Employee demand for consumer-like experiences, the increasing use of people analytics and the falling costs of hardware and software are dramatically driving the spread of HR technology. By 2025, the HR management systems market is expected to grow to $30 billion, more than doubling the $12.6 billion recorded in 2016, according to Grand View Research.
Faced with a mind-boggling array of solutions, encompassing everything from full talent-management suites to narrowly focused products that measure components of employee engagement, both technology vendors and customers are thinking more and more about “harmonization.”
In HR technology-speak, harmonization is the knitting together of products so users benefit from a single experience, as well as a data set that cuts across organizational and technical silos. The idea “is definitely something that’s become more prevalent,” said Jeremy Ames, president of Hive Tech HR, a Massachusetts-based HR technology consultant.
Ames believes it’s difficult for organizations to be served by one platform that does everything. At the same time, systems that aren’t properly connected will leave gaps in information and processes. Employers that aren’t careful are “going to have so many disjointed processes and experiences that it becomes a mess and a maintenance nightmare,” he said.
According to research by engagement platform provider Reward Gateway, 87 percent of HR professionals either want or are pursuing ways to integrate new tools into their existing ecosystem. Harmonization, said Will Tracz, the company’s chief technical architect, is about efficiency and creating a seamless employee journey.
“If you consider it from an IT perspective, there’s great pressure within organizations to save time and streamline,” he said. “You’ve got different systems at different parts of the journey, from an applicant tracking system that candidates come into, through to onboarding, to setting up communications to engage [employees] from platforms that sit alongside.”
First, Don’t Get in the Way
As a result, organizations are hunting for solutions that are effective, efficient and consistent, Tracz said. Most especially, HR doesn’t want to implement systems that get in the way of employees doing their job. Harmonization, Tracz said, is about providing a best-in-class experience while making it easy for HR to “seamlessly work through the life cycle without interrupting the employees’ days.”
However, there’s more to harmonization than user experience. The information used by the system to provide self-service, reports and analytics must be brought together in a way that creates what data scientists call “a single source of truth.”
Traditionally, functions across the organization have relied on their own systems to get their work done. That can make analyzing data more difficult and reporting more prone to inconsistencies and errors.
For example, Ames said, dissecting data becomes more complex when 20 percent of it is drawn from the talent acquisition system, 30 percent from the learning management system and the remainder by the performance management platform.
“Sometimes that need to harmonize from a reporting standpoint is where the need to harmonize overall can start,” he said.
Core of Data Governance
That means harmonization is a data-governance issue as well as a technical challenge, said David Ricciardi, president of data strategy and analytics firm Proximo.
On the back end, for example, simple data points like an employee’s email address and contact information must be consistent across systems. On the front end, a single vocabulary should be employed across user interfaces and reports, to the point where it’s even incorporated into PowerPoints presented to the CEO.
“That’s harmonization,” Ricciardi said. “They’re all on the same note. They all mean the exact same thing. They have the same sound, the same pitch.” For that to happen, every data point or term must be compiled into a business glossary, where every meaning is defined and every place it’s used is documented. “It’s a complex effort,” he said.
“Pretty much what you’ve got to do is work with the system of record, and when important events happen, have them synchronize between systems in as close to real time as possible,” Tracz said. In some cases, that may mean a weekly batch file update. In others, it’s enabling one system to reach out to others to let them know changes have been made. In either case, it also means reflecting changes as quickly as possible.
As important as the need for consistency might be, not everyone sees an industrywide wave rolling toward harmonization. A year ago, Ames “felt strongly” that harmonization was gaining momentum because many full-suite vendors weren’t paying close attention to narrower tools. Consequently, customers were tempted to pursue the best of all worlds, which required building mechanisms for different systems to speak to each other.
Today, however, “I think some of the biggest vendors are making more of an effort to make sure they’re not being bypassed,” Ames said. Full-suite vendors are trying to mitigate their risk by building new features themselves or acquiring them.
“There’s always going to be an appetite for both sides of it,” Ames said. “But right now I don’t feel a huge push in one direction or the other.”