While some companies are using human resources applications written specifically for iPhones and other mobile devices, a far larger number of organizations are tapping into Web-based services that are mobile enabled.
The difference is subtle, but important. True mobile apps are written specifically for smartphones and can only be used on the devices they're designed for—Android phones, BlackBerrys, iPhones or Windows phones.
Software services that are "mobile optimized" or "mobile enhanced" are basically websites or Web-based applications that are engineered to work well and look good on any mobile device, whether it's from Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics or Research in Motion. The only things anyone needs to tap into these services are Internet access and a Web browser.
Today, more HR technology vendors offer mobile-enhanced software or services than true, mobile-native apps, and some industry watchers expect it to stay that way. Many of the biggest tasks that HR staffs want employees to handle themselves—like updating a personnel record—happen so infrequently it doesn't justify the extra expense of creating an app when the cheaper alternative of modifying an existing website will do. "Is that something you are going to use an app for? No," says Jason Averbook, CEO of consultancy Knowledge Infusion. Instead, he predicts companies will continue to use more mobile-enhanced apps and only adopt apps that workers already use outside of work, such as tools for collaborating with co-workers.
Sonic Corp. is one company that's opted for mobile-enhanced software over true mobile apps. The food chain is slated to begin offering a mobile-enabled hiring assessment service from PeopleAnswers Inc. in early 2013. Sonic wants to make it easy for job seekers to use a smartphone to apply for a position at its 3,500 Sonic Drive-In locations.
PeopleAnswers began offering a mobile-enhanced version of its screening and hiring software in May, and by the end of 2012, the company expects several hundred customers to have incorporated it in their career websites. The number of job seekers using it to apply online, though still small, has already doubled, according to PeopleAnswers Chief Operating Officer Ira Grossman. Eventually, "We expect the majority of candidates to come through that way," he says.
Recognition services provider Achievers Corp. sells a mobile-enabled service for employee recognition programs that works on smartphones, tablets or desktop computers. When AutoTrader.com introduced the service to its employees, the company highlighted the fact that it worked on mobile devices, and "It's been a huge hit," says Nicole Vereen, AutoTrader.com's senior manager of recognition programs.
Since they're not technically apps, don't expect to find mobile-optimized HR services on iTunes' App Store or the Google Play store. The best way to track them down is to look on the "Products" or "Solutions" pages of a technology vendor's website, or talk to a vendor representative to see what's available.
Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email email@example.com.