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Micah Fairchild The Overhyped HR Application—Part 2: Mobile HCM Applications

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Deciphering Whether Mobile HCM Software Lives Up to the Hype

With analysts predicting global revenue for mobile data in excess of $1T by 2015 (Gartner); 50B+ connected devices by 2020 (Ericson); and nearly one quarter of a billion enterprise business customers leveraging the cloud from a mobile device by 2015 (ABI Research); it's clear that the mobile explosion we've seen over the past several years shows no sign of abatement. In fact IDC's Prediction Team even thinks that adoption rates could rise to uncharted levels—fueled by a surge in downloadable apps, even newer mobile form factors, and mobile device volumes.

As an increasing number of enterprise applications enter this fray though, one of the many questions that seem to be going largely unanswered is how appropriate the mobile form factor is to particular industries. Sure, a fairly logical argument could be made for CRM (Customer Relationship Management)-centered sales support applications. Likewise, manufacturing operations have long been in need of time and attendance based software that isn't arbitrarily tied to a desktop computer. But what about broader HCM (Human Capital Management) processes; is there truly a place in this new mobile world for HR mobility?

In this, the second installment in our four-part series on overhyped HR applications, our discussion turns to mobile HCM—peeling back the layers of hype to see if this HCM software is the future of the field, or just another part of an ever-growing feature set with little true utility.

Is Mobile HCM Ready for Mainstream?

To put it succinctly, mobile HCM is not ready for mainstream adoption. That's not to say that these HR software technologies have no utility, but for now at least the function is following the form (when it should be the other way around). Specifically, with certain notable exceptions (discussed later), our current cadre of mobile HR applications are first-generation—dedicated to offering basic request/approval capabilities but little else. While obviously those functions can be useful, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what mobile HR can do. Nor do many of these initial applications even come close to achieving the level of engagement that other mobile consumer technologies do. In reality, as Gartner's Jim Holincheck puts it, "The user experience has not been more compelling than what has been available for many years through a Web browser".

Indeed, it would seem as though a sizeable number of HR software vendors seem to just be checking mobile HR functionality off a list to get it added to their product specifications rather than truly understanding the benefits (e.g. enhanced productivity, engagement, etc.) that can come from a well-developed app. In fact, a recent Human Resource Executive column on HR Technology thought leaders uncovered that a sizeable amount of industry influencers believe just that about mobile HR applications.

Take for example Knowledge Infusion's Jason Averbook; who said "Mobile is one of the most overhyped [trends] because, even though it makes it easier to put technology in the hands of more people, the HR functions aren't changing to actually take advantage of this new technology". Further, Father of the HR Technology Conference Bill Kutik reasoned that "mobile HR is the most overhyped trend because not enough vendors are thinking about the changes they need to make in their applications to exploit the particular qualities of mobile platforms". Indeed, as Kutik goes on to say "if vendors are simply throwing the whole application onto the iPad, there's no value-add there at all except that it's lighter to carry around".

Are Any HR Software Vendors Actually Leveraging Mobile HCM Appropriately?

While the bulk of the HR software industry isn't all that far removed from these fledgling first-generation mobile HCM apps, there are those companies that have invested the considerable time and resources necessary to create compelling form factor-specific functionality. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it does highlight those HR applications that have captured our interest and that prove it is possible to deliver great mobile HR capabilities.

1) Lawson Mobile Apps
With a feature set that runs the gamut of functionalities from Recruitment (which extends Lawson's Requisition Center for creating and accessing requisitions) to the company's Mobile Employee application (which extends both Employee and Manager Self-Service capabilities); Infor's Lawson has captured a native iOS and Android app that delivers the one-two punch of functionality with utility partnered with a rich user experience—the very definition of what you want from mobile HR software. Of particular interest to us though, were the system's online collaboration capabilities which allow managers and employees to partner for everything from competency maintenance to certifications.

2) Kronos' Workforce Mobile
As mentioned earlier, time and attendance applications are a no-brainer when it comes to their appropriateness for mobile delivery. While Kronos delivers that functionality with ease, the company has also expanded its capabilities for mobile HCM processes—now offering an intuitive, Java-based option for managers and employees to connect to Kronos' flagship Workforce Central suite (and complete a number of request and approval tasks). What has caught our eye with Kronos' offering though has more to do with the company's commitment to mobile rather than the system's actual functionality—updating compatible devices on a regular basis and reaching one of the largest mobile device populations that any company has achieved (e.g. Apple's iOS 3.1 & up; Android's OS 2.x & up; BlackBerry's OS 4.5.0 & up; and Nokia's Series 40 3rd Edition & up).

3) Workday's Mobile Solutions
While Workday may have gotten off to a slow start in the mobile HR world, the company has rapidly gained ground of late—almost exclusively tapping into the needs of managers and executives through recently-released HR analytics capabilities. Still, the thing that impresses us the most about Workday's latest mobile HCM software is how constantly evolving the solution is—with new functionalities (delivered via HTML5) happening not only for functional feature sets like Manager Self-Service (MSS) but also for navigation and user experience improvements. Above all else, Workday's solution for mobile HCM seems to truly embrace the requirement to mirror the look and feel of other consumer technologies.

Of course, hundreds of other mobile HR applications (which we would be remiss to not at least partially include) are also available that effectively serve more niche purposes. These mobile HCM solutions include Kenexa's 2x Mobile (which, while solely focused on talent acquisition, does help hiring managers remotely capture, track, and approve hiring tasks in real-time); Jobvite (which, while browser-based, does provide a unique social application leveraging tool for candidate sourcing); Vortex's Mobile Manager Connect (which integrates with HR/Payroll systems for employee and manager self-service actions); Accero's Workforce Intelligence (which links up to the broader Accero-Cyborg solution and houses pre-configured reporting capabilities with striking built-in visual graphing and scorecard options); and HR Concept's Mobile Benefits (which beefs up Employee Self-Service feature sets by offering access to health account transactions, benefits claims details, and account balances).

Bottom Line for Mobile HCM?

As Epicor's James Norwood opines, "Mobile devices like the Windows Phone and iPhone are no longer just interesting toys, they are rapidly becoming, if not yet principle, indispensable computing devices". This is true regardless of whether that device is used for integrated ERP software suites or standalone HCM applications. Customers, employees, and everyone in between is looking for the business technologies used to interface with an organization to be as efficient, engaging, and helpful as those they use in their personal lives. The trick for enterprise software vendors investing in this type of technology though is to understand its unique purpose. As we outlined above, simply making a solution available through a browser is not enough; the application should be native to mobile and should include specific functionality that is appropriate for that form factor. Not only that, but in the game of mobile HCM, user experience is everything; and vendors should be looking at how a mobile HR application can solve a business problem in the best way possible. And customers should understand what they hope to solve from mobile deployment as well, rather than simply blindly buying into the "next big thing". Indeed, as William Tincup quipped in our recent Change Management and HR podcast, "A feature is not a feature unless users use said feature". End

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Mobile HR is the most overhyped trend because not enough vendors are thinking about the changes they need to make in their applications to exploit the particular qualities of mobile platforms. If vendors are simply throwing the whole application onto the iPad, there's no value-add there at all except that it's lighter to carry around."

—Bill Kutik


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