Cloud software has changed the way we implement HR technology. HR is no longer a passenger along for the ride.


Every HR team has been there – a problem exists that technology should be able to solve, it doesn’t look very complicated, let’s just go out and buy the solution. Actually every consumer has been there too, most of us own some technology that looked simple enough but ended up being harder than we expected. Dads love gadgets, like the universal TV remote gifted to us on Father’s Day, often found hiding in a box in the garage after giving up trying to make it drive all of our devices in our living room. How about the trusty old Navman navigation unit, which we proclaimed is no longer needed in favour of our smartphone? – Yet only 41%* of us use maps on our smartphones. We find ourselves in a world where technology is cheap and our options are limitless – so we buy, try, and then move on.

What about technology in the workplace – do we experience the Navman effect?
Technology implementation has typically been a slow moving beast, for example how many people are still using Windows XP in the workplace (released in 2001), or Windows 7 (released in 2009 – 6 years old already)?  This is for good reason, upgrading an operating system has risk written all over it. Usually it would take years to select, plan, implement and embed technology, often resulting in needs changing before the solution arrives. Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) HR solutions have flipped this on its head. If you do a quick Google search for “task management tools”, you get a list of cloud tools that are ready to go, such as Trello which you can grab a free 30 day trial of and you’re up and running managing your kanban task list in minutes without any software install. We have moved to a world of DIY configuration where it’s all about a quick setup to get up and running, and regular releases of new features.

Technology has traditionally been the domain of IT teams. But this is changing.
Availability of cloud HR solutions have suddenly shifted the focus from technical to functional – from IT to HR. HR have shifted from changing the technology to changing the business – configure instead of customise. Cloud HR projects are more about configuring your business processes and standard integrations, and are less about infrastructure, writing code, and large amounts of testing.
          ‘HR now plays a larger role in technology projects, it’s becoming common place to see HR managers in the driver’s seat.’

Was HR prepared for this shift?
Not at all. From years of drawn out IT programs, we’ve become conditioned to “technology takes time”, and “there’s lots of stakeholders on this project, everything can’t be delivered at once”. Now that there is greater choice and flexibility in the market for HR solutions, HR teams are on the war path to establish a measureable business need to buy and implement cloud HR tools themselves, and IT have become the technical stream on a project. The old rules are out the window, the new rules speak to rapid implementation with constant iterations coming every few months. HR have realised that they need to fight for budgets from CFOs, run their own selection programs, choose how and when to implement, and lead the project too. Then there’s life after implementation, the role of HR is changing too now that HR technology is becoming so widely available to organisations of all sizes.
          ‘If your job description doesn’t include leveraging HR technology for strategic decision making – it will soon.’

How is HR responding to these new expectations?
HR managers deliver some of the most successful projects often as a result of their robust relationships with the business and their deep domain knowledge. Ask an HR manager to put together a leadership development program, or a Wellbeing awareness event – and they will deliver time and time again. It’s their sweet spot, and for good reason, it’s where their experience hails from.

Tackling an IT project in the same way can lead to underestimating some of the challenges you will face:

  • Is technology the right solution, what type of technology do I need, what’s the vendor’s experience in my market?
  • How long does it really take to review and improve a business process?
  • How many people do you need to involve, from what areas of the business, how much time will they need to give up?
  • How will I know if we can actually deliver on the plan?
  • How much testing is enough or too much?
  • Are all of our requirements must haves? At what cost?

Then there’s the unexpected…
IT projects tend to be magnets for scope creep, and can often suffer from iceberg thinking – not doing enough digging to see the full picture. HR teams tend to prefer a light touch (as they often have their day job to manage as well), which results in entire governance layers disappearing – think less project boards, less change control processes, limited project plans with constantly moving dates. There continues to be risk in a cloud project, but it can often arise in different places as a result of the pace of the project.

How do we ensure we get it right?
Interestingly, the basic principles are still the same for the old world and the new world, you just go about them differently.

  1. Know the problem you’re trying to solve: Go exploring, talk to people, look at stats, challenge your thinking – get the problem definition clear.
  2. Set your high level plan, with enough detail to get started: In almost all projects, you will uncover something unexpected and will need to adapt. Be prepared to change the approach.
  3. Get the right players on your team: Find out who stands to gain or lose if you go ahead with your project, they need to have a role somewhere. Get some A players – you don’t need a full team of them, but you need 1 or 2 to lift the game of others.
  4. Get help from industry experts: Think of this like a personal trainer, you need them to plan your training program, keep you motivated and check in to make sure it’s working.