecast to grow another 17 percent in 2017, according to the 2016-2017 Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, which polled a mix of HR and IT decision-makers. The survey had 3,544 respondents from 1,528 organizations of all sizes in nine industries from around the world. Almost 50 percent of respondents say they will have adopted mobile-enabled HR processes next year, up from 13 percent in 2014, said Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics at Sierra-Cedar, an IT services company with corporate offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

The survey found little difference in mobile use by organization size.

Mobile-equipped technologies are now used most often in the areas of HR management, record-keeping, and time and labor, the survey found. Talent acquisition, payroll and leave management were the categories with the next-most-frequently adopted mobile processes.

The biggest projected growth in mobile use in 2017? That will come in onboarding solutions, the survey found.

The growing adoption of mobile is being driven as much by line executives as by HR, Harris said, as these leaders expect more systems in their organizations to have mobile capabilities.  "CEOs and other leaders do most of their work today in mobile environments, and they expect to see other workers in the company doing so as well."
Industry vendors also continue to build cloud-based suites and individual talent management systems with a "mobile-first" mentality that places a higher priority on the user experience, she added.

Many of these new systems attempt to solve a chronic problem: the cumbersome processes that line managers and employees have been forced to use to access HR benefits, payroll, leave balance or related information. Mobile technology may make it easier to access that information.

Looking forward, experts believe the next phase of mobile will involve greater use of voice-enabled technologies and artificial intelligence tools that further enhance or customize the user experience across HR technology platforms.

"We have moved from desktop-based web browsers to mobile-based browsers, but that interface will change significantly as we move to voice recognition technology," said Ed Newman, vice president of strategy at Phenom People, a talent relationship marketing company based in Horsham, Pa. "The next challenge will be creating elegant and efficient user experiences on mobile where voice is the driver."

Mobile Learning Takes Flight

Mobile also is the delivery medium of choice in a growing number of organizations for employee learning and performance support. Instructional designers are increasingly repurposing "page-turning" e-learning courses (which simulate the turning of pages in books) into "microlearning" content for smartphones and tablets by developing checklists, short videos or reference guides for workers to use at the moment of need.

Harris said companies like Axonify, Degreed and EdCast are at the leading edge of this trend by offering content creation tools and learning platforms that facilitate mobile learning. "These companies help users build or access microlearning content in various formats like video, graphics and text or gamification that is designed for learning in mobile environments," she said.

Mobile is particularly well-suited for performance support tools that can be embedded within the flow of employees' daily work.

McDonald's is one of the employers that has migrated away from traditional e-learning into mobile learning and performance support. "We were hearing from our owner-operators that they didn't think our training methods were modern enough or fully aligned with the realities of how restaurants operate," said Rob Lauber, the chief learning officer at the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company.

Employees felt they were learning more from their co-workers than from e-learning courses, Lauber said, so his team created a learning and performance support initiative with the help of vendor Inkling, which features a mobile platform designed for the "deskless worker." 

Crew members in 7,000 McDonald's fast-food restaurants now use organization-owned tablets to train at 12 core operating stations. The interactive lessons feature short videos that demonstrate required procedures, graphics and text tools that explain equipment, and other features. "This a highly robust and scalable solution that greatly enhances the shoulder-to-shoulder training that was already going on in restaurants," Lauber said.

In addition, a new online reference guide gives employees access to information and specifications for equipment or food preparation at the time of need. "If someone needs to know the oil temperature for French fries versus hash browns, it's easily searched in the ready reference guide," Lauber said. "We also can continually update the guide since it's no longer paper-based. This is the first time in my career I've seen performance support come to life and work in a real-world setting."

Harris said the survey found organizations plan to place a stronger emphasis on employee learning initiatives in 2017, which includes learning delivered through one of the most heavily used HR technologies in the study: social collaboration tools.
"We asked organizations where they planned to increase job roles in 2017, and the highest percentage said they planned to increase roles in learning and development," Harris said. "That was higher even than those planning increases in HR and data analytics roles, which ranked No. 1 last year."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis.

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