Embracing the Latest HR Technology Trends

Jim Torrence

Advancements in communication and software technology are creating significant productivity improvements, particularly for the human resource professionals who use contemporary human resource and talent management systems.

Watson Wyatt's 2007 HR Technology Trends Survey finds that companies are turning to technology to give employer and employee access to pertinent information and tools. From portals to software solutions, human resources technologies are providing a bridge to the information that employers and employees need to understand their changing workplace. One of the key findings in the survey is that one in five companies expects to change its human resources delivery structure in the coming year.

Many talent management system software providers, including those who develop applicant tracking/recruiting systems, integrated payroll/human resource systems and learning management systems are actively working to embed several features into their products. Some of the most notable advancements include:

  • Alert Technology
  • Conditional Workflow
  • E-mail-based Actions

Even though these features have been in existence for many years, it takes time for software developers to incorporate these features into their products. In many cases, it requires significant redevelopment of the provider’s software application. For example, the concept of employee self service has existed for decades. However, it required the affordable access to an enabling communication medium (Internet/World Wide Web) and developers to assimilate this technology into their products. Today, employee self service is a common feature that most human resource applications utilize.

Here are some brief definitions and examples of the newest state-of-the-art features that are available for you to implement, and what you should now expect from using these solutions.
Alert Technology

Alert technology automatically monitors your human resource system(s) and proactively distributes information to your human resources and payroll personnel, managers and employees via your e-mail system. Specified actions and dates trigger automated messages, informing relevant parties about key activities and pending issues. For example, alerts can be established to:

  • Monitor key dates and send notices to employees and managers about annual performance reviews.
  • Send automatic replies via e-mail for items such as thank you notes to applicants who send in resumes.
  • Generate standard e-mail scripts to welcome new employees, while informing relevant departments of the new hire.

Before alert technology arrived, reports would have to be manually initiated by users to identify the needed information. Alerts can significantly reduce time-consuming administrative tasks associated with paper flow.
More and more human resource teams are demanding that their applications utilize alert technology. In many cases, it has become apparent that simple, yet time consuming activities have to be automated to save time and increase effectiveness. Software providers have created predefined, easy-to-use templates for common activities like new hire and termination actions, performance review tracking, overtime and paycheck related listings, attendance records, applicant tracking, and training management tracking.

In other cases, the software provider can work with a third party company, such as Cognos, that specializes in providing alert technology for software applications. In this case, a number of sophisticated alerts can be established with different output formats (e-mails, document files, spreadsheets or printed paper).

Conditional Workflow

Workflow automation is not new to the human resource system software industry. However, significant advancements in the sophistication of workflow and adoption by all facets of business management software are motivating many human resource system software providers to include "conditional" workflow technology in their applications.

Workflow is a term used to describe the tasks, procedural steps, organizations or people involved, required input and output information and tools needed for each step in a business process. Workflow automation takes an existing chain of work, such as initiating an employee’s pay increase, and makes it automatic, usually with workflow software that guides information from point to point without human intervention.

Early versions of workflow within human resource applications usually limited users to pre-defined workflows with limited functionality. Typically, automated workflows included routing requests for approval and/or notification. However, the same workflow actions were taken regardless of who and/or what it was for. Simple workflow templates worked with a limited ability to differentiate the data’s "conditions." The workflow is worked on an "unconditional" basis.

To illustrate an example of a non-conditional workflow in human resource management process, we will use a pay increase. For example, let us assume a company has a policy that requires division president approval for all exempt personnel pay increases over 10 percent. In an environment that uses simple, non-conditional workflows, all pay rate requests would be forwarded to a designated number of approvers. In most cases, the chain of approvers may be different depending on your organizational assignments (company, department, location, etc.). However, with non-conditional workflow, there is no way to define a different course of action (number of approvals, type of notices, messages, etc.) based on whether certain data conditions exist. In this case, all pay increases would require the same number of approvals. In our example, the division president could either approve all or no exempt personnel pay increases.

If conditional workflow technology is utilized, we would be able to identify different courses of action, depending on whether certain conditions are met. In our example, we would be able to tell the system to include the division president as an approval step if a pay increase for exempt personnel is greater than 10 percent.

E-mail-based Actions

We can probably all agree that e-mail has been embraced by business as one of the primary communication tools between people and, more recently, software systems and people. People send people e-mails. Software systems also send people e-mails. Common e-mails from software systems include alert notices from your bank or credit card companies, Internet order confirmations, notices that e-mail was not delivered, etc.
Just a few years ago, the e-mails we received from software systems were typically just notices. However, as technology advanced, we began to receive e-mails requiring some form of required "action." These e-mails typically contained Web site links to the sites/software requiring the action. However, in most cases, e-mail recipients had to "sign-in" to the originating software system and perform the required action indicated by the e-mail. Using today’s e-mail and software technology, the e-mail recipient is now able to react to the request within the e-mail itself, thus bypassing the sign-in requirement. The benefit of using this technology is that users do not need to learn the underlying software application and can respond instantly using a familiar communication medium: e-mail.

Using the pay rate increase example in the previous section, an automated workflow may have been designed to send an e-mail indicating that an approval action needed to be taken. Using older technology, the e-mail may have contained a Web site link to the human resource system. However, it still required a user to sign into the system and process an approval for the workflow request. Using current technology, the e-mail may include an "Approve" or "Deny" button that the user can select, thereby performing the action without signing into the originating system.

What to Consider

Today’s human resource management systems are embracing the latest trends in software technology. Some of the recent state-of-the-art features include alert technology, conditional workflow and e-mail-based actions. As your company is upgrading or adding to its human resource management system, consider selecting a partner whose systems use any or all of these time and money saving technologies. Not only will this allow you to improve how you execute today’s business processes, but it will also prepare the foundation you will need for continuing to add capabilities, efficiencies and speed in a business environment that only promises to be more demanding.

First published on Human Resources IQ.