2013 was another hot year in HR technology, with buyers actively scouting the market, and no shortage of innovative products to choose from. Our countdown of the top stories of 2013 compiled from reader data showed just how diverse HR leaders' interests were this year -- articles on talent management suites, HR analytics, social performance management software and corporate learning all made the list.
While these topics will no doubt carry over to 2014, what others will gain momentum? We talked to experts to get their thoughts on what the most important trends in HR technology will be in the new year.
#1: "Integrated" is out, "unified" is in
"Integrated" was a popular buzzword in HR technology in 2013, especially among talent management suite vendors. While many of these suites were cobbled together through acquisition, vendors were quick to assure buyers of integration between modules. However, users often found this wasn't exactly the case post-purchase.
Bill Kutik, technology columnist for Human Resource Executive magazine, explained that instead of truly integrating applications, vendors commonly use middleware to create a seemingly integrated surface layer. "I'm not so expert as to say this isn't good enough for the end user, [but] I do worry about consolidated reporting," he said.
But now, with awareness increasing among buyers that "integrated" can be somewhat of a misnomer, Kutik said 2014 will usher in a new HR applications buzzword: "unified."
"Unified means that it is a natively written set of core HR and talent management applications that work together because they were built together, rather than one piece or another coming from somebody else," he said. "Companies are going to start insisting on that."
Naomi Lee Bloom, managing partner of Bloom & Wallace, offered this prediction in regard to integration between talent management and core HR applications during the webinar "Predict and Prepare 2014," sponsored by Workday.
"The number and complexity of the interconnections between what's normally in core HRMS and what's normally in talent management creates an enormous problem if you have to integrate across multiple disparate systems," Bloom said. "Can it be done? You write enough code, we can make anything work. But every dollar spent making it work is a dollar you don't have for innovation."
#2: Battle for cloud HCM supremacy will intensify among Oracle, SAP and Workday
Back in October, Kutik wrote of the forthcoming battle in the human capital management (HCM) arena among Oracle, SAP and Workday in a column titled "Handicapping the HCM Horse Race." Kutik named this competition for enterprise customers as his top prediction for 2014.
"I think everyone agrees HR is moving to the cloud," Kutik said. "So the question is how fast will they do it, and which vendor will they choose to do it with?"
And each has a foothold, according to Kutik. For instance, while Workday has "first mover" advantage, both SAP and Oracle have large installed bases on their on-premises HCM products. He also mentioned that Oracle Fusion -- now called Oracle HCM cloud -- has been moving steadily upstream with larger customers, and SAP will have a marquee enterprise customer when PepsiCo begins to go live on Employee Central in 2014.
Paul Hamerman, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., agreed that adoption of cloud HR technology, particularly for time and attendance and core HR, will continue in 2014.
"There are still a lot of companies that have on-premise HR systems that they've had for a decade or more, and they're having trouble keeping them up to date," he said. "I think a lot of these core HR systems are going to migrate to the cloud because [there's] more agility and flexibility."
#3: Low employee engagement could spur renewed interest in learning and development
Employee engagement survey data raised a lot of eyebrows in 2013: According to Gallup, only 30% of American employees are engaged at work. To Kutik, statistics like this might have something to do with an area that HR has been shirking: employee development.
"Companies are no longer spending money on developing their employees ... because their attitude -- rightly or wrongly -- is that the person [will] be gone in two or three years," he said. "Well, they may be because you don't invest in them and they don't feel valued."
This neglect of development programs also has bearing on skills gaps often cited by HR leaders. "Companies are whining about skills shortages in some areas, [but] they're not looking in the mirror and saying, 'What have I done to develop people with the skill sets I need so badly?' The answer is [often] nothing," Kutik said.
For these reasons, Kutik predicted an increased focus on both learning programs and technology in the coming year, which Hamerman echoed.
"Learning is becoming less formal -- the idea is for employees to be able to consume learning information on the job in real-time using ubiquitous technologies like mobile devices, and not do so much classroom learning," Hamerman said. "That is definitely happening."
#4: HR will become more involved in setting BYOD policy
During the Workday webinar, the final prediction of Vinnie Mirchandani, president of Deal Architect, was that HR will become more involved in crafting bring your own device (BYOD) policies in 2014, regulating employee access to enterprise systems and data on personal devices.
"We are seeing commingling of private and corporate data -- if you take a photo on your iPhone, it gets synched to Facebook; if you put a calendar entry on Google calendar on your mobile device, it goes to Google's data center," he said. "All this is being stored in some corporate database that the NSA and other agencies are privy to, so HR has to come up with new policies that protect us from the risks consumerization is bringing into the enterprise."
Bloom chimed in on the human risk aspect of BYOD. "I am concerned that we have not done a very good job of coaching the workforce and managers on good behavior," she said. "For example, [if] you're on a plane reviewing executive compensation, maybe you shouldn't be doing it where everybody can see."
Kutik also agreed that HR should be prepared to take a more active role in mobile device regulation in the coming year.
"I think HR's going to have to step in with policies on protecting corporate data and better integration with mobile applications and enterprise applications, because [BYOD] isn't going away," he said. "IT can regulate the back end of it, but the front end is an employee issue, and HR hasn't taken much of a stance."
#5: The time clock's time has come
Could 2014 toll the death knell of the time clock? Maybe that's a bit dramatic, but Zachary Chertok, HR and HCM analyst at Nucleus Research, thinks next year could at least be the beginning of the end.
Chertok explained that traditionally, time clocks have been single metric systems that revolve around a sole interaction: the time punch. But this might change with the emergence of multi-metric systems.
"It's very likely that as HCM solutions get smarter, we're going to start to see more multi-metric systems evolve that [can] take in different tracking analytics, like the time you interacted with your smartphone, [or the] time you go through the speed pass on the way to work," Chertok said. In this way, the technology will be able to "figure out what your behavior is, so system [the] knows when you're walking in the building.
"I think we may finally see a date estimate for the death of the time clock," he concluded.
Do you have thoughts on these HR technology predictions, or predictions of your own? Share your ideas in the comments.