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For HR, Mobile Strategy Should Be More Than Apps

There is no question that mobile technology is the future of work.

From iphones to droids, ipads to kindle fires – mobile technology is changing the way we function as a society.  This hyper-connected lifestyle is changing how we interact with our friends, family and even strangers.   With close to half (46%) of American’s over 18 owning some type of smart phone – its also changing how we recruit, retain & manage a workforce.

Like social, Mobile has been a constant theme in briefings, conferences and user group meetings I’ve been a part of over the last 12 months.   Vendors want help with a strategy for developing it, Corporate HR wants to know if they should be building their own and everyone wants to know “how far behind” they were.

The theory that everyone else was doing it, made, well, everyone else do it. In most cases, poorly.

To most, mobile strategy seemed to mean “build pretty apps” not actually develop a long term strategy that would be in the best interest of the stakeholders – C-Suite, HR Departments, Candidates, Managers, Employees, etc.   The fear of being left behind the mobile trend, or not being first to market in HR Tech resulted in the release of some shockingly poor apps that existed purely for superficial PR and really didn’t do anything functional for their clients.    (Not naming names but, An ipad app that lets you review *some* things from the system, but nothing that actually needs action or approvals taken? So basically, you can’t work.   Awesome.  Who actually thought that was a good idea?)

Bad apps make smart phones dumb and your business less productive.

In fact, the race to market with mobile for most HR Tech vendors and corporate HR teams resulting in a total lack of true mobile strategy – the integration between mobile product, how organizations actually function with their solution and people’s relationships with their mobile phone.  While the 46% of smart phone users is an amazing number, the reality check we often miss is that 54% of adults in the US don’t have a smart phone.   They have a standard mobile.  It doesn’t do apps.  It doesn’t browse the web.

With 25 billion apps being downloaded from the Apple store alone, no one is down playing the importance and future that is the app world.  But with the reality of who the workforce still currently is – smart organizations and vendors will continue to be inclusive of all workers as they set a mobile strategy.

For HR Buyers, a truly strategic mobile strategy (and vendors, your road map) should include more than superficial apps.  Eventually, It should include solutions for 3 groups you may employ:

  1. Smartphone User – Building apps that mimic functionality already being offered, not just the easy basic things.  It should allow you to complete your work via your mobile or tablet (ipad), should you choose too.
  2. Web access User – It should have a plan on how to address those that are simply web-ready mobile vs smart phone users.  The product should have a mobile-ready interface that allows you to access everything you could have on their “full site” but in a simpler to use interface.
  3. Standard mobile/phone User – Depending on the type of solution and the end user – an option that allows people to access key features is really attractive.  Think about the candidates or employees in roles that typically don’t have smartphones due to age or other demographics that have lower access to them.


Each of these groups should be considered when talking about mobile strategy in the workforce – with some of the new (and highly successful) entrants into the HR Tech market, they are.  Last week, two vendors set the bar high for vendors in the hr technology marketplace.  In Salt Lake City, HireVue video interviewing solution launched a mobile app that allows interactivity from both candidate and manager,  not just manager.  Allowing people with iphones or ipads to completely manage the interview process remotely – with no computer needed.   In Charleston at PeopleMatter’s launch of Schedule, CEO Nate Depore conducted a live (always scary in a room full of 100+ clients, press & analyst) launch of “D” an iphone Siri type of product designed to allow employee’s access and manage schedules through smart, interactive conversations.  The ohh’s and ahh’s of everyone in the room, was more than telling to the success anticipated.  With both vendors, while the solutions and target focus were different, the total mobile strategy was a consideration from the beginning.

A mobile strategy (especially apps) need to raise the level of engagement and adoption within our company.  Employees, managers and leadership expect us to anticipate needs and provide value through the technology selected and implemented (ROI anyone).  The fact that less than half the adult population has a smart phone is a reminder that just because everyone on your floor does, it doesn’t mean the rest of the workforce does.  The solutions we purchase, integrate and execute should reflect the market & people we represent – not live in.

And remember, just because its an App, doesn’t mean its good.




Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is a recognized HCM industry analyst and advisor focused on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work.  Sarah Brennan has been named a top global influencer in HR Technology by more than 50 publications and shared her insights at speaking engagements around the world. As Chief Advisor at Accelir, she partners with HR Technology vendors and investors as an advisor, interim CxO role and on engagements focused on growth strategies, product roadmap & market education/evangelism. She also works with corporate teams enhancing talent strategies.

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  1. Alex Raymond March 5, 2012

    Sarah –

    Very insightful post highlighting a huge opportunity and challenge for the market.

    Most of the apps on people’s smartphones are social, entertainment or productivity-type apps, not necessarily work-related (as in, your 9 to 5 job).

    I always wonder what the use case is for moving business applications onto smart phones. For example, tasks that require lots of thought and a good amount of time – performance reviews come to mind – do you really want them to do written in the back of a taxi or while on the subway? Aren’t there some tasks that are simply too important (especially in HR) to be done on-the-fly?

    1. Sarah White March 7, 2012


      Agree with your points – but lets think realistically for a second. In today’s society an app is no longer tied to a mobile phone, its tied to a a mobile technology which includes things like tablets and the ever popular ipad. In the last few months I have totally stopped traveling with a laptop (90% of the time) in exchange for an ipad and wireless keyboard – allowing me to execute anything I need to from anywhere – regardless of importance of task, and not necessarily “on the fly”.

      On the other side of that – think about some of the employee facing functionality that should/could be offered to staff level employees that are looking to change their schedule, review new paperwork, apply for the transfer – or a host of other things that can be completed remotely and without the use of a PC or Laptop.


  2. Allison Rossett March 6, 2012

    Mobile is a great idea, but not quite yet a proven tool for learning and performance.

    Do you want to send your salespeople to training to memorize product features and prices? Would you take a class to prepare to get the very most from your time during a short visit to Paris? Do you want your physician to rely on her memory to anticipate all possible negative drug interactions? Do you want to rely on a college course taken in 1970 in order to comment, criticize and communicate on the subject today, in 2012? I bet you do not.

    You can use mobile technology to make sure growth and support happen whenever, wherever—at the learner’s convenience—rather than in a single, information-packed session. There is great potential here, but that’s what it is. Potential.

    1. Sarah White March 7, 2012


      Respectfully, I disagree with you and feel you almost contradict yourself in your response. It was more than a decade ago when college classes switched over to internet based learning vs. in the classroom – so why not allow what was being streamed online to now transfer over to someone’s ipad or iphone?

      Look around at our society and you will see that elearning has completely revolutionized how people learn everything from new languages to computer programming to reading. Look at iTunes at the number of reputable college and university’s from around the world offering mobile podcasts of lectures – complete with notes. Those sales teams and physicians can constantly have the latest information at the touch of their fingers!

      I don’t understand what isn’t proven and why mobile learning (after a decade) is only something we see potential in? In human resource learning and development teams – mobile allows organizations to reach a wider variety of employees with consistent messaging – beyond the notes that get sent to a regional or local trainers who possibly care less about the themes or ideas being passed along.

      Am I saying that mobile technology is perfect? No. In fact, I said the complete opposite. But it is usually a failure based on design and implementation of technology – not the technology itself.

  3. Mark Munzer March 9, 2012

    Hmmm, I respectfully disagree with the statement “An ipad app that lets you review some things from the system, but nothing that actually needs action or approvals taken? So basically, you can’t work”.

    I would argue that a lot of executives are making important decisions without the decision support data they need to make these decision. An app that provides immediate access to important decision support data can be vary valuable even if the app does not allow you to take action. For example, how many executives could tell you what their talent retention rate is, which manager has the worst talent retention rate, what their workforce cost is with details on cost of employee vs contractors, how many high performers with high potential are also high flight risks. Today many executives are going to their VP of HR or CFO to try to get this data and waiting for reports or spreadsheets to get created. If these executives (many of which have made iPads their device of choice) can get immediate access to these critical KPIs through a simple and compelling app, it provides huge value. Automating approvals on a mobile device is nice… but the real game changer is providing visibility into the wealth of data stored in talent management systems to help your executives and managers make better decisions.

    1. Sarah White March 14, 2012


      Sorry I wasn’t clear with that statement as I agree with you 100%. Reports and metrics from a particular system require some sort of “action” to be taken – selecting the report, determining data points you need to reference, etc.

      The two products I was actually referencing didn’t provide any statistical or reporting metrics that someone could take any actionable decision making on. It was simply apps to say they have apps. Something to see you needed to take action, but didn’t let you actually do it.


  4. Rajpreet Heir November 26, 2012

    I agree with Sarah that …”allowing me to execute anything I need to from anywhere – regardless of importance of task, and not necessarily ‘on the fly.'” I don’t know many people that leave the house without their phone.

    90% of Gen Y sleeps with a phone nearby; the shift to mobile is inevitable. And why not? For those that have an hour log commute, carrying an ipad is much more appealing than lugging around a laptop. The option to use mobile is a nice problem.

  5. Khwater July 27, 2015

    I agree with you at some points , I want to do my tasks over the internet , if that is possible because I dislike the way that I sit on a desk ‘n’ I’m boring of doing my job, I prefer to do my job with some enjoying.
    On the other hand, the time of the work, when you go home and doing your job remotely , do you think that you’ll have a time for the family?! 🙂 I think there are some difficulties today with all tasks that you must to do ‘n’ go home ‘n’ spending more times with your family.
    Finally, this is interesting idea and Article, thank you very much.


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