What Oracle’s new platform predicts about the future of EX tech

Employee experience was already a fast-growing focus for HR before the pandemic, but the crises of the last year have made EX an even more pivotal piece of HR strategy–and jumpstarted competition among technology providers, which experts say is only going to get hotter.

Take the recent announcement from Oracle of its Oracle Journeys platform, which, according to the company’s official release, “helps organizations create a one-stop shop for employees as they navigate all aspects of work and complete complex tasks.” Part of the company’s existing Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management offering, Journeys’ objective is to allow HR teams to “create, tailor and deliver step-by-step guidance” to help employees through such disparate but critical events as onboarding, having a baby, returning to the workplace, launching a new product or growing their career, the announcement says.

Chris Pinc, managing director, HR software product management, talent and rewards, at Willis Towers Watson, says the time is right for technology that improves the employee experience. Over the past year, he says, employees have had to learn new ways of working while managing difficult challenges at home and at work and living with extreme ambiguity.

“A lot of them are burned out,” Pinc says. “Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy picks up speed, organizations need talent. They’re desperate to retain their current employees and hire new ones to meet surging demand.”

Pinc believes that, as work begins to return to the office in some form, companies’ talent challenges will only increase. In fact, many employees won’t want to give up their newfound flexibility.

Others may be tempted to make major career changes or exit the workforce entirely (many already have). On top of that, Pinc says, organizations are making broad changes to their benefits, as well as other policies and practices. So they need to communicate these changes to employees and help them understand what’s new and different. For all of these reasons, Pinc says, digital employee experience solutions are glowing red hot in the market right now.

Rebecca Wettemann, principal/analyst with Valoir, a research and advisory services firm in Arlington, Va., agrees that competition among tech providers is definitely heating up in this arena–whether you call it HR service delivery or employee experience.

“We’re seeing Oracle, Microsoft, ServiceNow and Salesforce all make announcements and up their investments,” Wettemann says. “This isn’t surprising, given the need for companies to address employee engagement in a work-from-home/hybrid environment.”

Related: Microsoft Viva: Why it could be ‘a massive opportunity’ for HR execs

Since the start of the pandemic, organizations have seen a dramatic increase in so-called employee events–including such things as location changes, IT support requests and childcare changes, she says. And much of the HR work related to these events was still based on manual or spreadsheet-based processes, Wettemann says.

“HR needs new tools to address them,” she says.

The tools that are emerging are varied, Pinc adds, noting the EX platforms on the market “do wildly different things,” he says. “Some focus on case management; others on wellbeing and on rewarding people for healthy behavior; still others focus on helping people navigate their health benefits and providers.”

In a recent blog post about the Oracle launch, HR industry analyst and HRE columnist Josh Bersin notes that Journeys will compete with the likes of Workday’s People Experience, Successfactors HXM and Microsoft’s Viva, as well as the aforementioned ServiceNow, which helps employers manage digital workflows for enterprise operations.

“As more and more companies focus their energies on ‘back to work,’ and ‘safe workplace’ applications for their employees, Oracle’s Journeys is positioned in the right place at the right time,” Bersin wrote. “And Oracle’s experience in service delivery and case management will pay off.”

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In fact, the EX trend goes beyond HR, Wettemann says. She notes that, while many HCM applications have provided self-service for HR-centric processes (like benefits, for example), none have addressed broader HR service delivery well, which is why ServiceNow and Salesforce have made inroads into the space even though they don’t offer HR “apps.”

“The budget for these apps also goes beyond HR, beyond the average $40/employee/month that companies spend on HCM technology,” she says.

Related: Learn more about the pandemic’s impact on benefits at our virtual Health & Benefits Conference, May 11-13. Register here.

Wettemann says that beyond the pandemic, an automated “employee concierge” makes a lot of sense. Automating and personalizing these processes improves employee satisfaction and increases productivity because employees aren’t chasing down solutions to work problems that keep them from doing work. It also increases efficiency and improves the audit-ability of HR processes.

“This is going to become more important as companies seek to navigate work-from-home and hybrid employee strategies and will be challenged to show that HR service delivery is consistent for all individuals regardless of their WFH status,” she says.

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Also, according to Wettemann, pricing is going to be an important consideration for buyers, noting that Oracle’s solution is obviously designed to appeal to Oracle HCM customers, while ServiceNow’s approach is more app agnostic. And Microsoft’s approach unsurprisingly focuses on employee collaboration and the desktop.

“All vendors are going to have to evolve their pricing as HR evolves its buying plans for HR service delivery and concierge apps, and employee concierge becomes part of the standard employee desktop,” she says. “This isn’t an HR buy anymore, and I expect IT will weigh in more heavily as they understand and will manage the multiple integrations required to make an employee concierge app work.”

Related: Employee experience will be on the agenda at the in-person HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas this fall. Learn more and register here.

Pinc adds that EX technology that has the biggest impact will meet employees where they are and help them in the moments that matter most. As the Oracle announcement touched on, it may be a tough performance discussion or a nice promotion, an illness in the family or having a baby, he says.

“Organizations play a key role in the wellbeing of their people. Those that can support their employees in these moments in an engaging, personalized, human way—and have the right technology to do so—will be the ones that win the post-pandemic war for talent,” Pinc says.

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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 hreletters@lrp.com.