In the HR space, technology is growing at an astounding rate and becoming more complex as it moves toward better integration of work and life. And vendors are proliferating—over 21,000 exist in the space, including many high-value, high-growth firms reporting billion-dollar valuations.
"The HR tech market is characterized by confusion and growth," said HR industry analyst and thought leader Josh Bersin, speaking March 1 at the spring HR Technology Conference & Exposition.
"The context is that we're in the strangest and most challenging workplace environment we've known in a long time, coming out of the pandemic," added Bersin, founder of the Josh Bersin Academy for professional development in HR. "Digital transformation is reinventing every industry toward becoming something it didn't know it needed to be. Organizations are discovering they need new talent practices and new skills and job roles. Vendors are being tasked with designing systems that go beyond traditional HR and fit into the flow of work and life—systems that are proactive, intelligent, nudge-based, AI [artificial intelligence]-enabled, easy to use and compelling to use."
Increased focus on how the employee experience is designed is still the prevailing trend in HR technology, Bersin said.
"Employee experience is urgent," he noted. "Not that long ago, we bought human capital management (HCM) systems to be transactional systems, and the whole concept of talent management was to integrate with the operational practices of HR. That's not nearly enough now. You have to have journey management, developmental experiences, listening tools, AI, chatbots and employee self-service portals."
In other words, an employee experience layer should sit atop talent intelligence data and the core HR systems. "The employee experience layer is complex," Bersin said. "And if you don't have a strategy to integrate employee experience, you will have to employ a lot of different tools and systems. More and more of the new generation of systems are what you could call 'creator tools' that make it easier to build customized interfaces that apply to each company and team."
Employee experience helps create employment brand, which is tied into attracting and recruiting talent. "Recruiting has been hard," Bersin said. "The solution is not just pouring more money into advertising and hiring more recruiters but moving people inside the company in a more deterministic way. Vendors have turned their attention toward a new generation of sourcing, recruiting and internal mobility tools."
Enterprise Systems Update
Investment in core HR technology continues to intensify. But the big vendors are running to catch up, Bersin said. "Despite what they say, no vendor can provide everything. Employers need to carefully build a road map to bring the pieces together."
He said that the enterprise resource planning software giants —Oracle, SAP and Workday—have realized they have to open up their application programming interfaces (APIs) and allow HR to use the systems to customize employee journeys.
"Workday has been innovative, rolling out developer tools to help people build better applications on top of their core product," Bersin said. "The company has been expanding functionality of the learning and recruiting modules and getting traction on their skills cloud. Workday is working hard to build interfaces to make the user experience better and easier."
Oracle and SAP also intend to introduce a lot of innovations this year, Bersin said.
He added that ServiceNow has become one of the most successful companies in the world because they have built the crucial experience layer that companies need in the new world of work.
Bersin said that Darwinbox, founded in Hyderabad, India, may be the "next Workday." The hallmarks of this next-generation HCM are its flexibility and configurability, he said.
"Imagine you had a system that handled all core HCM applications; it could accommodate multiple organization structures with no redesign; it had extensive APIs and was easy to integrate; it was infinitely configurable for any business organization, business model or functional team; and it was built for mobile and really easy to use? This is essentially what Darwinbox has built."
Microsoft also continues to make a huge impact on the workplace, he said. In addition to the increasing adoption of Microsoft Teams, the suite of learning and communication tools known as Microsoft Viva is growing quickly.
"Viva, which took the market by storm when it was launched in 2021, is now sweeping across IT and HR departments and starting to change the HR market in big ways," Bersin said. And Microsoft recently added Glint, a leading employee listening and action platform; Ally.io, a top goal management tool; and LinkedIn Learning to the Microsoft Viva framework.
"And because most companies have Microsoft IT deployments, it's easy to license Viva and you can just turn it on, with almost no implementation other than configuration," he said.
One of the hottest areas of HR tech is skills tech, the tools that help categorize, assess, manage and improve workplace skills. Skills tech is part of the talent intelligence layer of an employer's technology ecosystem.
Bersin described it as "a living, breathing system" used to understand the skills and the skills gaps in an organization, as well as the external skills that are growing in importance among competitors and within industries. This integrated system includes learning tools, a talent marketplace, and recruiting platforms; the number of vendors in the space is massive.
"Skills data will generally live in four to five systems, so it's important to have a strategy about how to bring it all together," he said. He also reminded employers that many skills applications will focus on operational, mandatory skills designed for compliance and certification, but that the future lies in developing capability frameworks.
"Just developing skills does not make your company perform better," he said. "It's how people use these skills that matters—not just knowing a particular technology or tool, but how to sell, how to design, how to serve customers, etc."
Learning in the Flow of Work
Corporate learning is a $360 billion market, and it defines success or underperformance for virtually every company, Bersin said. "Every time you hire someone, launch a new product or change the way your company works, there's a massive training need to fill."
He added that employers have realized most employees don't want to spend two hours in an online course. "They may just want to spend 10 minutes, and they want the content to be relevant," he said.
Offering free online courses is just scratching the surface, he noted. "Inside the halls of innovative corporations, we now find incredibly powerful solutions which use VR, AR [augmented reality], AI-enabled learning paths, and highly intelligent career pathways. All this is possible because of the huge number of technology innovators in the space."
Bersin said that it's impossible for employers to buy a complete learning solution from one vendor, unless they're a very small company.
Exciting innovations in learning technology include the use of APIs to measure and track online learning; career pathway technology, where educational programs are mingled with internal development; cohort-based learning platforms; the emergence of TikTok-like video in capturing micro moments; the growth of the metaverse, including avatars and virtual spaces; and the growth of the creator market in learning.
"Not only are companies like Udemy growing at two to three times the rate of traditional publishers, but you have a creator economy inside your company," Bersin said. "If you use tools like 360 Learning, Articulate 360, and many others and simply encourage your employees to share what they know, the sky is the limit."