Why HR Technology is becoming Work Technology


The HR technology space continues to attract a lot of attention as well as a growing level of investment. There are literally thousands of vendors in this space. John Sumser said there's 40,000 that he's tracking, which means there is a hell of a lot of choice. But whether you are an HR practitioner, a buyer, an investor or an HR tech company itself, how do you navigate what is a complex and at times confusing market and should it even be called HR Tech anyway?

That's the topic for this week's episode of the Digital Leaders podcast, David and our guest Jason Corsello discuss the shift from HR Tech to Work Tech and what this really means. Jason, now founder and CEO at the Acadian company and previously Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at Cornerstone, is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced people working in this space.

This episode is a must listen for anyone in the HR space particularly those looking to invest, those looking to secure investment for their Technologies and practitioners seeking to navigate a complex market.

In this extract taken from their conversation, Jason and David discuss the growth of HR tech that we’re experiencing and why this should really be categorised as work tech rather than just HR tech. You can listen to the full episode here.

Before we begin looking at why HR tech should shift to being described as work tech lets first define how we have historically thought about what HR technology. 

By its traditional definition, it’s a software that automates processes within the human resources function in organisations. Or as defined by IBM,

“HR Technology is the application of AI and other smart tools to augment or transform your HR processes backed by data-centric skills to handle these technologies.”

In essence HR technology has been a way to automate or track compliance for the many activities conducted by HR departments with some elements of manager or employee self-service bolted on, usually without much thought for the user. As Jason Corsello explains to David Green “(HR Tech) has for far too long been focused on automating process and it really has been designed for the benefit of the employer.”

However, in recent years we have seen an explosion in the HR technology landscape, according to CB Insights there has been nearly 6 billion of VC investment in HR startups in the last five years, and with that, we are now seeing a new set of vendors entering the market that are focused much more on the employee and manager, than they are on traditional HR processes. This shift has a significant impact on the way that HR professionals need to think about purchasing HR Technology and is a welcome change in focus.

A 2015 report from The Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce, found there were four major challenges in managing human capital:  

  1. Employee engagement - how useful and in-tune people feel in their jobs

  2. Talent retention - how long they stay at a company

  3. Competitive compensation - being able to recruit the best talent on their budget

  4. Developing leaders within companies

HR technology has definitely been very active in transforming the world of recruitment and automating lengthy HR processes such as payroll, but we’re now beginning to see a shift in focus from the employer to the employee, as the emphasis on employee engagement and talent retention increases, thus driving this shift from HR tech to work tech.

Jason Corsello explains:

“I think we're at this day and age now where the power is shifting to the employee. They have lots of choices. They have lots of demands. And so that's where I think more broadly on Work Tech because it's the combination of HR Tech. You still need a lot of those things. Processes within an organisation. But it's more designed to the employee themselves. What do they care about? Is it about progression? Is it about promotion is it about purpose? So that's where the blend is starting to come in and how do you make people more efficient towards work as well.”

HR technology is shifting away from managing workers to actually enabling employees. HR technology has historically been clunky and unintuitive to use, this is where we’ve seen some of the biggest changes, with regard to the automation of HR processes. However, there is still opportunity for improvement with regard to the technology experienced by the employee. As Jason discusses:

“I think we have been making HR Tech products a lot easier to use but I think on the employee side, there's still a long way to go and so being able to make it... Josh Bersin has referred to it as kind of in the flow of work and I think that's what we're trying to accomplish here is how do you make HR Tech seamless into employee's lives?” 

Employee engagement is hugely important to the success of an organisation and the growth of a business, yet employee expectations are changing. Individuals are expecting more career opportunities and experiences, they’re keen to expand their skillsets and are embracing the notion of continuous learning. In a world where job seekers are looking much more at “purpose” in their jobs and career growth within a company, it is becoming more important that organisations put people at the centre of everything they do in order to retain their top performers. There is a need for HR technology to be integrated in such a way that “They (employees) don't even necessarily know about it, but you're helping them achieve their goals at the same time and make it easier to get the work done.”

As technology shifts from focusing solely on HR but to work overall, and much of these purchasing decisions fall within HR’s remit, it is important that not only is it integrated into the flow of work, but it’s done so seamlessly. Jason emphasises this during his discussion with David:   

“…that's where analytics and data certainly have a big emphasis. It's almost, you're striving for an outcome. Maybe you don't necessarily know about just yet, but we have lots of data, but we haven't made the leap into is really making it seamless and focusing on whatever those outcomes may be.”

As the need to drive employee engagement and retention grows, so does the need for technology to support us in solving these challenges. This one of the key enablers of the shift we’re seeing from HR technology to ‘work technology’.

Online training to help you build your Digital HR Strategy

There is a lot of hype surrounding AI in HR and its impact on work, but Artificial Intelligence, automation, augmentation, and the Future of Work are much more than just buzzwords. We need to interpret the real opportunities that new technologies can offer HR in how it can improve its own function and the organisation that it supports. If you’re interested in learning more about the opportunities offered by AI and Digital HR then you might be interested in our online training courses that focus on Digital HR. They cover a range of topics that walk you through the critical areas to include in your Digital HR strategy in more detail.


The myHRfuture academy is a learning experience platform for HR professionals looking to invest in their careers. We have several training courses that are targeted at both specialists in HR systems or digital HR as well as client-facing roles such as HR Business Partners. Our content helps HR professionals to become more digital and data-driven and will help you to navigate the complexities of the HR technology landscape and think about how to use HR technology to improve employee experience. See below for information on all of the courses that we have available on digital HR and HR technology for learners of all levels, as well as more information on our learning platform, that combines bitesized learning content with articles, research, case studies, podcasts, videos and access to a community collaboration platform for you to share ideas with peers and get answers from experts.


Ian Bailie is the Managing Director of myHRfuture.com and an advisor and consultant for start-ups focused on HR technology and People Analytics, including Adepto, Worklytics and CognitionX. In his previous role as the Senior Director of People Planning, Analytics and Tools at Cisco Systems, he was responsible for delivering the tools and insights to enable and transform the planning, attraction and management of talent across the organisation globally. Ian is passionate about HR technology and analytics and how to use both to transform the employee experience and prepare companies for the Future of Work.