Maximising the value of and returns from your HR system means embracing technological change, writes Rob Scott

We literally don’t need to look much further than 5 to 10 metres around us to realise the significant penetration of smartphones into our personal and work lives. In fact, Australia has one of the highest smartphone adoption rates globally, with one in two people owning a mobile smart device by 2013 and current growth rates remaining in double digits. For many owners, their smartphone is the primary access point to the internet for personal usage, and increasingly it’s becoming the preferred method of connecting, communicating and accessing information or analytics in the work environment.

In early 2013 I led an experimental rollout of a SaaS performance management solution that was centred on “social goal” creation rather than the more traditional “cascade down” approach to goal management. Social goal development principally allows employees to define work goals that are aligned to the company vision and then seek varying degrees of support from any other employee through the solution in order to achieve the goal outcomes. Goal owners, line managers and goal supporters would engage in ongoing discussions and reviews of these goals while offering encouragement and feedback through gamified recognition tools.

“Six out of every eight participants [in the survey] preferred using the mobile app which had limited functionality, rather than the fully functional desktop version”

At the end of the experiment, one of the key findings was that six out of every eight participants preferred using the mobile app which had limited functionality, rather than the fully functional desktop version, even though most of the people involved in the experiment were office based and used desktop machines. Further investigation highlighted important reasons why any modern HR system rollout should include a mobile access option from day one:

  • User adoption: This is significantly higher when a mobile app is available. A recent global Sierra-Cedar survey found mobile solutions increased user experience scores by 49 per cent.
  • Simplicity and intuitiveness: Smartphone apps create “reuse appeal” and “app stickiness”, leading to greater exploration and enquiry into what else the HR solution can do. Very little training is required.
  • Improved participation: When HR is not your main job, the ability to react to a request or complete a task during short “gap times”, being in transit or even after hours, using a mobile device significantly reduces delays and non-participation.
  • Quicker reaction: Users are more responsive to alerts or notifications via a smartphone than via email or having to be logged into the desktop version to read a workflow notification.
  • Improved perceptions: Mobile apps create a “me-too” culture. People who were not part of the experiment group made requests to join after seeing peers easily executing performance management tasks.

In the relatively short time since we concluded the experiment, there have been important technology improvements in app development and smartphone capability, as well as robust wearable technologies emerging, which accentuate the importance of a mobile-first strategy rather than promoting the desktop as the primary end-user tool for HR system usage. Of course, there are still limitations in mobile app capability, but from my vantage point, many vendors are working hard to overcome these obstacles and eliminate the need for desktop applications for most HR system end-users.

Companies that are building their HR solutions on older on-premise ERP platforms could be forgiven for pushing mobile application rollout to a later phase of the project, given the typical technical hurdles that present themselves in these projects. For users of modern HR SaaS solutions, there isn’t a good reason to exclude or delay implementing the mobile layer straight away. Even when reasons such as “workplace safety will be compromised”, “customer focus will be impacted” and, my favourite, “our employees have fat fingers” are touted, I remind clients that these are the same reasons used when PCs were introduced into the workplace 25 years ago – we need to embrace change.

Key takeaways for HR

  • Modern SaaS HR solutions should be implemented with the mobile layer in order to maximise the value of and returns from your system.
  • Smartphone adoption is growing aggressively in Australia and globally, to the point that they are becoming the preferred connector to the internet and, by implication, enterprise solutions such as HR.
  • Employees’ perceptions of HR capability and credibility is often formed or influenced based on experiences with the technology layer they interact with.
  • Making HR services accessible through mobile applications can significantly improve HR staff-to-employee ratios, leading to greater HR cost efficiencies.
  • Mobile applications for HR create quicker adoption, reduce resistance to execute HR transactions, and remove physical location constraints.