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HR IT Software: The Great Whodunnit

Whodunnits.  Those “Cluedo” type plays and productions where a crime is committed and someone in the room is to blame. The often bumbling detective and their assistant is called in to explore the motives, assemble the evidence and say “whodunnit”.  It was the aggrieved butler/left out of the will nephew/local debutante having an affair with the deceased (delete as appropriate).

Now the “crime” in question is in this blog is HR IT Software, in particular the design of it.  So whodunnit?

Not the entire HR IT Software industry – that would be grossly unfair.  I’m working off anecdotes largely here.  I’ve not been involved in a large-scale HR IT software solution for some time, so am relying on feedback from those using it regularly, installing it recently and looking to procure it.

The anecdotes/feedback I’ve got is “there’s limited functionality”; “it is disconnected from other corporate applications”; “it has a poor look and feel”.  All a bit Spreadsheet+.

I then talk to some of the vendor/supplier community – their feedback is “don’t know what they really want”; and “they’re only using a fraction of the functionality”.  All a bit User-

So we’re stuck with spreadsheet+ and user- giving a net promoter score of, well underwhelming at best.

Far from insulting the HR IT Software industry, I’m mildly accusing them and my own profession of not being good enough collaboratively in design.  If more HR professionals had an understanding what good software design looks like and should be like it’d go a long way to helping the HR IT software industry make a better fist of the solutions in this marketplace.  Similarly, if the HR IT Software industry could skill up their purchasers, we might see some sweeter co-creation.

I’m luckier than most HR professionals as before moving (by choice) to HR, I worked in IT-enabled business change.  So I have the advantage of understanding product definitions; use-cases and the like.

Since the early days of software development, we’ve seen the shift from waterfall methodology to agile and scrum plus the advent of Lean UX design (derived from Eric Ries seminal work on the Lean Startup Methodology – a book worth reading on innovation in product development).  Lean UX (User Experience).

Lean UX goes like this: –

You have a VISION: –

  1. Who is your target group for the software? (largely developed through personas or archetypes of users);
  2. Users needs – not just functionality, what emotions are invoked by using this software?
  3. How is the software productised – what are the top 2-3 features?;
  4. Value – what does the software create/deliver?

Next is Assumptions: –

  1. This software will solve a problem.
    Do the users recognise they have a problem this can solve?
  2. This software would sell.
    If this solution was available in, say, an app store directly selling to the end users, would they buy it?
  3. We’re the best provider of this software.
    Would those same users buy it from us? Why?
  4. We’ve proven it through iterative testing.
    How do we validate the software during prototyping

And finally a Strategic Hypothesis: –

A chance to set out the software solution as an equation using an expression and statement to ultimately define the impact the software will have. This can, of course, be for all or part of the software.

We believe <verb> for <noun> through <adjective> will <achieve> then we will know <evidence>

So this simpler 3 stage process helps form a part of the design process particularly used in App development – those smaller, powerful programmes sat on our phones and tablets and increasingly on our desktop/laptop devices also.  Yet how many HR folks even know about Lean UX?  How many would get involved in setting out such specifications?  Or do most just go to market and see what’s been developed?

Software as a Service (SaaS) and a plethora of APIs (application program interfaces) have brought more jargon and perhaps less understanding to the world of software.  What IS HR software in the cloud?  How do you know what your UI is going to do to take-up of your self-service solution?

For example your Learning & Development team probably have a SCORM compliant e-learning platform like Moodle or Totara.  You may not even know what that means but you hear your e-learning designer talking about it.  Often frustratingly.  Then they come and ask for investment in a Tin-Can API.

What are they asking for?  You may feel a bit daft in asking for an explanation but it’s precisely why you should.  What is the difference (see this helpful webpage)

I think I’m really over this “I’m from HR I don’t do software, I do people”.  That’s NOT good enough.  As the interplay with people and technology gets ever more interdependent (wearables, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the Singularity) then HR professionals MUST get software – even if only design to start with.

I’m still a little surprised there’s been no big swing to more open-source HR software to disrupt this market.  Like Linux disrupted the operating system marketplace from Unix and other platforms.  It’s not just big-box suppliers in this market.  Venture Capital is making its way into a range of app-like providers for recruitment, referrals, benefits, payroll solutions, talent, learning – it’s a game that’s more open than you might think.  Check out tools like iKrut, Nimble HR and Reppify)  See also this blog post on free open HR solutions already in that app marketplace (  I suspect there’s more to come here.

So I guess my final urge is for the HR IT Industry and the HR professionals to get together more.  On design; on functionality but most of all on the purpose for the software they want to help them make more of the people power in their organisations.  Don’t hand over implementation of the HRIS, work WITH the CIO and IT team before you even go to the marketplace.  Discuss the need; the aspirations the dreams.  Design some must-have functionality and interface expectations.

As eminent design guru Yeya Furukawa once said “design will save the world”.  I think it’s time to save the world from mediocre HR IT software.  Together.

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