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Wed, Apr 27, 2011

Ideas & Trends

When HR Technology Dies

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Perhaps the only fundamental law of technology, be it consumer toys, corporate solutions, or that fast growing category of new technologies that sort of straddle the line between both of those worlds, is that sooner or later, something new will come along to that is better, faster, or more powerful that the technology that just a few short weeks, months, or years ago was the most fantastic solution imaginable.

Whether it is the continual manifestations of Moore’s Law, breakthroughs in manufacturing processes, or simply the genesis and creation of ‘better’ solutions to long-standing problems, the chances are certain that the technologies you carry with you to the office, the systems your organization has deployed, and really all the tools you come to rely on each day will be relics and dinosaurs in very short order.

This week the death of the typewriter was reported with a mixture of nostalgia and humor, as those of us old enough to recall typewriters as an essential tool in school and the workplace feel the pangs of remembrance and the pains of age; while younger generations share a collective laugh at our expense, much like every succeeding generation shakes its head in disbelief about how primitive it all was in the old days.

So perhaps the best assumption we can make regarding technology, or rather a specific implementation, system, or gadget is not to view the given solution too narrowly, and not to focus so intently on the technology’s specific features or attributes that a given technology provides.

Much like all technology revolutions are short-lived, (in addition to the previously mentioned typewriter see also the Flip Cam, Blockbuster, and Friendster), almost all specific innovations in technology, at least the successful ones, are quickly copied by a rash of competitors, making the true differentiators across competing technologies more difficult to detect.

HR Technology: Key Considerations for Decision Making

So given all that – that technologies are all destined for obsolescence, commodity status, and decreasing specific competitive advantage as everyone rushes in to adopt them, what are some things an organization should consider when making technology decisions?

1. Don’t Chase Features: Face it, most HR technology resides in pre-existing categories, (ATS, Payroll, Job Boards, etc.), and brand new categories don’t pop up too often, so HR and Recruiting pros are most often making technology decisions in this context. That means ‘features’ often end up driving the conversations and decisions.

The advantage a new feature or capability might provide a given solution provider are fleeting, however, and they certainly can’t balance out the slew of other, more important concerns in technology decision processes.

2. Look At History: Most organizations are somewhat risk averse when it comes to technology. Most don’t want to be on the bleeding (risky) edge, but at the same time don’t want to miss out on the latest and greatest new solutions by sitting on the sidelines too long.

So how do you effectively play the Little Red Riding Hood part, and jump in when the technology is ‘just right?’ Well, that’s hard.

Apart from understanding your own capacity to embrace change and accept and manage risk, a look at a given solution class, or individual solution provider’s history is a good guide.  Here are some questions to consider:

These are the kinds of providers that tend to have more staying power compared to legion of copycats they will eventually inspire.

3. Know Your Vendor.

Understanding the culture and motivations of your solution providers is always important, but it is even more important in technologies that are truly ground breaking, and category defining, against which there might not be many, if any competitors.

Is the ‘solution’ that looks so exciting and innovative likely to get consumed as a ‘feature’ by a larger vendor? The tech space is rampant with larger, well entrenched established players gobbling up start-ups.

Do the founders of a new solution truly seem invested in building something new, or selling out? Is there a logical ‘next step’ or series of steps for the new solution, and can the leaders clearly articulate their vision for the future?

If they can’t, or won’t, that might be your best indication their existence as an independent solution provider may be short-lived, putting your reliance on them on shakier ground.

These ideas are not all-inclusive, and they are certainly not foolproof.  But keeping a watchful eye to be sure you don’t succumb to them might be the difference between sinking your organization’s entire social media strategy on mySpace, or investing time and money rolling out the latest in righteous Gateway desktops when at the end of the day, everyone on the staff really just wants an iPad.



HREvolution is an event for human resources professionals, recruiters, and business leaders to come together and talk about the problems facing businesses today.

Monster supports HREvolution’s mission of turning thought leadership into action and continuing the conversation about the trends and ideas shaping the evolving world of work on MonsterThinking.com.

For more HREvolution, check out: http://thehrevolution.org.

About the Author

Steve Boese is the current Manager - HRIS for PAETEC Communications, a FORTUNE 1000 telecommunications product and service provider based in Fairport, NY. Steve brings over fifteen years of experience in the implementation of complex human resources technology solutions for global enterprise clientele. He also created and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio show/podcast for Human Resources and Recruiting professionals to share, engage, and learn with thought leaders, experts, and executives.

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  • http://www.marenated.com Maren Hogan

    I love it. But you’re talking about Goldilocks, not Little Red Riding Hood.

    heheh, gateway laptops.

  • http://www.steveboese.squarespace.com Steve Boese

    Good catch Maren! That is what happens when your kids get older. I should have made an iCarly or Big Time Rush reference – I am very up to speed on those!

  • http://www.talentanalytics.com Mike

    Great post, Steve. While your point about new technologies being incorporated as features into an incumbent’s product is certainly valid, I might add is it’s possible for a disruptive innovation to define a new space and not only survive but thrive – independently.

    As you’ve implied, it comes down to leadership, staying power of the technology and market conditions. For every Google, there have been (to your point) many other failed start up technologies.