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CedarCrestone VP spearheads HR survey by the people, for the people

Lexy Martin, the CedarCrestone vice president who manages the firm's annual HR Systems Survey, combats the hype -- and has fun while doing it.

Data is gaining a positive connotation as HR leaders become more aware that data-driven decisions often turn out better than intuition. However, most probably wouldn't call data interpretation a titillating task.

Lexy MartinLexy Martin

But this isn't the case for Alexia "Lexy" Martin, research and analytics vice president at Atlanta-based consultancy CedarCrestone, and author of the firm's annual HR Systems Survey.

"I think data is exciting, and that's why I love talking about our survey," Martin said. "I get excited when we see a change from [one] year to the next."

Martin's enthusiasm is evidenced by the exclamation points that pepper the publicly available CedarCrestone 2013-2014 HR Systems Survey White Paper, 16th Annual Edition: "Early adopters of social-enabled processes are achieving significant value!" "Overall average adoption of mobile-enabled processes will almost double by 2014!" "Change management with technology deployments continues to be a game changer!"

And these aren't merely unfounded opinions that Martin expresses with such ardor. The survey is remarkably thorough and methodologically sound, and it's clear that Martin takes her role in analyzing and disseminating the results seriously.

I think data is exciting, and that's why I love talking about our survey.

Lexy Martin,
research and analytics vice president, CedarCrestone

"The data do not always support what other industry analysts and vendors tout as the way things are," the paper states. "It is our responsibility as a trusted advisor to report on lessons learned about technology adoption and the practices that really matter as organizations make the tricky transition to the future."

While this year's survey is chock-full of interesting data, Martin boiled the results down to four major points and gave recommendations for how HR managers should proceed. Spearheading the survey for 16 years has also given her a unique perspective on where the industry is headed and how users can get more value from their investments.

HRMS 'cloud slate' poised for growth

Martin has held a variety of jobs at the intersection of HR and IT. In the early phases of her career, her titles included programmer, systems analyst and even "futurist" during a stint at the Institute for the Future. She credits the time spent as vice president of marketing for an employee self-service technology startup as her true entré to HR technology. When that venture fell through, she joined The Hunter Group in 1997, which eventually became CedarCrestone.

Martin explained that researching self-service technology -- at the time a burgeoning trend -- was the impetus behind the birth of the CedarCrestone HR Systems Survey. "When I started with The Hunter Group, only a few of us then were seeing the self-service wave," she said. "Management didn't really know what it was and what early adopters were doing."

So she decided to investigate. While she started with a case study approach, talking to companies doing self-service work about the "what" and the "how," she knew that method wasn't broad enough to get a handle on adoption trends. "So we surveyed more companies -- tapping the International Association for Human Resource Information Management community with a printed questionnaire," Martin explained. "The rest is history."

The first major trend Martin observed from the 2013-2014 CedarCrestone survey, which had 1,266 responses worldwide, was that initiatives to replace core human resource management systems (HRMS) now slightly outnumber upgrades. "That's a really key tipping point that's been reached," Martin said.

What's driving the trend toward replacement? User experience, according to Martin. But although cloud-based systems are marketed as more user-friendly than on-premises products, that doesn't automatically mean a win for Software as a Service (SaaS) HRMS vendors. Of those planning to move, respondents were almost split down the middle, with 45% opting for SaaS and 55% not. Reasons for moving to cloud included better user experience and functionality, while reasons against included concerns about service and support, and complex integrations.

The bottom line is that "a licensed HRMS still prevails and likely will for a few more years," as the report states. However, products comprising the HRMS "cloud slate" -- including Oracle HCM Cloud, Workday, Ceridian Dayforce and SuccessFactors Employee Central -- will see the most growth in the coming year, Martin wrote.

"Continued strong adoption for social, mobile and analytics" is the second main point, according to Martin. Of the data surrounding those three areas, what was most interesting to her was the projected spike in adoption of mobile-enabled processes. While mobile application adoption across various HR-related tasks stands at 10% today, it is forecasted to jump to 19% next year based on survey responses.

Overall, the report notes that HR software with social and mobile capabilities is more readily adopted by employees, and high user adoption levels are "linked to higher business outcomes." Martin's belief in mobile capabilities came out in a clear appeal to readers: "Give workers services on their device of choice!"

She also personally pines after the benefits of mobile-enabled time and attendance. "As a consultant, I would give anything to be able to do my time card more simply," she said.

Move talent management to HRMS vendor to boost integration

Martin's third insight concerns what the report calls "the Holy Grail": integration. "Integration between talent management and the HRMS is a goal very few are reaching yet, but we're seeing that respondents that have a truly unified solution across the HRMS into talent management are the ones deriving real-time integration at the process level," she said. "So those are firms like Workday and Ultimate Software, and even PeopleSoft, interestingly." She recommended companies consider transferring talent management applications to their HRMS vendor to improve integration.

The survey also addresses integration among modules in integrated talent management suites. Again, the report states that vendors with systems "integrated at the process level" provide the greatest level of integration, which include Cornerstone OnDemand, Peoplefluent, SilkRoad, Workday and Ultimate Software.

Martin's advice to users experiencing poor talent management suite integration was to speak up about specific problem areas. "Every vendor is working on getting integration to their customers, but they have to prioritize what they're working on," she pointed out. "The squeaky wheel is probably going to get answered first."

Martin's last major conclusion from the data is that user satisfaction is the new battleground for vendors.

And again, native SaaS vendors aren't running away with the contest. "We're seeing vendors that have the newest products garner the highest scores, but interestingly, respondents who are on later releases of some of the older products also report higher satisfaction. [And] that goes along with a much improved user experience," she said. "PeopleSoft 9.2 is absolutely delivering an improved user experience."

Change management key in speeding up adoption

Instead of any one statistic, Martin said what surprises her most about the survey results each year is how long it takes technologies to reach mature adoption levels.

"Over 12 years after we started looking at workforce analytics, adoption is still just at an early stage, with only about 15% of organizations having workforce analytics in use. Four years after starting to track social tool use, adoption of socially enabled processes by the workforce is really miniscule," she said. "Sometimes I get a bit disillusioned."

But as a champion for change, Martin had a suggestion for how to boost technology adoption. "To adopt great solutions and get great value, organizations also need to practice great change management," she wrote. In her opinion, effective change management includes garnering executive sponsorship, communicating to users what's in it for them, clearly tying technology initiatives to business strategies and careful training, among other steps.

And if HR leaders use change management as a game changer, as she called it in the CedarCrestone paper, it could mean a bright future for HR technology.

"I think the current generation of HR technologies with a stellar user experience that is intuitive and enticing to use, along with social tools that support collaboration, auger for a very compelling future," Martin said. "I'm excited about this."

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