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The Move To Ubiquitous Tech And Its Impact On HR

My entire childhood and teenage years involved a full out war between two tech giants you may recognize: Microsoft and Apple. At school, we were in the Apple camp. I was particularly enamored with Hypercard, a program that I used to make a choose-your-own-adventure application that allowed you to kill a stick figure in various ways.

That probably sounds a lot like your childhood, right?

At home, we were a Microsoft family. Starting with a DOS command prompt and dial-in BBS’s with a 1200 baud modem, we moved up to Windows and actual internet service (service that was slow beyond any comprehension that we have today).

Back then, technology wasn’t ubiquitous or inexpensive. Depending on what you had, you couldn’t do a bunch of things. If you had an Apple Macintosh, forget about running many games outside of Oregon Trail II or SimCity 2000. If you had a PC, forget having any specialized educational software. And stuff that worked on both? Whatever.

By the time I hit high school, the battle was over. Microsoft won. End of story, right?

Quite clearly, that wasn’t the case. We’re in the “post-PC” era. Even the lady who served us at a restaurant and saw my wife’s Kindle Fire said it was the post-PC era so it must be true. Microsoft, Apple and Google (along with a handful of hardware manufacturers) have claims of strength when it comes to what area of the market they have cornered.

But I don’t think we’re in a post-PC world. That leaves a laptop or desktop behind and I don’t think that’s the case.

Rather than being a post-PC world, I think we live in a world of ubiquitous technology. We have so many devices that can do the essential work of our day in our age (from nearly-free, pre-paid Android mobile phones, to high-end tablets, to laptops big and small, and to $3,000 Mac Pros) that the debate over software and hardware form factor come down to really, really subtle differences. I can view and edit Office documents on almost any device. I can check e-mail on even more. I can view movies and listen to music on nearly anything. You can do nearly everything on nearly everything.

The differences are far more subtle. Do you need horsepower? Do you need a keyboard? Do you have specialized apps that require a particular platform (that number is significantly smaller than in the past)? Are you part of an enterprise software system that you can’t access without a VPN and a Lenovo PC (that’s still common)?

Outside of that though, you are arguing about a set of dimensions and devices that come down more to personal preference than actual performance doing the tasks that most people demand from their technology. A fight over Android versus iOS versus Windows Mobile better suited for tech journalists and stakeholders. The differences are ridiculously small and getting smaller.

At the HR Tech conference, I walked the trade floor and asked vendors completely off the record about this. Are you ready for a customer base that wants access to your platform on any device, any time and to have a good experience no matter what? I told them that I thought people will demand ubiquitous technology solutions, not just from their companies but from their vendors.

Larger companies gave me plenty of examples of use cases that weren’t asking for ubiquitous tech solutions. Financial institutions, insurance companies and security firms were still in lockdown mode. Government too. Of course, when prodded, they did talk about what worked outside of their walled garden. Applications that extended beyond a laptop onto a phone or mobile device.

Smaller companies in HR tech were already there. If they didn’t already have an app that worked whenever and wherever on whatever device, they were working on one. This work was going hand in hand with building integrations in with partners and building out broader feature sets.

I stopped making predictions a long time ago on this blog but at some point, the bare minimum for a company building technology solutions for HR is going to be a grab bag test: if a user grabs any device out of a bag full of different types of devices, will they be able to access critical information from your application in five minutes or less without any interaction from their IS support function or from you?

If the whole rest of the world allows for the ubiquitous use of technology except for in the enterprise, how long do you think that will last?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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