Unfortunately, two aspirin and a goodnight’s sleep won’t make the problem disappear. As we head into a new yearand a new millennium, it’s clear that certain technologies and trends arelikely to move to center stage - all likely to affect HR in new and intriguingways.
- ASPs and Technology Outsourcing:As the Web becomes more reliable, companies are increasingly turning toapplication service providers to host software and manage it from remotecomputers. When it’s done right, there’s no performance loss and many ofthe up-front capital costs associated with buying systems vanish.
- Web Portals: Informationoverload only seems to grow worse. Intranets have only contributed to theproblem 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.
Free PCs and High-Speed Accessfor Employees: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you wantto develop a workforce prepared for the challenge of the Information Age andpush employee self-service out to all corners of the organization, it’sessential 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 greatlysubsidized cost.
Many companies are also bundling Internet access, and afew, 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: Ifyou’re still shuffling videotapes and trying to plop workers down in frontof a TV for the CEO’s monthly address, there’s a better way. Desktopplayers such as Windows Media Player, RealNetworks, and Liquid Audio deliverstreaming video and audio direct to the browser, thus reducing distributioncosts associated with tapes and making it easy for users to view videowithout leaving their PCs. In combination with webcasting tools, it’s alsopossible to include an array of interactive capabilities, including chat,polling, graphics, and Q&As.
- The Mobile Web: As PDAs anddigital phones become a fixture in the corporate world; the next step in theevolution of the devices is wireless access to the Web and to corporatedata. Already, a wave of Internet sites, including Yahoo!, Excite, Visto.com,and Yodlee offer access to news, personal information, and more through PDAsand the mini-browsers on Web-enabled phones relying on wireless applicationprotocol (WAP).
- E-Procurement: Within manyorganizations, procurement represents one of the last bastions ofinefficiency. Employees place orders for everything from paper clips tochemicals through a disorganized network of suppliers. That’s changingfast. Paper catalogs, stacks of forms, and dealing with numerous vendors aregiving way to online ordering. It’s quick, it’s efficient, and it savesa ton of money.
Internet and Network Monitoring:By now, you’ve read the headlines and seen the ongoing stream of articlesabout the growing problems associated with industrial espionage,cyberslackers, and more. For better or worse, companies are taking steps toprotect systems and know what employees are doing at their PCs at all times.
Many large corporations have already installed network monitoring softwarethat can track the Web sites an employee accesses, what programs he or sheuses, and what’s contained in e-mail messages - even after they have beenerased. Expect more and more companies to install sophisticated monitoringsystems and for HR to be at the center of the security-privacy controversy.
Bluetooth: Imagine carryingyour mobile phone into the office, and while it’s sitting in your pocketor purse, having it automatically exchange contact data, calendarinformation, and more with your PDA and desktop PC. Or setting your mobilephone down next to your PDA and checking e-mail without cords and wires.That’s the goal of Bluetooth, a wireless synchronization technologyinvented by cellular phone manufacturer Ericsson and introduced as an openstandard in 1997.
Electronic Signatures: InJune, President Clinton signed the landmark Electronic Signatures in Globaland National Commerce Act (a.k.a. E-Sign). It mandates that electronicsignatures carry the same legal effect as a pen-and-ink counterpart. As ofOctober 1, companies and individual have been able to legally usee-signatures for, among other things, electronic notices, benefit and loanapplications, verification procedures, and record-keeping. Althoughtechnological and cultural hurdles exist, e-signatures should begin to takeoff in a big way toward the end of this year.
- Electronic Bill Presentment andPayment: Now that many companies have adopted electronic payroll andautomatic deposit for employees, they’re wading into electronic billpresentment and payment for accounts payable and accounts receivable.Eliminating paper checks and automating transactions can cut costs by 20 to50 percent, and provide better service for employees and supply chainpartners.
Although finance and IT play a majorrole in any EBPP initiative, HR is also involved. As e-procurement and traveland expense systems go online, HR must ensure that its software can handlerules, routing, and more and that employees are prepared for this new form ofexchange.
Already, most major human resourcessoftware products, including SAP, PeopleSoft, Lawson Software, Infinium, andInterlynx are available through ASPs. And in a few cases, it’s the only way touse a specific software product. Market research firm IDC predicts that the ASPmarket will grow to $7.8 billion in 2004, compared to a mere $296 million in1999.
According to a study conducted by TheDelphi Group, 16 percent of organizations used portals in early 1999. By early2001, 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 offercollaborative tools and direct access to legacy data systems.
Although portalshave essentially become the buzzword du jour, there’s no question thatthey’re taking on an important role within HR and the corporate environment.
Although streaming technology has beenaround since the mid 1990’s, it’s now poised to take off in a big way.
Some leading-edge companies are nowoffering benefits enrollment, 401(k) account management, and corporatedirectories through hand-held devices. As manufacturers build more powerfulcapabilities into devices, the trend will only continue.
By installing electronic systems thatautomate 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.
Bluetooth, named after a 10th-centuryking who united Denmark and Norway, is poised for widespread rollout later inthe year. Industry giants, including Nokia, IBM, Intel, 3com, Lucent, Toshiba,Microsoft, and Ericsson will begin incorporating the radio technology into anarray of devices. Bluetooth works automatically within a 10-meter area, offersrobust security, is relatively inexpensive, and provides users with a simple wayto manage all their devices. Problems with frequent transmission errors arecurrently being addressed.
Workforce, January 2001, Vol80, No 1, pp. 20-21 SubscribeNow!