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Why are ESS adoptions low? You need more than a portal...

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User interface for business systems have long been a point of argument. When people can use Facebook without a help file, why should systems that we use in office make us cringe?


I heard an interesting anecdote recently. A famous hiring firm was contracted to consult and improve hiring for a large multinational company. The client had a sophisticated Applicant Tracking System. The system also had an internal referral portal where employees could refer friends. One of the constant complaint was that people were not exploiting the portal to refer. The HR head had sanctioned budgets to improve employee branding internally. The consultant had an inkling that the problem could be somewhere else. He offered to do a small survey with the users and then use the system to check it out.

Here were some interesting revelations. The company had more than 200 openings at that time. Unless exact fields were matched, the system could not throw the job profile that many of the employees would want to refer their friends. Being a non-critical engine, simultaneous log-ins was also limited by the IT dept. So chances were high that when you log-in to the system, it would have maxed out. And even when a criterion matched, the system required nearly 25 compulsory fields to be filled in before you can upload the resume. The entire procedure would take more than 30 minutes. And when you started filling the forms, in case fields did not meet a criterion, it will return an error on submission. Therefore, when someone thought of a referral and encountered the system challenges and complexities, they would postpone entering the details through the portal for later and eventually day-to-day work would take priority and resumes were never referred.

As an experiment, the consultant offered to create a new kind of a referral page, where someone would just need to enter the LinkedIn profile of their friends with a phone number / email credentials to contact. Just TWO plain BIG fields. In the backend, someone from the HR would call the candidate and find out the relevant details. The management agreed to pilot this reluctantly. The results were amazing. The referral rates increased multifold. And the positions closed through referrals were at an all-time high in 3 months.

The consultant had a tough time convincing the management to do this though. The management had never even questioned the system's efficiency as the financial investment and implementation time involved in developing the system was high. However, the power of automation with the subsequent saving of manpower was alluring. Also the idea of employee self-service and empowering the employees were all standard industry benefits that could not be ignored. The business case was really strong. Even the HR head agreed that it was a challenge to refer through the portal and asked his secretary to enter most of the fields!

User interface for business systems have long been a point of argument. When people can use Facebook without a help file, why should systems that we use in office make us cringe? After spending millions in implementation and training, adoption rates can still be an issue for business systems. The problem lies from not looking at the users in the first place. This is where social engines really take the lead.

Look around; most systems are called HR systems, finance systems, claims systems, tracking systems. They are designed the way companies are organized, rather than the way the users are organized and work. The product thinking should go through a paradigm shift. And the first signs are already on the horizon. But here is the interesting challenge. When you build a system like that, who will you sell it to - Finance or HR or Operations? Unless someone bells the cat and are willing to take the jump, business systems will continue to be built around the buyers rather than the users. Small and medium enterprises will lead the way in this.

It is little wonder that ESS adoption have been low. Share any interesting experiences that you may have in this area.
 

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