Reflections on Technology, Transparency, and the Changing Culture of People and Work through the Eyes of a 20-Year-Old Survey

Take a moment and look back to where you were 20 years ago, in 1997… I was a young mother, working on a graduate degree, applying for an internship that would eventually change my life. Late one night while wrapping up my studies, I clicked on my university’s ListServ Job Board, and there it was: an internship looking for someone with experience in multi-media platforms. With the click of a button, I was connected to one of the largest banks in our area, and a week later I was in an interview. I remember this scenario clearly since the recruiter shared with me that I was called because I was one of the few people who posted their resume in this new online system. I was awarded that internship and, more importantly, I had the opportunity to be mentored by the most amazing people: a diverse group of women and men who truly believed that a combination of humanity and technology could change how we work and live. The last 20 years have wrought tremendous changes in the world of work, yet the outcomes we are striving to achieve today are like those of the past: fulfilling work, personal balance, and trust in our colleagues. When I entered the HR and Training profession 20 years ago, the profession was bogged down in paperwork and compliance tracking, but technology was just beginning to provide a light at the end of the tunnel, a way to achieve those aspiring outcomes.
David Link and Lexy Martin, the previous authors of the HR Systems Survey, were on their own journies to understand a new and emerging trend of self-service HR: the idea of giving candidates, employees, and managers not only access to data, but tools that they could use to help make decisions and improve their work environment. The Internet was in a state of infancy, and most organizations were still working through mainframe versus client-server application discussions. Let’s also not forget that Y2K was right around the corner with all of the anxiety and optimism that comes with the start of a new century.
The first iteration of what we now know as the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey White Paper was released from The Hunter Group under the title of Human Resources Self Service: One Year Later – 1997, a cutting-edge piece of research that included ten areas of focus and analyzed data from just 25 organizations. The initial research has expanded to include almost 17,000 individual responses and spanned 20 years of HR technology changes.
As we recall the culture of the Survey at its inception, we can see a common thread and a feeling of community that still exists today in the HR industry. Rebecca Hirschfield, former Marketing Manager at The Hunter Group/Cedar, said it best: “The feeling of family that we’ve all experienced in the HR technology industry over the years was an important aspect of the initial days of the Survey at The Hunter Group—it was a way to give back to that community. Although Terry Hunter passed away recently, the legacy of the culture he instilled in that organization, and the importance of contributing to the HR profession, remain woven throughout the basic concept of the Survey.”
Fast forward to today, the Sierra-Cedar 2016–2017 HR Systems Survey White Paper, 19th Annual Edition covers adoption and trends for applications, deployment options, vendor solution outlook, expenditures, and value achieved for over 36 categories of HR applications.

  • Administrative applications
  • Service Delivery applications
  • Workforce Management applications
  • Talent Management applications
  • Business Intelligence (BI)/analytics solutions
  • Innovative Emerging HR technologies

Additionally, the 19th Annual Edition of the White Paper covers insights on supporting HR practices:

  • HR Systems Strategy
  • Adoption blueprints
  • Integration practices
  • Implementation practices
  • Change Management practices

Each year, we expand the White Paper to include additional areas of focus and find new ways to slice and dice the data to understand what’s new and trending, what remains constant, and what’s going away in terms of current HR technology. Throughout the report, we work hard to share implications and recommendations that speak to both practitioners and vendors alike.
As a part of our reflection on the past 20 years, we asked our participants what they thought about this research—what brings them back year after year. We learned that organizations continue to complete the Survey because they feel it is important to give back to the industry, and that it provides value for their organizations as well as themselves.

Having a career passion for enabling technology for HR, I am drawn to the unbiased, objective nature of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey White Paper. It serves as my voice to the vendors in terms of what we need and where we want to go at Dell. The benchmarking component is also vital in validating the technology and making the case for investment.
Karen Caveney, Global HR Business Architecture & Technology, Dell

The Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey White Paper is one of the main sources I use to keep my finger on the pulse of the HR Technology industry. The trending data and future landscape analysis is extremely valuable—I’m not sure I could effectively do my job or remain a thought leader in the industry without it.
Joe Almodovar, Senior Director Global Business Systems, AT Kearney

The real win for our organization is in the actual exercise of completing the yearly Survey. The detailed questions force us to take a good, hard look at what we’re really doing in our business… a real eye-opening experience and well worth the effort.
Jim Pettit, Program Manager of HR Systems, Halyard Health

This research is definitely a team effort, and for those of us who work on it daily, we were humbled by the participants’ feedback. Our goal is to provide research that helps organizations make the best decisions for their employees, as well as their company. Here at Sierra-Cedar, we believe that the Survey and White Paper provide a way for the industry to pull together, support each other, and give back to help everyone grow.
As we celebrate a milestone for this research, it is important to acknowledge the technical and cultural changes that it has encountered along the way. Technology is integrated into every aspect of our world, our work, recreation, and social lives today—and yet in 1997, the first Harry Potter book was listed on the recently launched, Netflix was just being founded, and Google was still a Stanford research project. When the first Survey was launched, no one had ever heard of Wikipedia, Facebook, or the iPhone, and the first recorded quote using the term “social media” was in reference to AOL.
As we collect data for the Sierra-Cedar 2017–2018 HR Systems Survey, 20th Annual Edition, we look back with awe and amazement at the technical accomplishments of this industry, and yet we are mindful to realize that HR is still a very personal experience for the user. On the corporate side, HR Tech has provided the vehicle through which organizations can streamline processes, save money, and create innovation within their HR function. For the workforce, our personal lives have become more integrated with our work lives, illustrating the point that when HR Technology works at its best, it provides the vehicle by which balance can be achieved for everyone. Looking forward, HR Technology is facing its greatest challenge: the future will not be judged by cost savings and ease of use, but rather by value creation and workforce experiences. In this new world, transparency will be expected and yet trust is paramount—and the vehicle for enterprise communications will fall to tomorrow’s HR Technology environments.
What do you think the next 20 years will hold for HR Technology and our workforces? The next 20 years of innovation marches towards us, and although we cannot be certain exactly where it’s leading, we must make the right choices to effect positive change in our work, culture, and personal lives.