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Josh Bersin's 2021 HR technology trends

If the pandemic made HR the centre of attention of the board for the first time, it also radically changed the HR tech marketplace, and for good.

Companies found through the global health crisis that they needed technology to help employees working remotely stay productive, and increasingly to ensure workplaces are safe and can support new health protocols.

There’s been the need, despite freezes on spending, to recruit and onboard new employees in our currently predominantly virtual world.

As a result of the pandemic there has been increased HR tech spending. According to a 2020 study by PwC, even pre-pandemic, 74% of companies surveyed plan to increase HR tech spending, and that’s on top of the $310 average per US employee they already spend on HR-related tech.

2022's tech trends:

HR risks tech overload following pandemic software surge

Hybrid working plans hindered by poor tech

Tech resourcing gap impacts diversity and inclusion efforts

According to the study, 49% of companies had scheduled new investments in talent acquisition, 48% to improve employee experience, and 46% on skills mapping/career path tools.

While there are many changes taking place, the biggest shift of all is the move from HR technology to work technology. Now every technology investment must in some way improve work and positively impact the overall employee experience (EX).

To accommodate this shift means HR systems are expanding beyond their traditional remit of automating areas such as payroll, benefits administration and talent management

HR tech stays — but there’s more to play with

Certainly, every company still needs a core system of record that stores a wide range of employee information; this isn’t going away and is only getting more efficient. But employers, and more importantly employees, want a lot more.

Everything that happens at work, from when employees start the day to when they clock out, is a step or activity that can be facilitated and improved by technology. Employees do not have the time, interest, or attention span to log into an HR system, search for the right page, and enter a holiday request.

We see a massive convergence between HR tech and work tech (e.g. the tools employees use to do their job) as we enter the next phase of the global economic recovery.

This is not to say that traditional HR systems aren’t useful. Vendors like ADP, Paychex, Paycor, Oracle, Workday, SAP, SuccessFactors and Infor continue to do well. But they are adding more new features and making their applications super-adaptive and easy to use. 

The increased focus on EX opens the door to solution providers with tools for communications, surveys, case management, and knowledge management, along with functionality for building new workflows, chatbots and portals.

Vendors in this area include ServiceNow, Microsoft, Workplace by Facebook. Workday, SAP, Oracle, and other core HR systems are adding experience layers. Vendors like Qualtrics and Medallia are also moving in this direction.

The new EX solutions include many innovations such as intelligent chatbots, video conferencing, recommended learning and development, case management, voice and video analysis, even organisational network analysis. One could argue that Microsoft Workplace Analytics, which suggests focus time during the day, is really an employee experience system.

In many ways, these new work-tech tools replace the expensive, enormously complex employee portal that many companies have built. The vendors are trying to develop single interfaces for employees to make people more productive, healthy, and connected to their peers.

In parallel, every HR technology vendor will be using AI in some way to make its systems more personalised, conversational, and easier to use. New demands for embedded analytics and video are also being factored into product strategies.

What does all this mean for HR leaders? It means you can expect to see your suppliers and HR tech partners delivering tools designed to fit together like puzzle pieces to support the creation of employee journeys, back-to-work programmes, onboarding and transition programmes, as well as wellbeing solutions.

HR tech will allow you to reinvent and radically improve the employee experience for your entire organisation.


Josh Bersin is an HR analyst and the president and founder of Bersin & Associates