Unfortunately, two aspirin and a good night’s sleep won’t make the problem disappear. As we head into a new year and a new millennium, it’s clear that certain technologies and trends are likely to move to center stage - all likely to affect HR in new and intriguing ways.
- ASPs and Technology Outsourcing: As the Web becomes more reliable, companies are increasingly turning to application service providers to host software and manage it from remote computers. When it’s done right, there’s no performance loss and many of the up-front capital costs associated with buying systems vanish.
Already, most major human resources software products, including SAP, PeopleSoft, Lawson Software, Infinium, and Interlynx are available through ASPs. And in a few cases, it’s the only way to use a specific software product. Market research firm IDC predicts that the ASP market will grow to $7.8 billion in 2004, compared to a mere $296 million in 1999.
- Web Portals: Information overload only seems to grow worse. Intranets have only contributed to the problem by dumping too much useless information into workers’ laps. Portals and desktop dashboards - which serve up relevant and desired content - can go a long way toward alleviating the problem.
According to a study conducted by The Delphi Group, 16 percent of organizations used portals in early 1999. By early 2001, the figure is expected to rise to over 80 percent. Among the leading uses: knowledge management and learning support, business process support, customer-facing services, and self-service opportunities. Some also offer collaborative tools and direct access to legacy data systems.
Although portals have essentially become the buzzword du jour, there’s no question that they’re taking on an important role within HR and the corporate environment.
Free PCs and High-Speed Access for Employees: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you want to develop a workforce prepared for the challenge of the Information Age and push employee self-service out to all corners of the organization, it’s essential to provide digital tools at home. First and foremost on the list: personal computers, which a growing number of firms - including Ford Motor, GM, and Delta Airlines - are providing to employees for free or at a greatly subsidized cost.
Many companies are also bundling Internet access, and a few, like Intel, are footing the bill for high-speed connections at home. Look for many more companies to get on the bandwagon in the months ahead.
Streaming Desktop Video: If you’re still shuffling videotapes and trying to plop workers down in front of a TV for the CEO’s monthly address, there’s a better way. Desktop players such as Windows Media Player, RealNetworks, and Liquid Audio deliver streaming video and audio direct to the browser, thus reducing distribution costs associated with tapes and making it easy for users to view video without leaving their PCs. In combination with webcasting tools, it’s also possible to include an array of interactive capabilities, including chat, polling, graphics, and Q&As.
Although streaming technology has been around since the mid 1990’s, it’s now poised to take off in a big way.
- The Mobile Web: As PDAs and digital phones become a fixture in the corporate world; the next step in the evolution of the devices is wireless access to the Web and to corporate data. Already, a wave of Internet sites, including Yahoo!, Excite, Visto.com, and Yodlee offer access to news, personal information, and more through PDAs and the mini-browsers on Web-enabled phones relying on wireless application protocol (WAP).
Some leading-edge companies are now offering benefits enrollment, 401(k) account management, and corporate directories through hand-held devices. As manufacturers build more powerful capabilities into devices, the trend will only continue.
- E-Procurement: Within many organizations, procurement represents one of the last bastions of inefficiency. Employees place orders for everything from paper clips to chemicals through a disorganized network of suppliers. That’s changing fast. Paper catalogs, stacks of forms, and dealing with numerous vendors are giving way to online ordering. It’s quick, it’s efficient, and it saves a ton of money.
By installing electronic systems that automate the purchase process - and in some cases, find the lowest prices - forward-thinking HR departments are ushering in a new era of speed, efficiency, and cost savings.
Internet and Network Monitoring: By now, you’ve read the headlines and seen the ongoing stream of articles about the growing problems associated with industrial espionage, cyberslackers, and more. For better or worse, companies are taking steps to protect systems and know what employees are doing at their PCs at all times.
Many large corporations have already installed network monitoring software that can track the Web sites an employee accesses, what programs he or she uses, and what’s contained in e-mail messages - even after they have been erased. Expect more and more companies to install sophisticated monitoring systems and for HR to be at the center of the security-privacy controversy.
Bluetooth: Imagine carrying your mobile phone into the office, and while it’s sitting in your pocket or purse, having it automatically exchange contact data, calendar information, and more with your PDA and desktop PC. Or setting your mobile phone down next to your PDA and checking e-mail without cords and wires. That’s the goal of Bluetooth, a wireless synchronization technology invented by cellular phone manufacturer Ericsson and introduced as an open standard in 1997.
Bluetooth, named after a 10th-century king who united Denmark and Norway, is poised for widespread rollout later in the year. Industry giants, including Nokia, IBM, Intel, 3com, Lucent, Toshiba, Microsoft, and Ericsson will begin incorporating the radio technology into an array of devices. Bluetooth works automatically within a 10-meter area, offers robust security, is relatively inexpensive, and provides users with a simple way to manage all their devices. Problems with frequent transmission errors are currently being addressed.
Electronic Signatures: In June, President Clinton signed the landmark Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (a.k.a. E-Sign). It mandates that electronic signatures carry the same legal effect as a pen-and-ink counterpart. As of October 1, companies and individual have been able to legally use e-signatures for, among other things, electronic notices, benefit and loan applications, verification procedures, and record-keeping. Although technological and cultural hurdles exist, e-signatures should begin to take off in a big way toward the end of this year.
- Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment: Now that many companies have adopted electronic payroll and automatic deposit for employees, they’re wading into electronic bill presentment and payment for accounts payable and accounts receivable. Eliminating paper checks and automating transactions can cut costs by 20 to 50 percent, and provide better service for employees and supply chain partners.
Although finance and IT play a major role in any EBPP initiative, HR is also involved. As e-procurement and travel and expense systems go online, HR must ensure that its software can handle rules, routing, and more and that employees are prepared for this new form of exchange.
Workforce, January 2001, Vol 80, No 1, pp. 20-21 Subscribe Now!