Tech Insights: The Rising Tide of “Small” Employee or Business Apps

I wanted to share an overview of a few of the trends I noticed in HR technology this year. What caught my eye are applications that are simple, small, employee-oriented, or business-oriented.

I did an earlier column (Reducing Technology to a Yes or No Proposition) which mentioned Celpax: a wonderfully simple means for measuring employee mood. However, Celpax was not alone; many vendors stressed their software was simple rather than stressing it was powerful.

In a sense, this is just a continuation of the old emphasis on “user friendliness” or the newer term “user experience.” The difference is that vendors are intentionally minimizing the number of features to get the right user experience. They aim to close the gap between what the software can do and what users actually do with it.

The rise of “small” software and applications

A related theme is “small” applications that do one thing, and often that one thing is something that ought to be part of a bigger system but just isn’t.

One of the cool small applications is Playerlync which sends video clips to mobile devices (especially useful for sports teams hence the name). I would have thought a modern mobile-enabled LMS would do this, but they don’t, or at least they don’t do it well enough, creating a niche for Playerlync.

Another small app is Foko which is just a photo sharing tool (of course, Instagram is also just a photo sharing tool and it’s worth $1 billion). Foko does one thing and that’s enough.

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Employee-oriented applications are very much aimed at serving employees. Hunite helps employees swap shifts on their own and PlanDo helps employees manage their own careers even when they change companies — it is the employee’s career plan not the company’s. This is different from employee self-service where we take an HR administrative activity and pass it over to employees; these are apps whose sole purpose is to directly help employees.

Business-oriented software is very much aimed at managers; for example, Betterworks is an enterprise goal setting system without all the associated performance appraisal tools.

Why? Because managers really care about goals, performance appraisals are an HR thing not a business thing. This trend is so important that HR really needs to ponder whether its mandate is making HR run efficiently or making the business run efficiently.

What is interesting?

  • It is interesting how emphasis can flip right over. Small and simple are the antonyms of big and powerful; we might have chased after big and powerful in the past but now small and simple looks sexy.
  • Similarly, HR leaders may be scratching their heads at employee and business oriented software that doesn’t do anything for HR. HR software not aimed at HR is definitely worth mulling over.

What is really important?

  • Themes among vendors are signals from the collective wisdom of the industry. If the industry is leaning towards simple rather than powerful then maybe you should be, too. We don’t want to get enraptured with fads, but we do want to keep our eye on the horizon.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. Based mainly in Toronto and partly in Kuala Lumpur, he’s best known for his research on the latest issues in human resources.

He works with think tanks such as Talent Tech Labs (New York), Works Institute (Tokyo), Workforce Institute (Boston) and CRF (London). He’s collaborated with leading academics such as Henry Mintzberg (leadership development), Ed Lawler (“Built to Change”) and John Boudreau (future of work).

His books include The CMO of People: Manage employees like customers with an immersive predictable experience that drives productivity and performance with GrandRound’s CHRO Peter Navin; and Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau (USC) and Ravin Jesuthasan (Willis Towers Watson).

You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn