This content is part of the Essential Guide: Coverage of the 2013 HR Technology Conference
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SaaS HR presents an opportunity for change

For being a risk-averse department, HR has rapidly taken to cloud-based technology over the past few years. But the benefits of Software as a Service HR (SaaS HR) systems will be diminished if process updates lag behind the technology, experts warn.

In this video from the 2013 HR Technology Conference held in Las Vegas, Jason Averbook, chief business innovation officer at Appirio, explains how SaaS HR technology gives HR managers the opportunity to reimagine outdated processes and enable new strategies like never before. He also describes how configurability of cloud-based systems, as well as the shift to a subscription-based purchasing model, not only benefits HR leaders, but also challenges them to deliver a superior user experience.

So, Jason, yesterday you led a session on how the cloud is an opportunity for companies to reinvent. Could you just explain some of the key takeaways from that session?

Jason Averbook: Yeah, I think there are probably three key takeaways from the session. The first is, what the cloud does is it gives untethered, ubiquitous access to the world, to a piece of technology. So if we think about how we used to distribute technology in this space, it was through discs. Remember discs? So, a stack of discs, let's install these discs. You know, now I don't have to install something. I don't have to do anything. There's no place to put a disc, no place to put a CD-ROM.

You could try.

Averbook: I could try, yes. It's not going to do much. First off, cloud gives us access to a whole group of consumers, in this case employees and managers and executives, that I never had access to before. The second thing is that technology delivered through the cloud is a gazillion percent [to the line]. [It's] more configurable than the software of the past.

The rule of thumb in HR has always been 'customize everything to the nth degree.' Today, we've moved from customization to configuration. And as I move to configuration, I really have the opportunity to be much more agile, much more nimble, and be able to change as the business changes. So I'm not throwing a bunch of changes over the wall in IT, hoping that in six months they come back with what I need. I'm doing it right there and can immediately put it into play in driving the business strategy forward. So that's the second thing.

The third thing about the cloud that's really changed this whole industry is the fact that I'm moving from what I call a 'buy' economy to a 'subscription' economy. No longer am I buying the software, [and] I'm [no longer] responsible [for it]. If I screw up how long my pants are, or if I rip a knee or put a patch on it... You know, if I bought it, the vendor doesn't care, right? In this world, the vendor cares. I'm subscribing to software. The vendor is responsible for making sure that everything they do going forward still works with me. All the new technologies that come out, whether it be i-Device, Google Glasses, that the [software is] compatible with it. No longer is the burden on the enterprise to keep up with that. The cloud and the way the software is delivered, and the vendors [and] the way they design their software keep up with that. What that means in a nutshell is it gives HR and the whole business applications space a huge opportunity to think different or re-imagine and focus on 'Hey, how do we really take our strategy and bring it to life in a piece of technology,' versus 'developing a strategy, hoping that IT and the technology can do it,' and then usually disappointed after.

Right. Those are some really interesting points. Good thoughts.

Averbook: Thanks. This is what I do all my life. Just ramble around and talk to people about this.

You are also delivering today's closing keynote speech. What are you planning on addressing the crowd with today?

Averbook: The purpose of today's keynote is really about the fact that HR is one of the oldest professions in the world. I can say that in Vegas, right? But when you think about that, we've been doing everything in HR the same through every generation of technology. So, punch cards, way before our time. Mainframe, DOS, Windows, client server, first-generation Internet. We've done the same thing -- just enough to get people paid.

Now, no longer is this technology about HR. This is workforce technology. So I'm shifting the whole lens. I have to look at it with a different lens and say, 'The technology is no longer about technology for HR,' which even though it's called an HR technology conference, I wouldn't be surprised if that changes to workforce technology conference at some point. Because, today, 99% of the users are the employees. One percent of the users are the HR department, which is completely different from five years ago.

What we're talking about today are the ramifications of that, and realizing that the expectations of the users.... Before, this was HR's job. [HR] had to use the stuff -- good, bad, ugly, whatever it was. Users, if you don't like something in the first five seconds you look at it on your phone, what do you do? [drops phone]. I'm never going back. Or you go to a website you don't like, you click out of it really fast. I don't have the opportunity to fool around and say, 'Over 18 months we'll get this right, or 24 months we'll get this right.' I have ten seconds to make an impression on my employees and managers, and I have to think about change and change management as a big part of what I do.

So, the purpose of today is really saying, 'Let's not do the same thing we've done for the past five generations of technology.' It's our opportunity to re-imagine, and to re-imagine on each new road. I need to think different. I need to realize the sins of the past that we've made. And I need to focus on going forward, which is developing a strategy, executing that strategy and bringing it to life through technology -- quickly, proving it out, seeing the value, and in ongoing, extending the value of that tool.

Jason, it's been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for taking the time.

Averbook: Great to meet you. Thanks a lot.

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