At the 15th annual HR Technology® Conference, “the Cloud” was the one buzzword that was possibly mentioned even more than “social media.” Seems like everyone has, is planning to or is seriously considering moving their HR systems to an outside, hosted, Software-as-a-Service platform. But how will they reap the full business benefits of such a move? The conference’s first ever “master panel” devoted solely to the Cloud, moderated by long-time conference panelist Naomi Lee Bloom of Bloom & Wallace, offered the perspectives from senior executives at six of the most important vendors in the space: Workday, SAP, Salesforce.com, Oracle, Ultimate Software and ADP.
“From a user adoption perspective, how do we make these [Cloud-based] tools truly usable?” Bloom asked the panelists.
“I teach a course at Stanford University, and one of my students — a hardcore technologist, by the way — asked me ‘Why does enterprise software have to be so inhumane?’” said SAP’s Sanjay Poonen, president of global solutions. “Building our applications on the Cloud gives us a clean slate. We’re hiring Millennials to be our designers … because the way you interact with an organizational chart in a technology landscape where everything now is ‘zoom, pinch,’ like on a tablet, changes everything. We’re taking these core principles and using them as we build the Cloud, and ensuring our customer base gets in on the journey.”
“Having this clean slate on the Cloud lets you build one organic thing, rather than in parts and pieces,” said Stan Swete, CTO of Workday. “This is the early part of the trend. Our path in Workday is ‘pure play in the Cloud.’ Our customers can take functionality as we drop it off to them.”
Another issue raised by Bloom was, how can customers cope in a world where, thanks to the Cloud, vendors can continuously roll out new releases of their products throughout the year–how can they avoid being overwhelmed?
“Vendors have to be thoughtful — they can’t just be throwing new releases out there and wait for customers to turn them on,” said Mike Capone, ADP’s vice president for product development and CIO. “We don’t bill customers for new functionality until they turn it on. You have to be thoughtful about this.”
Salesforce.com’s John Wookey said his company takes a different tack: “We tell customers that this new version of the software is coming at this particular date, and you have no choice. And it’s helped them change the way they think about their business. Even some of our most conservative customers have embraced this approach. And that would be my advice: embrace it. Your people are empowered by change.”
Ultimate Software’s chief technology officer, Adam Rogers, said his firm focuses on “delivery management,” letting customers turn on new functionality at their leisure. It also provides free training to customers, he said. “Does this mean ‘free training’ is going to be the new standard?” asked Bloom, prompting laughter and applause from the standing-room-only crowd.
Poonen said SAP has experimented with new iterations of software releases, testing them with “micro audiences” to see what works. It also has put out a great deal of training videos on YouTube, he said.
In answer to one of Bloom’s final questions — “Why should HR be paying attention to this?” — Wookey said “Businesses of every size run on technology. If you’re going to speak the language of business, then you need to speak the language of technology. The Cloud, in the end, is all about speed and agility in your organization. As for social technology, it’s important for people to be able to work together, and today they expect software to be just as easy to use as what they find on the consumer side. And mobile technology lets people do their jobs regardless of where they are. So HR needs to be an advocate for this.”