By Troy Wintersteen, Oracle

Listening to the hype from HR Technology vendors and pundits (and I’ll be the first to admit to evangelizing modern technology), you would think that State Governments must be adopting and learning to leverage new technology trends as soon as they emerge, or risk utter organizational collapse.

On top of that, it is easy to get excited about the possibilities when we see modern tools that simplify our personal lives applied to our profession, but here is the reality check: in order to be innovative, a certain foundation of operational stability must be in place. 

There is truth in the notion that today’s HR leaders need to stay abreast of technology and direct their teams to reap the benefits of every salient advancement. That truth is being felt in every industry that has been disrupted to some degree by the relentless march of technological innovation, and State Government is no exception.

However, unfortunately, many agencies are so mired in legislative, policy and operational rigor (mortis?) – and in the bloated, customized legacy HCM systems of one stripe or another that enable them – that they are simply in no position to adapt to the constant evolution of technical innovation.

State HR Needs to Become More Agile

Does this give Government HR a ‘pass’? Assuredly not! The collective we, public HR practitioners and the consulting and technology vendors who serve them, must find a way to help government become more agile and therefore better positioned to benefit from promising developments as they become mainstream – as opposed to half a decade or more later.

This is not an indictment of Government. Our public bureaucracies are each the product of their own evolution; a legacy of political winds and the strong or weak leaders of the past. From experience, and indeed from reading the wisdom in NASPE’s Leadership Secrets of State Human Resource Officials, it is apparent that State HR leaders understand the conundrum as an intrinsic part of their daily work. The recurrent themes of valuing the public service, collaborating across leadership and the workforce, acknowledging mistakes and learning from them, and surrounding yourself with the most competent people possible are sure methods of changing how the public workforce is perceived and proving the jokes about government employment wrong.

Back around 2014, Deloitte published a maturity model around HR technology that I won’t reproduce here as I haven’t asked or received permission to do so. Fortunately, the details are academic in this context; the high-level descriptions of each step are meaningful for an HR-savvy audience. 

Beginning with a baseline of Payroll-Centric Technology, the model goes on to illustrate subsequent evolutionary steps of HR ERP Technology for Operational HR, then Talent Technology, then Cloud HR Technology to support business strategy for the future, and ending with a vague ‘Next’ level characterized by High Impact HR.

Just four years after that model was created, we are at a point where the chatbots, AI, and machine learning discussed in last month’s blog, along with blockchain, human-like interfaces, and whatever amazing innovation will literally pop up tomorrow are quickly becoming mainstream. Arguably, that ‘Next’ step is already here for HR organizations that are positioned to reap the benefits of those emerging technologies.

Acknowledging the previous work of the NASPE membership and Corporate Council, the past Top Issues, Issue Briefs, Whitepapers and other content clearly indicate that the bulk of State Government HR organizations haven’t gotten past the first two evolutionary steps, commonly considered tactical HR.

For the purposes of this article, the point is that even inspiring State Government HR stories like that of the State of Tennessee have only brought them to the middle of that spectrum. We can look at Tennessee’s experience and learn that any move from one level to the next is transformative, and by extrapolation, that transformation is a more a journey and a mindset than a destination and a particular set of goals.

Solution? The Cloud

We (again, the collective) need to get down to the business of getting State Governments ready to get to ‘Next’. Fortunately, there is one modern innovation that can help an agency span multiple steps and facilitate that incremental transformation: the Cloud.

Like all modern technologies, cloud HCM solutions have matured immeasurably since the first entrants sought to bring the rain. Public Sector functionality like position budgeting and management, grant management, and specialized payroll calculations are becoming commonplace in cloud solutions. Highly flexible configurability allows many agency-unique requirements to be addressed within the core applications without customization, allowing customers to take the frequent, innovative updates supplied by Cloud vendors without risk.

Having industry giants manage the technology under your HR applications just makes good sense, especially when they can guarantee the safety and autonomy of your data better than the most robust government data center operations.  As your IT resources continue to dwindle, Cloud relieves them from the day to day firefighting of data center management so that they can address more strategic agency pursuits.

When we consider the HR Technology maturity spectrum, it is important to note that Cloud technology can be applied at any level, and facilitate any organization’s move to the transformative. Yes, there should be deep introspection and business process analysis to eliminate bottlenecks, redundancies, and unnecessary work, as is true with any technology shift. But the move to the Cloud, if done right, is the last upgrade you’ll ever need.