Your Neighbor’s Cow

I have just returned from Belgrade, Serbia, the sad and beautiful site of so much carnage during the 1990s. The civil war is over, but the economy is an absolute mess. With a metropolitan region of 1.6 million people, Belgrade is one of the largest cities in southeastern Europe. Yet only one construction crane can be seen on its skyline.
This depressing postcard offers a lesson for all of us in our daily business lives. To wit: Technology is only as effective as the user who applies it.
First, consider the context for this observation. As noted before The Economist magazine says that we have entered what they call “the third industrial revolution.” The first stage was about Eli Whitney and interchangeable parts. The second came a century later with Henry Ford and the advent of mass production.
Now comes the age of industrial digitization. It’s hard to imagine where this is going. But it’s going there fast.
At our recent HRO Today Forum in Philadelphia, a lot of technology was on display. Indeed, some attendees even wondered darkly whether large swaths of the HR profession itself might not be facing an existential threat from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and other technology platforms.
It is true that the forum included our fourth annual TekTonic Awards—recognizing disruptive technology in human resources operations—because such solutions have indeed become integral to the industry.  Categories include HRMS, learning, social media, talent management, vendor management, and payroll. We also recognize an overall winner, but, to pursue the connections between Belgrade’s dystopia and the human-technology dynamic, let’s focus on three.
The HRMS winner, SilkRoad’s HeartBeat, offers a cloud-based HRMS platform that provides powerful solutions for payroll, empolyee data, compliance and benefits administration. Importantly, it depends on employees owning their own information.
The learning winner, Raytheon’s Catapult Rapid LCMS, is a web-based training platform that balances standardized language protocols with accommodations for cultural variation at the local level. Not customized, but configurable.
And the Payroll winner was Ceridian’s Dayforce HCM, which uniquely offers HR, payroll (including tax filing), benefits, time and attendance and scheduling as a single application. It includes a SaaS HR/payroll solution and offers configurable audits.
The point here is not the Luddite apprehension of machinery. HR providers are not John Henry, doomed to lose the race against a steam-driven steel hammer. All of the above solutions depend on the smart interaction of man and machine. They require collaboration by administrators and end users. Their success is dependent as much on the health of the organization in which they are used as by the cleverness of their design and code.
In Belgrade, I was repeatedly told that the culture is beset by an all-too-common antipathy among neighbors. “There is a saying,” one of my hosts told me, “that many of us spend our time just wishing that our neighbor’s cow would die.”
“So that your own cow would be more valuable?” I asked.
“No, just so that your neighbor would be more miserable.”
If such social pathology is truly endemic, it explains why only one construction crane rises over Belgrade. The city has modern power, modern infrastructure, and centuries of culture. But, as with the tools available in any workplace, its technology is only as effective as the users who apply it.
Dirk Olin is editor and publisher of HRO Today magazine.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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