Mobile technology: fad or fundamental?

It cannot be denied that technology has revolutionised virtually every area of business in the past decade, with some of the most pioneering advances arising in the past 12 months alone.

Here, technology guru and Cascade HR software development director Dan Edwards looks particularly at mobile developments and considers the impact they have had upon the pay and benefits industry, before looking forward to the technological potential that still exists within the profession.

The world of pay and benefits, and the workplace environment on the whole, is constantly changing. In the modern-day era of flexible working the standard office format rarely applies.

Employees are working from home or out in the field, they’re job sharing and they’re travelling overseas – sometimes they’re even operating offshore. Regardless of their location though, it’s clear to see that very few workforces now remain stationary and solely use a desktop PC.

As a result mobile technology within the workplace has grown in popularity over the past 12 months because it removes locational boundaries and allows employees to take the office with them wherever they may be. Because of this heightened accessibility and convenience mobile technology is becoming increasingly acknowledged as an efficiency driver, therefore the momentum with which it is incorporated into business strategies is likely to gather pace throughout 2012.

Consequently it is important that the pay and benefits industry evolves accordingly, to ensure communication and engagement levels with our ever-more ‘mobile’ workforce are not endangered.

To change or not to change?

Change is not as widely feared as it is reported and indeed in my experience many software vendors and clients alike are already embracing it wholeheartedly. Yet there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to any change and implementing mobile technology is no different; much depends on the make-up of the organisation, the nature of operations and the degree to which the workforce is on the move.

Many software solutions, by their very nature, lend themselves to being used in a mobile fashion. The web-based technology underpinning .NET software systems means that worldwide accessibility – via secure log-in – is possible anywhere with internet connection.  This is especially pertinent for pay and benefits because many tasks and activities suit ‘point in time’ access and completion. For example the filling-in of timesheets and claiming of expenses is better carried out with immediacy, rather than retrospectively.

But the good news now is that there are a greater variety of size and devices to suit individual preferences and achieve such access.

Technology: the driver for change or the vehicle?

For as long as I can remember, technology has underpinned compulsory functionality. So,if legislative changes are introduced within the payroll arena for example, technology delivers the solution with which to complete calculations correctly.

But where technology creates greater engagement, communication and efficiency – ultimately where it can foster new and better ways of working – it is arguably the driver.

Take self-service for example; 98% of Cascade clients already utilise self-service functionality to enable employee ownership of data and the ability to log-in to the software to complete tasks regardless of location.

The advantages of self-service are multi-faceted – staff feel empowered, processes within payroll and HR departments are streamlined due to the delegation of tasks and positive cultural changes can also be experienced, for example one Cascade client saw their absence rate fall from 10.5 to 9.75 average days lost to sickness (per employee) following a self-service roll-out.

As the UK’s workforce becomes increasingly disparate though, HR and payroll’s reliance on employee self-service will undoubtedly grow. However because mobile technology now exists to further improve the availability and visibility of self-service functionality – for example Cascade’s new app means users can book holidays, check their payslips or monitor outstanding HR tasks wherever they may be – the advantages should be magnified accordingly.

Personal use of mobile technology

Last year, Ofcom 1. found that nearly one in three adults in the UK uses a smartphone, a trend perhaps driven by the social media phenomenon. Elsewhere Deloitte 2. found that 45% of consumers with a smartphone download an app at least once a week.

The rocketing popularity of this mobile technology means that more and more people want to – and can – access information on the go. Plus, as technological capabilities and processing powers improve, and as the prices of mobile devices fall, they will become ever-more attractive to individuals and business alike.

Whilst it cannot be suggested that employees are going to spend every hour of every day completing tasks with a mobile app – and nor would a responsible employer want them to – it is important to engage with the workforce via the most relevant routes available.

Amy Browne, HR business partner for the Institution of Civil Engineers explains:

“We have recognised that the use of social media is becoming more and more prevalent amongst our employees, so to ‘move with the times’ and make the most of this growing interaction with mobile technology, we are set to introduce a HR and payroll mobile app.

It doesn’t make sense for our directors and managers to have to sit at a computer to authorise a holiday for instance, especially when the nature of their work means they are regularly out of the office.

Greater accessibility to our existing self-service functionality is sure to be welcomed. We’re not saying the app will be used by all, but the important thing is that we’re giving employees the option of engaging via this medium, if they would prefer to.”

1. Ofcom, Communications Market Report: UK, 4 August 2011 Available at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr11/UK_CMR_2011_FINAL.pdf

2. Source: Deloitte, ‘Killer apps – the promises and pitfalls of a smarter world’, 11 July 2011 Available at http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_GB/uk/7e7484c7e4911310VgnVCM3000001c56f00aRCRD.htm

 

Cultural fit

In the last six months, over 50% of clients have asked how mobile devices can improve their organisations’ approach to payroll and HR. Prior to that, approximately 20% of clients had an interest, whilst in 2010 it was less than 10%. Enquiries are not limited to just the most forward thinking, commercial or cash-rich companies though. A wider number of organisations – including sales forces, care workers and probation officers – are looking at how they can work smarter and get more from their employees thanks to these intelligent tools.

However not every organisation will be ready for integrating mobile technology yet. It is far more important for example to iron out any teething problems and ensure data integrity and engagement with your current software solution first, before catapulting your organisation into the world of mobile.

But Samantha Parr, HR specialist at Wesco Aircraft Europe, also points other considerations:

The growing uptake in mobile technology signifies culturally where we are going as a society, but it’s important to assess whether it’s right for your organisation. For us there is a need to be constantly available, especially as we’re a global business operating in different time zones, but thankfully modern technology enables relatively seamless interaction between our employees worldwide. If innovations will be beneficial for our organisation and if they can streamline processes, align company values and protect employee welfare, then they will be on our radar. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be on everyone’s.”

App happy

There is a mobile app for pretty much everything these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re all necessary. Developments should never be introduced just for technology’s sake. Instead they should be introduced because they can add value, because they can innovate and because they can change the way the pay and benefits industry works, for the better. Technology can make tasks quicker, easier and more convenient to complete for example, and this is where the crucial benefit lies. Mobile technology provides employees with access to the information they need, when they need it and wherever they may be. And because applications are developed with ease-of-use in mind, there are few barriers to prevent people from using them.

Ultimately by providing employees with all of the information they need in one easy place, which they can refer to at their leisure, the greater the likelihood that they will continually check things, as they may do with Facebook, internet banking or retail offers in their personal time.  Processes could almost become self-rectifying, whereas previously employees would have to find time to complete tasks that weren’t really on their radar, such as ensuring the payroll department is aware of a tax code change.

Being careful

Caution is understandable, but often a degree of trust in developers’ foresight is needed. At one time for example widespread scepticism surrounded the security, practicality and necessity of electronic payslips, but industry experts understood that they offered an extremely safe, convenient, eco-friendly and cost-effective way for employees to receive their payroll information. Soon after the CIPD found that electronic payslips were the most popular method of payslip presentation in 2010, and Cascade found 60% of clients embracing this functionality too.

A greater shift to working with mobile technology is not without potential drawbacks though.

There is a danger that the home-life balance will become increasingly skewed if employees struggle to switch off from work beyond office hours. Yes, technology facilitates the completion of work-related activities regardless of location but this should be carefully managed so as not to encroach on employees’ personal time.  On the other hand though, employers need to ensure employees’ personal use of non-professional apps and social media on their mobile devices does not contravene company policy.

Organisations utilising a series of mobile ‘bolt-ons’ rather than one integrated solution may struggle to achieve the seamless working practices and outcomes that they require.

Yet mobile devices are designed to be easy-to-use, so the interfaces and applications available on them should be too. This means that even ‘technophobes’ can operate them with little fuss. That is not to say less technologically-savvy employees won’t still be apprehensive, so it is important to implement change slowly and provide plenty of encouragement.

What’s next?

As the pay and benefits profession continues to raise awareness of its role within the modern business environment, attention should be paid to technologies that can bring about positive change.

If there is a greater likelihood that employees will engage with the pay and benefits department and the information it communicates; if there’s more chance they’ll complete the tasks they’re required to do; and if there’s more chance that the visibility of the profession will increase as a result, then mobile technology should be harnessed as much as is realistically, and appropriately possible.

Mobile innovations are not being created simply because of developer aspirations; they are being introduced and implemented because they can add real value to the everyday activities of payroll and HR departments. A personal vision is for Cascade’s entire, fully-integrated HR and payroll software solution to be available in your pocket, regardless of the device being used. But this is not because we just strive to be different; it is because we know that a functionality-rich, platform-independent interface – for smart phones and tablets – will overcome even more boundaries than the mobile app has already been able to.

Rosie Green, head of business support (people and places) at Synergy Housing concludes:

“Already we have started to see how a mobile app for HR and payroll can add real value. Our 120 field-based maintenance engineers have really embraced the new technology, which allows our pay and benefits professionals to adopt a more strategic and solutions-focused (rather than transactional) approach to their roles.

“It’s going to be exciting to see how further developments will unfold, especially with regard to other devices, because I think at the moment the industry is only touching the tip of the iceberg

Author: Dan Edwards, software development director at Cascade HR


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