Handheld HR

The supply side is equipped. The demand side is ripe.
Are you ready?

By Derek Polzien


Consider the following situation: Your company is nearing the end of the annual performance management cycle, and one of your executives realizes in the middle of her New York-to-London flight that she’s forgotten to approve the performance reviews performed by her direct reports. Consensus meetings are just a few days away, and ratings are due—time is of the essence.


The executive, familiar with your HR service delivery model, would normally call the HR service center in the United States if she encountered this issue there, but she’s traveling abroad and is not sure what to do. What she does know is that she has at least an hour-long cab ride into the city upon landing, and she’ll be heading into meetings for the rest of the week, with no time to sit down and finalize each rating. Besides calling a friend in HR or her administrative assistant to “handle” this, what do you think an executive in your company would do in this situation?


If the above scenario had been slightly different– perhaps the executive forgot to pay her mortgage bill, or is unsure if she’s set her home security alarm prior to her trip, it’s– likely that she would expect to resolve the situation using her mobile device upon landing. She could connect to her bank’s mobile web page and make the mortgage payment, and use the app provided by the security company to confirm whether her alarm was set. Why shouldn’t she expect to be able to resolve an HR issue in a similar way?


Recent HR outsourcing implementation experience across multiple providers and clients has demonstrated that the solutions being proposed by outsourcing providers and other enablers of enhanced HR service delivery are not keeping up with the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce. The customer-facing aspect of these solutions has remained effectively unchanged during the past five years, continuing to consist of a call routing solution, a portal with static content, and some basic employee and manager self-service functionality. In the meantime, a revolution has taken place in the ways that people communicate and do work—some clients have even shared that their executives hardly travel with a laptop anymore. Their main method of communication is a mobile device.


Few Barriers, No Excuses
Deloitte research shows that when out-of-the-box thinking is combined with proper planning and budgeting, incorporating the needs of the mobile workforce has the potential not only to meet the expectations of the technologically savvy executive, but also might increase the adoption of new HR service delivery models by those playing traditionally “non-wired” roles at work. The major platforms in HR management systems (such as SAP, Oracle/PeopleSoft, and Workday) have each made commitments to the mobile workforce in current or upcoming releases of their solutions:

  • SAP provides a mobile device connectivity infrastructure as part of the NetWeaver technology platform. In addition, SAP currently offers mobile applications to allow users to process workflow alerts and approval requests, perform online collaboration using their mobile devices, and view business analytics information.
  • Oracle has plans for increased mobile device functionality in its upcoming fusion releases, while some PeopleSoft clients have had success creating custom applications that allow for absence management activities via a mobile device.
  • Workday provides both a native application for the iPhone and mobile browser access from other mobile devices that allow a user to view and process pending approvals, along with viewing a company directory.

Besides the solutions provided by HR platforms, many companies are already leveraging this channel for other key functions. Companies such as biotech tool maker Life Technologies, German airport operator Fraport AG, and industrial conglomerate Johnson Controls, are already making use of the web-enabled devices that employees carry to capture data and deliver business intelligence information directly to the employees, rather than making them wait until they can connect to a laptop.


Access Rising
Getting these devices in the hands of employees is not a problem. Recent studies on the proliferation of mobile web-enabled devices indicate that by the end of 2011, more web-enabled mobile devices will be sold than traditional PCs, according to research firm IDC.


The increase in mobile device and mobile web-enabled access is not just limited to developed countries. Statistics from the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union indicate that in 2010, mobile device access likely reached 76 percent of the global population across both the developed and developing world. Furthermore, mobile broadband service subscriptions reached 51 percent of the developed world, and 5.4 percent in the developing world. It’s important to note that both of these figures more than doubled in the last two years.


A Captive Audience Awaits
When coupled with the increasing penetration of web-enabled mobile devices, long commute times on public transportation present the perfect opportunity for employees to access HR services outside of the workplace. While this notion might be unfamiliar to those used to working in the U.S., it is a common sight in Asia to see nearly an entire train car or busload of people tapping away at their mobile devices during the morning and evening commutes. Anecdotal experience shows that even chauffeured executives prefer to spend their daily commute connected to their mobile devices.


A report by the Toronto Board of Trade indicates that commute times exceed one hour in 14 out of 19 major world cities studied, with additional data showing key cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou having daily commute times exceeding 45 minutes. The same study measuring commute times also showed that for 16 of 21 world cities studied, more than 20 percent of workers used public transportation to get to work, with that number exceeding 50 percent in many European countries. Furthermore, a World Bank study indicates that by the end of the next decade, public transportation and non-motorized transport use will be at 90 percent in urban areas of China.


And one more likely bonus: While not yet independently verified, a study by mobile device manufacturer Nokia indicates that mobile web use consumes less than 1 percent of the energy when compared to the equivalent use of a desktop PC with an LCD monitor.


The Demand Side
Along with decreased barriers to this service, clients are beginning to demand innovation in HR service delivery. Jonathan Taylor, Greater China human resources vice president at The Coca-Cola Company, shares his view: “Mobile technology is very much part and parcel of today’s executives’ lives, regardless of whether it’s mobile phones, tablet computers, Blackberrys, or laptops. This is how they access information. If organizations want to be relevant to their clients/associates, they need to ensure their solutions embrace technology when they communicate. We are all talking tech these days.”


So why the lack of innovation with regard to HR service delivery for the mobile workforce? Cost is likely a key driver, as in recent years, HR outsourcing providers have been driven by market forces to keep costs low, while focusing on maintaining service level agreements with their existing client base—neither of which leave much monetary or human capital to invest in developing new technologies. Lack of customer demand and out-of-the-box thinking is another potential culprit—mobile device use for interacting with supporting functions (vs. consumer-facing marketing activities) is still a relatively new concept, and it is likely that this type of communications channel is not considered until it’s too late.


What can be done about this issue? Recent experience has identified specific areas in the service delivery model that strongly benefit from additional considerations on interactions with customers that make up the mobile workforce. Each area identified below includes a corresponding list of solutions categorized as “High-Tech” or “Low-Tech” or “No-Tech”—based primarily on the amount of IT effort (and corresponding cost) they would require to implement. Clients who are at the beginning of HR outsourcing should strongly consider pushing their providers for solutions that fall into the “High-Tech” or “Low-Tech” categories, while clients who might be in the transition phase or operations phase of their outsourcing contracts will most likely find the “No-Tech” solutions sufficient for the time being (at least until the next future direction planning/contract negotiation meetings).

High-Tech Solution Low-Tech Solution “No-Tech” Solution
Build a mobile version of the HR portal, which includes a “contacts” page listing the local dial-in numbers for each country Establish an automated email address that responds with an email of up-to-date dial-in numbers for each country Distribute both soft copy and hard copy “wallet cards” with the local dial-in numbers for each country
Build a mobile version of the HR portal, and include functionality for users to submit inquiries and review/approve pending workflow requests (e.g., performance rating approvals) Allow HR service center representatives to not only initiate inquiries on behalf of the caller, but also have secured access to pending workflow requests and approve them on behalf of the caller Assuming delegation or “next level approver” functionality has already been established, an HR service center representative will coordinate the completion of a transaction with the delegate/next level manager designated by the caller
Implement a full “integrated voice response” solution that allows the caller to speak their selected options and authentication information when contacting the HR service center by phone Prioritize/organize phone menus based on most frequently used options, and confirm that authentication information only requires numeric selections Allow the HR service center representatives to “manually” authenticate/re-route callers who are not able to type in their information through the phone


  • Customers should expect global access to HR services through their mobile device. In the above scenario, an executive had just arrived in London and needed to contact her HR service center for assistance. Client feedback and experience indicates that this is no hypothetical and is often the case for executives based outside of the U.S. In our situation, having access to the local dial-in information could have made the subsequent travel into the city more productive.
  • Customers should initiate inquiries and complete “micro transactions,” such as workflows and leave request approval, without using their laptops.
  • Customers should expect to be able to navigate through the HR service center phone menu quickly and without having to look at their keypad. Recent experience indicates that clients are frustrated with excessive phone menu options when trying to connect with an HR service center representative, along with requirements for alphanumeric passwords to be typed in when most mobile devices no longer use a traditional nine-digit keypad with three corresponding alpha characters.

Neglecting the needs of the mobile workforce will likely be an increasing barrier for change and further adoption of an outsourced or multi-tiered HR service delivery model. Clients who are considering undertaking such an effort, or for whom a contract renewal is on the horizon, should use their purchasing power and understanding of the potential for this functionality to drive outsourcing providers and their own internal HR IT departments to deliver 21st century solutions. Clients who are at the beginning and middle of their contract terms should consider the solutions presented here as potential enhancements for their keeping up with the demands of their workforce.


Derek Polzien is an HR service delivery senior manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP.