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Collaboration and Other Work Management Tools Are Game Changers in HR Software

The acquisition of work management tools could change the human resources software landscape.

September 7, 2012

One of the challenges in implementing work management applications is that, unlike traditional human resources software systems, these tools tend to be independent and fragmented.

They fall into several classes of software, including project management, corporate social networking and file sharing, and they are usually stand-alone applications that don't easily integrate with broader business management tools, says Yvette Cameron, a vice president at market research firm Constellation Research. And that's a problem. "When the level of integration varies, so does the business value," she says. "To be successful, these tools have to happen where people do their work."

For a long time these tools have existed in the shadows of workers' hard drives, the dirty little secret of individual productivity. But they are slowly moving into the HR mainstream as major providers begin acquiring the most promising products and incorporating them into their suite of business tools.

In June, for example, Microsoft Corp. acquired Yammer, the social networking tool, for $1.2 billion with plans to incorporate it with Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics and Skype—all tools designed to improve collaboration and communication.

And Salesforce.com Inc. has been on a small buying spree within the past year. It acquired Rypple, the social performance management system, and announced plans to integrate it into the Salesforce platform as "Successforce"; and in May the company acquired Stypi, a real-time online editing platform that allows multiple users to make changes to a single document at the same time.

These acquisitions are promising signs that business software providers recognize the need for tools that help employees where they work, Cameron says. By making these tools part of a business application suite, employees can take advantage of them without leaving their current task, which increases productivity and reduces the time it takes to get things done, says Susan Blake, vice president of HR for Dominion Enterprises, a marketing services company in Norfolk, Virginia. "If shared document tools are right next to your financials and your email, you are more likely to use them," she says.

Such acquisitions could also suggest a disruptive trend in the future of the HR software industry, says Lexy Martin, a vice presidenta at consulting firm CedarCrestone Inc. "It's going to have a much bigger impact than just making a few project management or collaboration tools available to the enterprise," she says. "This is a complex part of the market, and HR should be paying attention to what will happen next."

As millennials move into the workforce, more complex task management tools will gain greater traction, predicts David Arella, CEO of 4Spires, a collaboration application provider in Half Moon Bay, California.

It's not enough to offer this generation computerized to-do lists with the option to set priorities, he says. They want accountability features that let them track team work, foster engagement, and collect feedback on a task-by-task basis. "Millennials expect to be treated more as equals in work-related conversations, and this will require new approaches to task management."

Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Workforce Management, October 2012, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!