The do-it-yourself movement has come to HR, as more professionals are using low-code and no-code software—tools that require little to no programming experience to master—to build their applications.
These software development platforms enable HR and recruiting staff to become "citizen developers" and replace cumbersome spreadsheets with more efficient workflows, build their own careers sites, create talent analytics dashboards, develop surveys and reduce manual tasks.
By building its own software, HR bypasses long waits for often-overloaded IT staff and the significant expense of using external consultants or vendors.
Democratization of Technology
Experts say no-code and low-code development platforms are a good fit for HR processes like new-hire onboarding, tracking employee status or streamlining inefficient workflows. Onboarding, for example, usually requires managing myriad documents, sending e-mails between multiple departments and overseeing a multistep process. That end-to-end process can be automated with low-code development tools. Drag-and-drop tools and prebuilt templates walk novice developers through creating the applications.
"Making apps is becoming a generic business competency," said John Bratincevic, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who covers the low-code software platform market. "Just like everyone is expected to be able to use e-mail or spreadsheets, creating apps is becoming a normal expectation in jobs like HR, not just in IT."
Trevor White, a research manager specializing in human capital and talent management technologies for Nucleus Research in Boston, said he's seen growing value for low-code and no-code software in processes like recruiting, where repetitive tasks require managing multiple spreadsheets.
"Part of the reason I think HR presents such an opportunity for this technology is there is a sweet spot of a lot of manual, spreadsheet-based processes and a lot of users without technical backgrounds," White said.
Learning Curve for Low-Code Use
Experts say that HR and recruiting professionals with a minimum level of technical competency can learn to use low-code software in short order. "Someone who's already competent with spreadsheets can use one of these platforms and start creating applications very quickly," said Bratincevic.
Even those who aren't "Excel jockeys" can get up to speed quickly, he said.
"Many businesspeople learn their technical chops right on the platform and end up creating substantial applications over time," Bratincevic said. If a trained programmer or power user within HR is available to act as a mentor, that speeds the app development learning curve for novices.
Accommodating HR Technology Budgets
Low-code and no-code platforms also can accommodate limited HR technology budgets. Bratincevic knows of one banking company where 750 of the 1,000 software developers in the organization could be defined as citizen developers, and as a result, the bank is spending far less on external consultants and software-as-a-service apps from vendors and can implement apps more quickly.
"People are just making apps on their own, even if it's for a temporary need," Bratincevic said.
Low-code development platforms that are the best fit for HR are typically priced as per-user, per-month offerings. "Typical pricing for citizen developer-type platforms might be around $25 per user, per month," he said.
Three HR Case Studies: No-Code and Low-Code in Action
Emma Schaff, associate HR director for F. Schumacher & Co., an interior design company in Brooklyn, N.Y., uses a no-code tool from vendor Recruitee to help customize a careers page for her company.
Schaff said using the development platform means recruiters no longer have to wait for IT to make changes to the site. Recruiters can edit sections of the site and arrange premade layouts.
"With relatively little time or technology investment, I was able to customize our page and add photos, news and text that show off our company, our [diversity, equity and inclusion] statement, and our values," Schaff said.
She used out-of-the-box templates, training videos and examples provided by the vendor to help create and edit the page. "With no-code tools it's also easy to customize the candidate pipeline stages associated with each job opening, add evaluation and e-mail templates, and customize candidate disqualification reasons," Schaff said.
Perry Oostdam, CEO and co-founder of Recruitee, said no programming experience is required. "It's similar to making a business page on social media," he said. "As long as HR professionals are familiar with uploading videos and photos, they can learn to use it."
The human resource team at Qlik, a provider of data integration and analytics services in King of Prussia, Pa., has used low-code tools from vendor ServiceNow. One application now directs employee requests through a portal so HR can collect the information it needs to answer questions quickly.
Dan Le Masurier, director of IT service delivery for Qlik, said the new app led to a 35 percent time savings for HR staff in answering employee questions and resolving issues. "That included reducing a large volume of back-and-forth e-mails," he said.
Forrest Whyte, senior director of HR and talent acquisition transformation for Automation Anywhere, a provider of robotic process automation technology in San Jose, Calif., said his HR staff has used his company's own low-code tools to create an automated process to export files from a legacy human capital management system to a newly-purchased platform, among other tasks. "That would have been difficult, time-consuming and mundane for someone in HR to do manually," Whyte said.
Whyte's HR team also has built applications to automate sending offer letters to job candidates, conduct sourcing through Boolean searches on Google and perform talent reviews. For the talent reviews, low-code was used to build surveys for managers and employees, assign weights to responses, and create an initial nine-box placement that guides discussions about employee performance and potential.
"We think it takes a lot of subjectivity out of the process," Whyte said. "Leaders meet after the fact to calibrate scores produced by the automation."
What's the biggest payoff for HR in being able to build its own bots? "There's a lot of important back-office operations work in HR, but it's not customer facing," Whyte said. "The automation frees us to spend more time and energy on higher value work like executive and manager coaching, on communicating with the workforce around things like total rewards, on town hall meetings and more."
Whyte also believes the judicious use of bots helps make his company an employer of choice for HR professionals. "If you come to work here, you may not have to do headcount reports, for example, because bots can do much of that," he said. "You can get promoted more quickly into doing higher value work and have more growth opportunities."
Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.