Slowly but surely, human resources is embracing mobile.
Mobile applications are gradually being accepted as standard operating procedure as more options pop up for HR tasks beyond sourcing job candidates, including signing off on time sheets or helping employees file health benefits claims and staying fit.
Recruiters and HR professionals who use mobile apps in their work remain a small minority, but their number is expected to more than double next year, to 13 percent from 6 percent in 2012, according to the 2012–2013 HR Systems Survey from technology vendor CedarCrestone Inc.
Today, companies use mobile apps for recruiting more than any other HR activity. That comes as no surprise since recruiters were some of the first HR people to integrate smartphones and mobile apps into their daily routines.
Next year, however, apps for tracking payroll and time and attendance are expected to catch up or surpass recruiting for the first time—further proof of the maturing market, according to the CedarCrestone survey.
"2013 is going to be less about why and more about how," says Michael Marlatt, a mobile recruiting conference organizer and staffing consultant for Microsoft Corp., "how to integrate, how to select the right vendors, how to decide whether to go mobile website or app."
The lag in adoption also comes at least partly because major HR technology software vendors are spending more time and resources building new, cloud-based services than creating mobile apps, industry watchers say. But even that's changing, with companies such as Automatic Data Processing Inc., Kronos Inc. and Workday Inc. offering apps that HR departments and employees are downloading by the millions.
Some vendors are taking the intermediate step of creating mobile-optimized websites that smartphone users can log onto from a browser to do some or all of the tasks they'd be able to do from a desktop or laptop computer. For example, in October PeopleAnswers Inc. introduced a mobile-enabled version of its online hiring assessments that clients can offer to people applying for jobs from a smartphone. Early customers include Panera Bread Co. and Sonic Corp. "We decided not to build a mobile app. We didn't want to create an additional barrier to entry," says Ira Grossman, PeopleAnswers' chief operating officer. "If a candidate is on a mobile device, we'll serve up a solution, and if they stop in the middle and complete it on a desktop, we can recognize that."
At companies that still rely on older, on-premise HR management software, it has been easier to adopt mobile apps for activities that aren't tied to those systems—functions such as on-demand learning, timekeeping and scheduling, and talent management. "Payroll, particularly at the lower end of the market, has gone very mobile, to include employee views of their pay stub and owner or manager approval of the payroll run," says Naomi Bloom, a longtime HR technology industry analyst.
That kind of growth is inspiring industry veterans to write their own apps. One is Joel Cheesman, the former Cheezhead HR blogger. Cheesman, who sold the blog and some related companies to Jobing.com three years ago, is working on an employee engagement app called Morale.me. Companies could use Morale.me to do simple monthly surveys to see how happy employees are, and make workplace adjustments accordingly, he says. Cheesman expects to begin limited tests with a handful of customers in early 2013, and if all goes well, launch the app in spring 2013.
It's an exciting time, Cheesman says. "The mobile ecosystem has created opportunities that weren't there before."
Here are some mobile HR apps that industry experts consider worth investigating.
NOTES: Data for HR mobile apps is based on information supplied by the company or taken from its website as well as from user reviews and data collected from Apple iTunes and Google Play stores. Find Apple iOS apps on the iTunes app store, Android apps on Google Play, BlackBerry apps on BlackBerry App World, and Windows Phone apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace. For apps that need employer approval, companies provide employees with instructions for logging on once they've downloaded the app. In some cases, managers and HR staff use the same app but have access to administrative functions that employees can't see.
123People.com, yelster digital
Description: Recruiters and sourcers can use the people-oriented search engine app to pull data on potential job candidates from social media and other public sources, and share results via email, Facebook or Twitter or save to Instapaper to read later. "I've tested a lot of people-search applications," Marlatt says. "Most of them are clunky or don't yield good results. This is one of the best out there." Besides English, the app is available in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish. See more recruiting apps in "Five Mobile Apps for Recruiters."
Works on Android and Apple iOS devices
650,000 total installs
ADP Mobile Solutions, Automatic Data Processing Inc.
Description: The mobile version of ADP's long-standing service for payroll, time and attendance, benefits and personnel records lets employees use their phones to clock in and out, look at pay stubs, request time off, review retirement savings accounts and more. Employee data are encrypted and sensitive data aren't shared. Employees can only access features that their companies make available. ADP also offers a mobile payroll app called RUN for small and midsize companies. Business owners or managers can use it to set pay rates, calculate earnings, deductions and taxes, preview payroll totals, enter vacation or sick time, and more.
Runs on all Apple iOS devices
Free for ADP customers
More than 550,000 downloads, representing 32,500 customers, according to ADP
BizX Mobile, SuccessFactors Inc./SAP
Description: The app is the mobile extension of SuccessFactors' BizX human capital management software suite. Recruiters can use it to approve offers and requisitions and track candidate feedback. Employees can use it to look up company organization charts, access personnel contact information, share files and collaborate on projects. The app—now offered through SAP, which bought SuccessFactors in December 2011—is out in 18 languages, including Portuguese, Romanian, and Thai, and available to any of SuccessFactors' 15 million users with their companies' approval. "It is improving with each release," one reviewer says on the Google Play store.
Runs on all iOS, BlackBerry and Android devices
Free for SuccessFactors customers
Total installs not disclosed
Concur, Concur Technologies Inc.
Description: Road warriors and other employees who travel for work can use this to capture images of receipts, eliminating the need to save paper originals. The app also lets employees book travel and create expense reports. Managers can use it to approve expense reports and travel requests, and perform audits. Customers include Salesforce.com and TSI USA, "Awesome app, saves time and you can work on expense reports everywhere. … It is awesome! Can't live without it," one user wrote on the iTunes store.
Runs on iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices
Small-business version with fewer features is $8/month; other versions are free for midsize and larger Concur customers
100,000 to 500,000 downloads from Google Play in the past 30 days (as of Nov. 21, 2012)
Flexi, Flex-Plan Services Inc.
Description: The app is one of a wave of mobile offerings from benefits administrators that employees can use to access health savings and flexible spending accounts from their smartphones. Employees can use Flexi to update profiles, submit claims, and view pending claims, denials, balances and their transaction history. "Supersimple and easy to use," one employee wrote in a review on the Google Play store. "After viewing my claims history, I realized I had a bunch of stuff that I would have forgotten to submit for the year." Similar benefits apps from third-party administrators or benefits technology vendors include Alex from Jellyvision Lab Inc., Castlight Mobile from Castlight Health of San Francisco, and Lighthouse1 Mobile from Evolution1.
Runs on iOS and Android devices
Free for employees of Flex-Plan Services clients
1,000 to 5,000 downloads from Google Play in the past 30 days (as of Nov. 25, 2012)
Kronos Workforce Mobile, Kronos Inc.
Description: Managers and employees can use the app version of Kronos' workforce management software to view or approve schedules or timecards, ask for or grant time-off requests and perform other tasks. Besides English, the app is available in Chinese, Dutch, French and Spanish. Current users include Kimball Electronics Group, National Frozen Foods Corp., Safelite AutoGlass, Valley Power Systems Inc. and YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. Kronos released an iPad version of the app in mid-November. "The ability to access vital aspects of our labor data from anywhere adds significant value," says Tim Brown, director of business systems, Community Medical Centers.
Runs on iOS and Android devices
Free for customers of Kronos Workforce Central software
More than 895,535 licensed downloads to 169 customers
Iappreciate, O.C. Tanner Co.
Description: The 85-year-old employee rewards and recognition program vendor introduced the iappreciate app to weave social media into its existing product line. A manager or HR director can use the app to set dates for employee birthdays, work anniversaries and recognition events, and create certificates. Employees can use the app to send e-cards to fellow workers. Related applications let people share their accomplishments on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and use a virtual corkboard to post digital certificates, notes and digital buttons displaying messages such as "You Did it! Similar apps from other reward and recognition program vendors including GiveaWow and Sparcet.
Runs on iOS, Droid and BlackBerry devices
100 to 500 downloads from Google Play in the past 30 days (as of Nov. 25, 2012)
Virgin HealthMiles Dash, Virgin HealthMiles Inc.
Description: The Dash app lets employees of companies enrolled in Virgin HealthMiles' corporate wellness program use their phone to track their fitness activities and progress over time, join challenges and record weight, blood pressure and other health measurements. Employees at companies that also are part of Connections, Virgin's members-only social health community, can connect to it through the app to create support groups, and share health goals and accomplishments. Dash exemplifies a new class of social wellness apps that companies are offering employees, a group that also includes Shapeup, Keas and others.
Runs on iOS and Android devices
Installs not disclosed; 1,000 to 5,000 downloads from Google Play in the past 30 days (as of Nov. 25, 2012)
Description: HR staff, managers, execs and employees can use the apps, which, though similar, include some functions specific to the iPhone's smaller and iPad's larger screens. Managers and HR administrators can use it for talent management, performance management and planning, including viewing an employee's current job, skills, job history, compensation and succession plan. Managers also can use the apps' Workfeed private social network feature to monitor projects, prioritize tasks, and respond to alerts, authorizations and approval requests, as well as get data on head counts, open positions, and other workforce and financial analytics. Employees can use the apps to request time off, view pay stubs, submit expense receipts, view companies directories and org charts, send messages and more. Customers using the app include CareFusion Corp. and VWR International.
Runs on iOS devices with iOS 4.3 or later
Free for Workday customers, however companies must authorize employees before they can use the app.
Total downloads not disclosed
Yammer, Yammer Inc./Microsoft Corp.
Description: The app extends Yammer's tool for creating private, secure internal social networks for communications and collaboration to smartphones and tablets. Employees can use it to send and read individual and group messages, upload photos and find co-workers. "This is our main collaboration resource, and the app is a great way to use it anywhere," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.com. Microsoft bought Yammer in June and has since integrated it into its SharePoint business collaboration software. Yammer is one of several workforce collaboration services companies are using in lieu of email, along with Jive, Rypple, Socialtext and Chatter, part of Salesforce.com.
Runs on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices; some features are only available on iOS and Android phones.
Free for Yammer customers
1.1 million total installs
Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email email@example.com.