Mobile HR software taking hold in spots

While experts cite use cases for mobile HR software in certain areas, they say it still has a ways to go to mainstream adoption.

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Mobile capabilities are impacting all areas of IT, and HR software is no exception. Some employers today are using mobile platforms in the time and attendance arena to enable workers to punch in and out or submit time-off requests via smartphones and tablets. Others are realizing productivity gains in allowing employees to access payroll and HR data, as well as complete expense reports when they're away from the office.

But although more companies are engaging employees through mobile HR software overall, experts say mobile adoption isn't equal across all HR functions.

"Mobile has taken over in HR more than social, but it has taken over in specific places more so than others, like talent management and core HR," said Stephen Millard, vice president and human capital management (HCM) research director at Ventana Research in San Ramon, Calif.

Instead of adopting mobile for mobile's sake, Millard said the mobile applications HR managers choose to use are aimed at providing some specific value to employees or managers, such as giving them greater reach or more efficiency.

"People don't just want it -- they want it to make sense in their day-to-day lives," Millard said. "They don't have time for it to exist if it's going to be there because it looks neat. I think people use these applications only if and when they need to."

Read on for examples of how mobile HR software capabilities are being used today, and expert opinions on how use might change in the future.

Mobile taking root in performance management, learning

There are several HR processes that have taken off particularly well in mobile, Millard said. One example is performance management, where mobile capabilities can enable instantaneous employee feedback.

"It's the ability of the manager to say, 'I just want to give you kudos for doing a really good job on the project,' rather than doing an entire review," he said. "That's something people like to be able to do real-time. So, you can do that on a mobile device, and that's something that's starting to pop up more now."

Millard said learning lends itself well to a mobile device. Employees can download and read content, as well as view rich multimedia regardless of where they are.

Mobile employee directory apps are also being readily adopted, according to Millard. These let employees access the company directory with their smartphones and tablets to get the contact information they need to connect and collaborate with co-workers on an anywhere, anytime basis. "I'm thinking right on the spot of who I need to reach -- that's point-in-time instant access," he said.

Point-in-time access enabled by mobile applications also adds value for recruiters. "[Recruiters] need to do an interview with [a person], so it's a right time, right place kind of thing. That's where the applications have started to immediately find value in the mind of the user or manager," Millard said.

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at San Francisco-based Constellation Research Inc., brought up the fact that HCM and financial application vendor Workday is developing a mobile-first recruitment product as a sign that mobile recruiting could be poised for growth.

"Right now recruiters don't use mobile, and it will be a good bellwether to see how successful Workday is," Mueller said. "They've definitely done it right from the design perspective, because in all other areas mobile is an afterthought so far."

But when mobile HR is considered more broadly, there really isn't much interesting automation happening yet, according to Mueller.

"Everybody today allows mobile approvals and mobile holiday requests, but that's where it stops," he said. "I wouldn't even say companies are using mobile HR apps so much for punching in [and] out, because when I talk to some of the time-recording vendors, mobile hasn't even arrived to the area.

"It's just not yet there in the practice of customers, as well as the software," Mueller added.

Millard also pointed out that mobile capabilities haven't been completely fleshed out in all areas of HR software yet.

"Pretty much every [vendor] in the talent management space has built their own mobile learning application," he said. "By comparison, mobile performance management has taken a little bit longer. And it has taken providers even longer to create apps that make sense for customers in mobile compensation management."

Mobile HR not yet a necessity

One company that doesn't yet see a lot of value in mobile HR software is Internet radio service provider Pandora, which is headquartered in Oakland, Calif.

"With our mobile HR apps, you can approve headcount, move people around [or] see things about your group -- [it's] just some of the basic HR functionality you can do from your phone," said Richard Rothschild, vice president of IT.

But Rothschild pointed out that these aren't regular tasks. "You really don't have to do these HR functions a lot. It's not like some other activities that you have to do constantly, like email. When you're doing HR stuff, it's only once in a while, so there's not much value in doing it on your phone -- you can get to your laptop and do it," he said. "For me, that's probably the biggest reason why it's not a huge deal."

Today, Mueller said, it all comes back to how eager and how ready HR professionals are to adopt mobile. The bottom line is that mobile HR is not a necessity and it's not yet close enough to HR best practices, particularly when it comes to recruiting, he said.

"I personally think mobile HR will be more for meeting preparation than recruiting functionality," he said. "On the talent management side, there have been some specialized vendors that have done some mobile performance management, but who knows where that will go, because performance management only happens two or three times a year."

About the author:
Linda Rosencrance has written about technology for more than 10 years and has been a reporter for more than 20 years. A former Computerworld reporter, she is a freelance writer in Massachusetts and also an author of several true-crime books.

This was first published in October 2013

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