Technology's Third Turning: what does this mean for HR?

Jim Scully

With all the changes happening in HR technologies, we thought it was high time we recruited an expert to separate what's important from what's not. We are delighted, this week, to introduce Jim Scully as a new "regular" to SSON online. He'll be reporting on trends and developments in HR technology solutions, and helping you figure out what makes sense for your organization. Jim has worked with companies globally to evaluate, design and implement value-driven HR service delivery models to meet the specific needs of organizations. He previously directed the HR Shared Services operations for Georgia-Pacific Corporation – serving an employee population of 50,000. Under his leadership, the HR Service Center gained year-over-year improvements in customer satisfaction while achieving significant operational cost savings. Jim also led major HR shared services and effectiveness projects for Hewitt.

I can rattle off the three-letter airport codes for over a hundred airports around the world. Pretty impressive, eh? OK, so it’s useless knowledge. But 35 years ago when I was beginning my career as an airline reservations agent, committing airport codes to memory was essential because one had to enter the right codes into the "green screen" reservations system to book a flight. Today, between commercial airline sites, travel sites and corporate travel agent sites, the vast majority of airline tickets are booked online. While these booking engines still allow me to enter the three-letter airport code (ha!), the approximate spelling of the city works just fine (shucks).

It goes without saying that technology, specifically Internet-based technology, has transformed consumer-facing processes across the board. As we speak, a similar thing is happening to internal HR service delivery human resources. I call this the Third Turning of HR Management Systems (HRMS).

The first turning was the shift from mainframe to real-time mainframe (a.k.a. "green screens"), which gave users the ability to enter data into the database via connected terminals. The early airline reservations systems deployed in the late 1970s were examples of such. Software products like Integral and Tesseract were among the leaders of this generation.

The second turning was from mainframe to client-server technology. Leveraging new networking capabilities (LAN/WAN), client-server software allows users to enter data into a common database from PCs anywhere on the network. This paved the way for the ERP generation, with names like Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Lawson leading the parade.

The third turning is, of course, Cloud computing. Cloud computing leverages the World Wide Web instead of internal networks to provide user access anywhere on the Web. (My next post will go into more detail on the similarities and differences between Cloud computing, SaaS and hosted software.) Cloud computing is transforming HR delivery in much the same way as it has transformed our experience as consumers in other aspects of our lives.

What’s So Transformative About Cloud Computing?

The transformative power of Cloud computing is not so much that it’s in the cloud, although there are inherent pros and cons (to be discussed in my next post). No, the true power of Cloud computing lies in the design capabilities at the hands of Cloud developers, primarily HTML5. Because of these capabilities, Cloud-based applications can be made to appear and perform in ways that client-server applications simply cannot. Thus, the new generation of cloud-based HRMS platforms look and function like commercial web sites, even mobile apps. With these new tools, if you can order a book on you can process most HR transactions. This is the game-changing difference.

In this blog series we’ll look at the Third Turning from several angles:

  • The similarities and differences between SaaS vs. hosted, single tenant vs. multi-tenant, etc.
  • Strategic considerations adopting cloud-based solutions
  • How mobile apps are changing the face of computing
  • Security and cloud computing
  • Platform-as-a-service

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you and hearing your thoughts in return!


Note: Keep an eye out for Jim's forthcoming columns. He'll be reporting on:

The Third Turning – the shift underway from client-server to cloud computing as the third turning in HRMS

Cloudy on Cloud? – SaaS, Hosted, Single-Tenant, Multi-Tenant

Wade or Wait? – the different strategies an organization may consider in terms of approaching the third turning; risks and rewards

Aptized! – the fundamental shift to an app approach to HRIS and what it means for custom, niche-solution development

Is it Safe? – the risks associated with cloud computing and how they are being addressed by the market

Platform-as-a-Service: Tomorrow's Mainframe? – how PaaS allows companies to develop custom applications using the infrastructure and development toolkit of a vendor to combine the customization flexibility of mainframe with the cost advantages of SaaS