HR101-Technology

In this installment of the ‘HR101’ series the focus is on Technology. It’s interesting; considering its impact in all aspects of life, especially in business, it’s a topic that seems to be lacking in most HR educational programs. So the premise for this post is simple-if you were teaching a ‘Tech Basics for HR’ course, what type of information would you share? What’s critical to know? How does this make someone a better HR person? How does it make things easier for you? Today’s guest will answer these questions and more, enabling you to make informed choices for the organizations you serve.

Are you ready? Good! So listen up because class is in session.


Before you discuss your profession, let’s inform the readers of who you are please.

My name is Steve Boese. I’m the Director of Products, Community & OnDemand Services for Knowledge Infusion, a leading HR technology consultancy based in Minneapolis. I am also an HR technology instructor at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. I also have a HR technology blog at www.steveboese.squarespace.com, and host a weekly HR talk show called the HR Happy Hour. I am particularly interested in HR technology solutions for the small and medium size organization, as well as new technologies that support internal communication and collaboration.

Before that, I was an enterprise systems applications consultant, implementing solutions for firms of all sizes in locations all over the United States and internationally.



The tech space has as many acronyms as the employee relations one. Describe the language of the profession (common terms, frequent topics of discussion, etc.).

There are a few key concepts around software delivery, maintenance, and upgrades that HR professionals should be aware of. Traditionally, and in many larger organizations still today, software is licensed and installed on the customers own servers. The customer pays a fairly large upfront fee, then pays ongoing annual maintenance fees that fund software upgrades, ongoing development, and bug fixes. This model is known as the ‘on-premise’ or ‘installed’ model. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software from companies like SAP or Oracle is almost always deployed in this manner.

But in the last few years, and led by vendors of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Talent Management Systems, most HR Technology is deployed in what is known as the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In the SaaS model, the software is installed and hosted on the vendors own servers, is accessed via the internet by the customers, and is billed on a monthly (usually) basis based on the number of users of the system. This model provides many benefits to the customers such as: lower upfront costs, predictable ongoing expense, and typically more frequent upgrade cycles that allow the customer to take advantage of innovations from the vendors much more easily than in the on-premise model, which has for years been plagued by costly and complex upgrades.

Very recently ERP solutions offered via SaaS have emerged. Companies like Workday (and next year Oracle Fusion) are extending this model to the very core of the HR Technology stack.

When HR thinks of technology, they usually think of HRIS or ATS. Is that all there is for HR pros?

The concept of HRIS is really better thought of as the System of Record (SOR). The SOR has to maintain the essential employee demographic information, and core organizational structures like jobs and positions that help define the organization. The SOR either in an integrated fashion, or via interfaces to third-party providers must also support Payroll and Benefits administration.

Beyond the SOR of course many organizations have implemented ATS systems to better manage the recruiting process. It is very common for the ATS to be from a different provider than the SOR. In fact, most ‘core’ SOR platforms either do not offer ATS capability, or offer an ATS module that is almost certainly functionally inferior to stand alone ATS systems.

Then there is the fastest growing part of the HR technology market, tools that support what is called Integrated Talent Management. These are systems for Performance Management, Competency Management, Succession Planning, Learning Management, and Compensation Planning. There is lots of opportunity for the HR professional to leverage technology to support and help the organization execute its strategy. Some of the most commonly cited benefits of Integrated Talent Management are linking pay to performance, goal alignment, and workforce planning and competency modeling.

Lastly, there is I think significant opportunity for the HR professional in the area of collaboration and knowledge management technology. These are tools that support things like expertise locating, collaborative content development, and facilitating more productive and meaningful collaborative workplaces. Some of the specific technologies in this area include wikis, internal micro-blogging, and internal (or corporate) social networks.


Information Technology (IT) is seen as the “owners” of technology within most organizations. How should HR pros work with this group effectively to achieve common goals?

Many HR pros have in the past been very comfortable ceding the HR technology decisions to the IT department. This was especially true when almost all enterprise software had to be purchased and installed and configured on the company’s own servers. This process naturally required significant IT involvement. Now in the HR technology market, with more and more solutions being delivered in the SaaS mode, the HR over-reliance on IT need not be the case any longer. But, just because HR can license and deploy new technologies with little to no IT support, does not mean that they should. HR should engage IT at a very early stage in the planning and analysis stages of any technology project. IT’s chief concerns (security, compliance with company standards, integration with other corporate systems) must be addressed in any project, and it is much better to bring IT into the fold sooner than later.


Editor’s Note: Steve and I have explored this topic in the past. Look here and here.

How does this make someone a better HR person?

Technology and the understanding of how technology can support and help drive improve business outcomes is a key skill and can be a real differentiator for an HR professional. Being able to participate and lead in the discussions and implementations of technologies that often impact the entire workforce has to be a large part of the domain for HR professionals. Deeper and broader technology acumen will almost certainly be a required capability for HR professionals in the future, particularly ones that really want to make a difference in organizations.

Where does social media fit into this discussion?

Social media fits in to the technology discussion since it is mostly a technology-enabled medium that is being increasingly leveraged by HR departments for employer branding efforts, recruiting, employee communications, and in support of other areas of the enterprise (marketing, PR, etc.). Understanding how these platforms are used, how they might be leveraged to support organizational goals, how to harness the energy and activity on them, while making sure that the they do not distract from the ‘true’ goals of the enterprise are all extremely important issues for HR today. The good thing is that for HR pros just warming up to the idea of social media much has already been written and studied about using these platforms for recruiting and branding, and what types of corporate policies should be put in place for their effective use. I see this as getting more and more important, eventually becoming an essential part of an HR professionals skill set.

What other resources are beneficial to HR professionals for improvement?

There is no shortage of free resources available for HR professionals interested in becoming more tech savvy. Organizations like the Human Capital Institute, HR.com, and many HR technology vendors hold frequent webcasts that talk about workforce issues and the role that technology plays in addressing these issues. Also, there are several excellent HR technology blogs like Naomi Bloom’s InFullBloom, Michael Krupa’s InfoBox, and Bryon Abramowitz’s The HR Technologist. Another good idea is to join the Hr Technology Conference LinkedIn group where some very interesting and informative discussions around HR technology are taking place.

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