Viewpoint: The State of HR Technology Today

By Josh Bersin Jan 12, 2016
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Edi​​tor’s Note: We welcome Josh Bersin as our new monthly columnist focusing on HR technology issues. As a noted author, speaker and industry analyst, Josh brings a wealth of experience on technical innovation, and he will keep us updated on the latest trends and critical issues in the field.

As most of us know, it’s nearly impossible to be an HR leader without getting deeply involved in technology. Not only does HR technology automate, store and improve almost everything we do, our companies are now flooded with technology—so we have to buy, integrate and simplify technology just to get our jobs done.

In this article I’d like to give you a quick overview of the HR technology landscape. Over time I’ll be explaining many more details of the world of HR technology, diving into details, and telling you more about various providers in the marketplace.

The HR Technology Markets

The HR technology marketplace falls into five broad categories:

  • Core HR management systems (including payroll and benefits).
  • Talent management systems (including recruitment, learning management, performance management and compensation).
  • Employee self-service systems (portals and apps that help employees interface with your HR team and manage their own data).
  • Employee productivity and feedback systems (engagement, collaboration and feedback).
  • Employee wellness and lifestyle applications.

There are hundreds of vendors in each of these categories, and most are moving away from installed software toward systems that run in the cloud and operate on mobile devices.

The Biggest Trends

There are several disruptive trends happening, many of which will make an HR professional’s life easier.

  • First, most HR technology is shifting away from “systems of record” toward “systems that make work life better.” For many years, HR tools were designed to help employees more easily store information. (The tools were essentially online forms.) Today these tools are what we call “systems of engagement”—they are intended to help employees get their jobs done. As you look at tools and systems, focus heavily on ease of use as a criteria; if the systems are hard to use, you simply won’t get people to adopt them.
  • Second, most HR technology is rapidly moving from cloud-based to app-based. We now spend 40 percent or more of our online time on our phones, and our employees similarly greatly desire their tools to be apps. A large company in Australia that Bersin by Deloitte worked with moved all its core HR applications to a family of mobile apps and found a 500 percent increase in adoption and a huge increase in satisfaction and productivity among the workforce. Every HR tool you buy now should have a mobile app strategy or be deliverable on mobile.
  • Third, HR tools today are analytics-driven, meaning that they usually give employees smart recommendations on what to learn, what to read, what forms to fill out and other decisions to make. This means you must focus on data quality—so whatever software you buy, make sure you take the time both to put standards in place and to teach people how to use it. Poor data quality must become a thing of the past.
  • Fourth, many of the large incumbent vendors are being disrupted by fast-growing startups. I talk with dozens of companies every year that are building innovative new tools for employee wellness, analytics, feedback, developmental performance management, onboarding, leadership development, assessment, benefits analysis and much more. These are solid tools, all developed by smart innovative teams. You have to stay current. Talk with your peers and look for references.
  • Finally, you have to look at your role as an “experience designer” now. No company can get by with a single HR software vendor, so as you select and implement your core systems and add more icing on the cake, it’s very important for you as the HR leader to make sure you are stitching together tools that are easy to use, simple and designed to enhance the employee experience. More than 80 percent of companies are replacing legacy systems just because they are too hard to use—don’t let a vendor sell you on something exciting and fancy if your team doesn’t feel it creates a compelling employee experience.

Today more than $40 billion annually is spent on HR tools and technology around the world, and HR is becoming more data-driven than ever, according to Bersin by Deloitte’s HCM Market Trends, 2015 report. Take the time to be careful with HR technology, plan and implement an architected approach, and use experts and peers to make sure you’re selecting the right tools. And ensure that you’re being open and honest with your vendors—the more they know about your company, the better they can configure solutions to meet your needs.

Finally, I urge you to take this area seriously. Developing a simple, easy-to-use, up-to-date technology strategy is critical to your overall success. I look forward to helping Society for Human Resource Management members learn more about HR technology in future columns.

Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. He is a published author on the Forbes website; is a LinkedIn Influencer; has been quoted by Bloomberg, NPR and
The Wall Street Journal; and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and follow him at or

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