Tech Insights: It’s Time For HR to Get Ready for Single-Purpose Apps

Your HRIS is undoubtedly packed with more functions and options than you could ever master.

That is presumably a good thing, the tool can do what you need and more. So what do we make of an HR technology like FoKo  which does nothing more than share photos or EmpInfo which does nothing but take care of calls from third-parties wanting to verify employment and income?

Does it make sense to buy software that just does one thing?

Learning the value of HR apps from teenagers

We get the answer from teenagers: Their smart phones are packed full of single purpose apps. Why does it work for them? Well, perhaps we need to ask why it wouldn’t work; in other words, why have we always wanted big multifunctional applications?

Having a great many single purpose apps wouldn’t work if they were expensive, hard to learn, or couldn’t easily share data. In the smart phone ecosystem, none of these issues are problems; that’s why single purpose apps thrive in the teenagers’ world and why they will thrive in the HR managers’ world too.

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In the HR tech world of the future we’re bound to still have the big ERP, HRMS and TMS systems. We’ll also have a lot of single purpose apps that we won’t so much manage as make available.

We shouldn’t shrink from this future, embrace the HR app world and we’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t.

(As an aside, I feel compelled to explain why a photo sharing app makes sense for business — it might be obvious for a teenager, it wasn’t obvious to me. Imagine you have teams around the world working on similar projects such as retail displays. A photo sharing app becomes an easy way for them to share what they are doing and it makes the team in Brazil feel closer to the team in Russia. It’s simple social engineering. But thank heavens you don’t need to figure out the relevant applications for your organization, your employees will do it for you — just get them the tool.)

What is interesting?

  • The industry has gotten good enough at integration and user interfaces that single purpose apps can effectively solve problems without adding a lot of overhead.

What is really important?

  • Our assumptions about how things should be done are constantly being challenged. We may have crafted policies that combat the proliferation of different HR software, those policies may need to be amended to welcome the world of single purpose software. More generally, we can never be too confident that we understand the world of HR tech since that world is always in turmoil.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.



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