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MDM, human resources mobile app strategies prove essential to workers

Mobile HR capabilities can be a boon to both human resources and to employees, but the key is making sure you approach the rollout in the right way. Here's how to do just that.

Before Sun Communities Inc. started rolling out mobile human resources tools, many of its employees were a technology afterthought. The company ran two email systems using a lower-cost alternative to Microsoft Exchange to support workers who weren't relying on, or even asking for, technology.

But once Sun Communities, which owns and operates more than 330 manufactured home communities and RV resorts across the U.S. and in Canada, started introducing its human resources mobile app and self-service HR capabilities --  beginning with a time-clock function and then moving on to things like benefits enrollment and time-off requests -- that reality flipped. To date, nearly 70% of the company's more than 3,000 employees have downloaded and used the company's new SAP SuccessFactors' HR application, and that has, in turn, fueled increased use of email and other digital communication tools to interact with co-workers. This technological about-face came as a shock to the company's management.

"It accelerated adoption among those not accustomed to using technology," said Marc Farrugia, VP of human resources for the owner and operator, which is based in Southfield, Mich. "Now, we've got maintenance people who will take an iPad when they respond to a work order, and they can look up how to repair an AC unit while they're at the residence."

MDM, mobile app strategy are musts 

This underestimation of its mobile HRmployees' receptiveness, while a happy discovery, led to some initial challenges on the company's mobile HR journey. Most notably, the company attempted, at first, to roll out its human resources mobile app without having a mobile device management (MDM) system in place, a decision that Farrugia said evolved into a "major headache." Sun Communities found itself having to troubleshoot mushrooming technical issues over the phone with inexperienced users, as well as ship devices back and forth.

After a month or two of this, the company decided on a mobile restart, deploying MDM software before reimplementing its mobile HR app.

Farrugia said MDM can alleviate complexity and provide remote assistance, among other benefits, for any organization investing in mobile. Every mobile device Sun Communities orders now (the company is a dedicated Apple shop) comes with the company's MDM software preloaded.

"It's so much easier, so much more efficient, and has been a big time saver for us," he said.

It's a double-edged sword. Being able to check my benefits is a benefit for me. Being expected to check my email is not.
Lisa Rowanresearch VP of HR and talent management services, IDC

The company's two discoveries -- the unexpected demand for technology that mobile HR can trigger, and the importance of having an MDM solution in place before deploying mobile enterprise tools -- are just two examples from a long list of things organizations should consider before heading down a mobile HR path.

For example, there's the little matter of what an organization's mobile app strategy is. Whereas some companies prefer to use responsive design to render their enterprise apps on mobile devices, others prefer to use out-of-the-box apps that can be downloaded from a mobile app marketplace or even build a native mobile app from the ground up.

Either way, the user experience is key.

Make your end users happy

Gretchen Alarcon, group VP of human capital management product strategy at Oracle, said customers commonly ask about the ability to extend Oracle's mobile human capital management app or build one on Oracle's platform. Regardless of how they approach apps, she said, organizations' objectives for mobile HR should be consistent: deliver quick-and-easy features and processes that make managers and employees alike more productive.

The problem is, what is productive to one person may be an intrusion to another. Too often, companies foist mobile HR on their employees without thinking about the impact technology has on the always-important work-life balance.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Lisa Rowan, research VP of HR and talent management services for IDC. "Being able to check my benefits is a benefit for me. Being expected to check my email is not."

Such concerns can intrude on the happy-go-lucky picture of employees quickly managing important tasks on their mobile phones. Consider a retail associate who is not allowed to use his or her cellphone while working for personal use, but is encouraged to do so on break, or while at home to manage work issues. In that scenario, mobile HR can backfire if it's perceived to be a shackle of sorts.

"Companies need to address this before rolling out mobile HR," said Rowan.

That's not all they need to address.

Don't let security, other essentials be afterthoughts

Alarcon said organizations should perform security assessments so they understand how their human resources mobile app will interact with other systems and what types of data they can safely deliver to mobile devices.

Change management is also a critical consideration. Kai Petzelt, head of solution management for SAP SuccessFactors, said the benefits of putting simple tasks that add very little value in the hands of employees are not always apparent.

"It has to be crystal clear that by using these mobile offerings, HR moves much closer to the people," Petzelt said.

While that may sound obvious, it's an aspect of mobile HR that often gets forgotten, said Brian Sommer, founder of tech consultancy TechVentive Inc. Sommer believes that too many mobile HR apps are built to make things easier for the HR staff, which is why he advises companies to design their apps with the end user in mind. Doing so, he said, will help their apps deliver exactly what employees want.

"Most people, if they could, would never interact with HR," said Sommer.

Sun Communities must have gotten the memo. Farrugia said that when it's come to designing and refining the company's mobile HR app, making life easier on HR is the last thought. Instead, he said, the focus is squarely on the intended audience.

"When we roll something out," he said, "the first and utmost concern is making the team member experiences as easy as possible."

Spoken like a mobile HR pro.

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