How is the pandemic changing investments in HR tech?

It’s abundantly clear that COVID-19’s impact on HR software customers, vendors and consulting firms has been unprecedented.

Following a new study from Raven Intel, that impact translates into disruption and massive change not only on current projects, but also future HR-technology investments.

Raven Intel–a free, online community to help enterprise software customers independently find the right consulting partner–conducted the survey in partnership with the International Human Resources Information Management Association and the Oracle Human Resources Users Group in April. According to Bonnie Tinder, principal and founder at Raven, her firm contacted people representing a variety of job functions within the HR information and technology management across a range of business sectors and industries–including manufacturing, healthcare/medical, technology, nonprofit, banking/finance/insurance, aerospace/automotive, consulting and others.

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For example, when asked what impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on current software projects, 39% of respondents say their current software projects have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic; while 37% report a “medium” impact and 24% say it has had “low to no” impact.

In terms of duration, 38% say the impact on current projects will last six months or more, while 21% are proceeding as expected and 15% are accelerating changes. Interestingly, about 64% say remote work has made HR project work more productive.

Tinder says that figure was surprising–even though half of respondents did describe the initial change to remote work as “tough.”  In addition, only 11% expect they will go back to a traditional work environment when the pandemic subsides.

“I believe the forced virtual environment has caused many to see the inefficiencies and cost of in-person work/meetings,” Tinder says. “And that will eventually favor more digital transformation/cloud software deployments.”

Tinder adds that many employers already have, or will have, cut their workforce and any non-essential spending, but she warns that reducing too much may mean not having the team, talent and tools that it will take to rebuild for the future.

“It’s the businesses who will be able to effectively double-down on the critical few priorities and pivot into areas that will maximize customer [and project] value that will be best able to weather the storm,” she says, adding that Raven offers HR leaders a resource on the current situation, titled 4 Things To Do Now When Your Project is on Pause.

As far as software and services vendors, most are “scratching their heads,” Tinder says, because few customers have an appetite to commit to new, large software projects–and probably won’t for six to 12 months.

However, she says that even if travel and trade shows are restricted into 2021, it doesn’t necessarily mean vendors can’t still deliver value, as a percentage of customers from the study said they needed to accelerate certain projects to help with new demands due to the COVID-19 situation.

“I believe it’s a mistake to write off entire industries–such as restaurants and retail–as many of them are pivoting with new distribution channels and still need good technology to aid in that,” she says, adding that the best HR software/service vendors may not be  “pitching”–rather, they are collaborating with customers.

“Many have adapted their approach to understanding their critical short-term needs,and plugging in their solution if and where it can help,” she says.

See also: Return to workplaces starts with thinking outside the digital box

Tinder says the one survey result that really displayed a positive among all the doom and gloom was the high number of “shout-outs” to vendors who have shown true customer care and commitment.

“It’s through the challenge that the true character of businesses, and individuals, becomes apparent,” she says. “The goodwill that many vendors are providing through free services, creative invoicing and solutions now will solidify long-term relationships and pay dividends later.”

In fact, she adds, Raven is taking notes.

“We are looking to amplify these acts of kindness and let others know the good that is being done, after we’re on the other side of this thing,” she says.

Chris Pinc, global director, Product Management, Willis Towers Watson, says that what really stands out from the survey is how productive people seem to be while working remotely.

“This reinforces other evidence we’re seeing that shows there are a lot of people who could end up not back to working in the office,” he says. “Not only do people realize they can work from home effectively, they’re constantly getting better at it. And organizations will embrace this–the cost savings are just too tempting not to.”

While investment in HR-technology projects seems to be slowing down or pausing, Pinc believes investments in technology that makes it easier for people to work from home will continue to increase. Much of it will be in the form of collaboration and productivity solutions, where HR has less of a direct say in things.

“But from an HR perspective, there’s a strong case to be made for investing in solutions that directly improve the employee experience while working remotely,” Pinc says. That includes employee-experience platforms (e.g. HR portals) because they allow employees to get the information they need without meeting with HR. Solutions focused on wellbeing also will be key because of the challenges people are facing in terms of physical and mental health, and financial wellbeing.

Pinc adds there is a lot of value in employee survey solutions and other “listening technologies,” which allow leaders and HR to stay connected with employees even if they don’t see each other in person.

“We’re in the tough part of this transition now, but the opportunities for a better way to work are actually really exciting,” he says.

Joe Monaghan, a principal at Mercer, says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all organizations, regardless of size or industry, so it is not surprising that, in some cases, HR and HR technology-related projects have also been affected.

“Many companies have projects in the evaluation, planning and implementation phases,” he says, noting that most organizations are proceeding with HR-tech projects with minor timeline and scope changes, particularly those in implementation.

He adds that HR has been at the helm through this pandemic.

“Through all this, the C-suite has developed trust and reliance on HR for direction to navigate these rough waters,” he says, adding that Mercer believes the strengthening of the partnership between the C-suite and HR will lead to HR playing a more significant role in the development and execution of the strategies that lead an organization to continued success.

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For example, to support the organizations it works with, Mercer has created virtual communities that bring organizations together to brainstorm changes they’re making as well as discuss trends being seen. Some of these changes include how employees interact with HR to ensure excellent experiences, even while working remotely.

“As we move post COVID-19, it is likely that HR will continue to improve HR technologies to further enable online learning and career development, feedback and engagement, hiring and onboarding and many other key functions,” he says. “While technology investments might slow for the short term, we anticipate demand will continue to rise for the ability to manage a virtual workforce.”

Although the coronavirus outbreak has forced a number of industry events and conference cancellations this year, HR Tech organizers are optimistic the in-person event will go on as planned. However, if a physical event is deemed not possible according to WHO and CDC guidelines, the event will be held virtually.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].