Viewpoint: What Mobile Platforms Mean for HR

By Josh Bersin Feb 18, 2016

bersin217.jpgEditor’s Note: Josh Bersin is our 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.

Mobile technology has taken over our lives.

There are more than 6 billion cellphones around the world and, according to the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of the U.S. population now carries a smartphone.  More than two-thirds of survey respondents say they have used smartphones to access health information, and more than half use them for commerce and banking. New research by Deloitte shows that in aggregate, Americans collectively look at their phones more than 8 billion times each day.

What does this all mean for HR, and how is it changing the landscape of HR technology?  

Mobile Is the New Employee Productivity Platform

The first thing we have to accept is that mobile devices are here and they represent an entirely new platform. Bersin by Deloitte research shows that 93 percent of human capital management (HCM) solution providers surveyed support HR mobile applications. 

On a mobile device, we typically view a screen vertically, we swipe and pinch rather than browse, we use our thumbs, and we expect location information, sound, and photos to be integrated into the apps. 

While personal computers are powerful devices, the sensors and features we use on smartphones are typically much more advanced. Your phone knows, for example, how many steps you took today, where you are (and have been), and even how fast you are moving.

What this means is that when we rethink our HR apps for mobile use, we have to rethink them from the ground up. One of the companies I met with recently is focused on building an entire first-year onboarding and employee enablement app for new salespeople. Using the mobile device as the platform, the company built an app that identifies what store the employee is physically visiting, asks the employee to sign in at each location, and points out new products and features in the store based on the employee’s sales experience in that location. When it’s time for employees to clock in or clock out, the app reminds them. If employees leave the store without clocking out, the app alerts them.

Mobile apps tend to be very focused around video. Research from Pew shows that 64 percent of all Internet traffic is video-related and more than 50 percent of all Internet usage on phones comes from video streams. If you want to tell a story, teach someone something or get a message out on a mobile device—think video first.

And look at the sensors and information available to mobile devices. Consider apps for time and attendance, employee learning, collaboration, phone directories, and health and wellness. Employees’ phones know where they are, how much they’re traveling and, of course, which other employees are nearby. Why wouldn’t we rethink all these apps to take advantage of these services? This is what innovative new vendors are working on today.

Mobile Demands a New Focus on Security and Data Protection

While all these new apps are exciting and engaging (companies that move their HR apps to mobile devices tell me they get two to five times greater adoption), we have some new data issues to think about. What if someone loses their phone and it isn’t password-protected? What if the phone belongs to the employee (not the company), and he or she gives it to a friend to use? What if the employee doesn’t want you to know where he or she is or what he or she is doing? What if the employee uses the phone in an open setting and others can watch what he or she is doing?

Now, more than ever, HR teams have to put together strong data protection programs, give users clear guidelines on what information the company will or will not capture, and train all HR staff on the importance of protecting personally identifiable information, data privacy and using security practices. In the old days, most HR data were sitting on a mainframe in the basement, protected by a data security team and badge reader in the machine room. Today, mobile data is sprinkled all over your company and if sensitive information gets out, your brand and reputation could suffer.

Build or Buy Experience in ‘Design Thinking’

Finally, when using, selecting or designing mobile solutions, you should invest the time to learn about “design thinking.” This new discipline (which is now able to be studied in books and courses all over the world) can teach you how to observe your users, create user personas and design HR solutions that help employees make their lives better. The old days of drawing flowcharts and simply designing Web pages are going away; in the world of mobile we have to understand how people work, observe their behavior and build apps that help them get work done.

I know most HR managers are not software engineers or technical professionals—but the more you understand these issues, the more effective you can be at finding the right vendors, buying the right tools and working with IT to build a mobile employee experience that’s best in class.

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


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