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Micah Fairchild Employee Self-Service: Exploring What the Future Holds for ESS

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 By Micah Fairchild

ESS Applications Remain Mission-Critical, Confusing, and Underutilized

As innovation increases across the HR software landscape, few (if any) vendors have failed to answer the call of developing a self-service option. And the same goes for customers adopting this technology; as according to a recent Towers Watson report (New Horizons, No Boundaries) fully 37% of organizations are implementing new (or leveraging existing) self-service functions with roughly 11% even putting ESS as one of their top three HR service delivery issues for the coming year. That said, while Employee Self-Service (ESS) applications are increasingly being seen as standard for an HRMS offering, the fact of the matter is that finding commonalities across the vendor spectrum is anything but easy; and anything but “standard”. Take for example that Workday embeds self-service capabilities (both for employees and managers) into virtually every aspect of their application. Now juxtapose that against the fact that up until very recently Sage HRMS provided ESS functionality as only an optional upgrade; and you start to see why self-service applications (while indisputably important) can leave prospective buyers confused when it comes time to purchase. Further, once you factor in that additional complexities such as mobile capabilities and social media integration are starting to see mainstream adoption traction, it’s clear that the perfect storm is developing that could throw even the savviest HR tech consumer off their game.

In determining why this self-service disparity exists among even the largest HR software vendors in the space though (and how best to thusly approach the ESS application selection process), first we have to look at what it is exactly that these offerings are meant to accomplish. As Gartner puts it, employee self-service “enables employees to perform basic HR transactions, such as updating their names and addresses, or viewing a paycheck, without intervention from the HR organization”. And, on its own, that seems fairly simple to do, easy to implement, and an option that all companies would want to utilize. After all, one of the earliest and most obvious wins in the e-HR evolution was to delegate wherever possible the tasks of basic data capture and maintenance to the employee—a process that invariably allows for increased accuracy and decreased HR staff workload. The problem with looking at Employee Self-Service applications solely through this lens though is that it approaches the function of ESS statically—allowing for basic data maintenance but little else. This approach, along with the ever-increasing bevy of self-service capabilities that are being released, has caused countless organizations to underutilize their ESS applications—an issue that is likely only set to grow larger. To remedy this, we’ve put together our list of the top 3 areas where we see Employee Self-Service applications trending and ultimately evolving. And while not all of these trends may hit close to home right now, the fact of the matter is that ESS is shifting, and companies that fail to get on board may find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in the future.

Employee Self Service Trend #1: Increased Communication Channels

The first trend that is rapidly gaining speed relates to communication. Specifically, as it has been proven time and again in the learning/development space, employees don’t always share the same communication needs. As such, Employee Self-Service applications are being increasingly leveraged to handle multiple communication streams for multiple users’ needs. Gone are the tactical, self-updating days where ESS meant simply logging into an antiquated mainframe system to change your address. Now, employees have the ability to converse (and add information) about career aspirations, hobbies, and personal interests via newer Employee Self Service application adoption—a capability that brings to the forefront engagement, connection, and the total human capital package. And, as yet another sign of meeting different users’ needs, these newer functionalities are being increasingly tied to mobile devices—largely making the issue of ESS access a thing of the past.

Employee Self Service Trend #2: Collaboration

In 2011, Principal Analyst (People Systems) Steve Goldberg of Bersin & Associates quoted Charles Jones (the then Chairman and CEO of Peopleclick Authoria) as saying that the future of Employee Self-Service should be viewed as “total awareness and collaboration”. And from what we can tell, this take on our second ESS trend was far from hyperbole. Social HR technologies are rapidly supplanting outmoded formal processes for recruitment, learning, and performance and this evolution has extended to what was previously thought of as untouchable elements in the “core” HRMS. And while Employee Self-Service functionality is far from the only transactional aspect that’s moving into a new era, the fact remains that ESS applications stand to change the most. As Goldberg puts it, “think of all of the events, knowledge and forums for collaboration that relate to employees that are part of the value they bring to the organization and their fellow employees. Those events, pieces of knowledge and collaborations are the future of ESS”.

Employee Self Service Trend #3: Multi-Tier Delivery

While largely still relegated to use by enterprises in the 10K+ employee range, the adoption of a multi-tier model for HR service delivery is seeing an uptake surge across the board lately; and for good reason. For one, CedarCrestone’S 2011-12 HR Systems Survey suggests that when ESS is combined with Manager Self-Service (MSS) and an HR help desk, HR headcount can be reduced by as much as 25 percent. Further, for those organizations with a high adoption rate, between 75% and 90% of HR transactions can be serviced at the first tier via ESS which frees up HR staff to provide higher tier services. The implications for this though are that the lowest tier (the ESS function) has to be built out and utilized in such a manner that all possible tasks/information entry can be completed by the employee.

The Future of Employee Self-Service: Final Thoughts

As ESS implementation and adoption continue to enable the constant drive to achieve more with less, system design is expanding beyond the simple devolution of corporate record-keeping and showing an increasing capacity for personalization—in turn inviting employees to add details of pastimes, interests and personal aspirations. As Charles Jones says, “the system of record is fast-becoming the individual”—a trend that is not likely to abate anytime in the near future and perhaps not ever. As such, relegating your employees to only the bare minimum of what an ESS application can do does not only a disservice to them, but also puts your organization at risk of being passed by in this latest HR software evolution. End

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System design is expanding beyond the simple devolution of corporate record-keeping and showing an increasing capacity for personalization.”


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