Why Best of Breed is becoming the norm

building clouds facade glass panels

Best of Breed Workforce Management Solutions are now increasingly chosen over the traditional Best of Suite HCM providers.

Research by Navigo reveals that overwhelmingly (69%) choose a Best of Breed provider to meet their needs rather than a suite. It also discovered that 50% more organisations were “Very Satisfied” with a Best of Breed than those who purchased this as a module of HCM.

This maybe a sign that changes in the workforce are occurring more frequently and organisations need more agile and adaptable solutions. This seems to be confirmed by the study with the average age of a 5 years for a WFM solution compared with 7+ for HCM Suites.

Whilst a rapidly changing workforce environment may be a contributing factor, it is  cloud technology that is accelerating the move away from Best of Suite towards a new paradigm of “plug and play” applications in the cloud.

Historically Best of Breed applications where held back by limitations with integration. Many applications didn’t “play well” with other applications or even devices. But this is changing fast.

In the 1980’s your choice of printers was often dictated by the word-processor (or even computer) you purchased. But the introduction of “software drivers” removed this restriction and now with “plug and play” no-one worries about whether the printer they purchase will work with any of their applications.

This revolution in technology – largely forgotten – is being played out within modern cloud applications. Today we share content to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other cloud platforms without even thinking about the enabling technology that seamlessly integrates these applications together.

Web and cloud integration technologies make integration simple, secure and in many cases real-time. Data flows seamlessly between applications and without the need for organisations to involve their IT departments.

Historically IT departments would spend significant internal resource trying to knit on-premise applications together to avoid users having to dual key data into separate applications. Now, many modern cloud providers provide integration plug-ins to other vendors without the need for any internal work. Likewise, the adoption of Single Sign on (SSO) standards has meant that user experience across platforms isn’t impacted.

This represents a watershed moment in vendor selection. Historically organisations had to weigh up the trade-offs between a fully integrated suite that didn’t quite meet their business requirements versus a Best of Breed option that didn’t quite meet the “joined up” experience that users required.

With next generation cloud “Best of Breed” applications removing this barrier, organisations no longer need to sacrifice business need over user experience.

It also enables organisations to adapt more quickly to changing situations and without the costly and long delays required to replace a monolithic application. If a specific solution cannot be adapted to the new way of working, then it can be replaced without needing to replace the entire suite.

Ultimately organisations are looking to become more agile and the new world of “Cloud Plug & Play” has enabled them to do just that.

To find out more about our cloud solutions visit HFX or Contact us

Avoid Cloud Confusion

person covering face with blue wooden cloud wall decor
Avoid Cloud Confusion

The tech industry is famous for inventing jargon and terms that lack any clear definition which are then misused by marketing and ultimately mislead potential buyers into thinking they are getting something they are not.  The term “Cloud Solution” is a classic example.

Strictly speaking cloud solutions refer to any software (or service) that is provisioned via the Internet and does not require local infrastructure/install to consume it (typically access is via a web browser). However, this term is broad enough to hide a multitude of sins whilst not challenging any assumptions.

The public experience of cloud solutions is numerous including applications like google, amazon, banking and other consumer retail applications. These applications reflect a specific instance of “cloud solutions” and are based on modern internet design principles including;

  1. Internet By Design: These applications are built for the internet age with an architecture that can scale and more importantly scale over multiple servers that can be increased with demand ensuring users do not experience lag.
  2. Resilient Architecture: Because the application is designed to run on multiple servers there is inbuilt redundancy which reduces unexpected downtime.
  3. Future Proofed: These applications are automatically updated/upgraded with fixes and features without users having to request or pay for the update. This ensures that users are always working on the most bug free and updated version and ensures they never fall into legacy.

This all seems straightforward and many would be forgiven for thinking that all cloud applications follow these design patterns. However, many cloud-based solutions do not, and we therefore need to differentiate between “True Cloud” and those that just run the application in the “Cloud”. The main two “Cloud” variants which are often mistaken for “True Cloud” are;

  1. Hosted Applications: This is where a traditional legacy Fat Client application is hosted in a data centre and users’ access the application via Terminal Services or Citrix. Whilst it is true to say that nothing needs to be installed locally (other than Terminal Services/Citrix) the reality is you are simply accessing an old product through a new way. The application isn’t multi-tenanted, it doesn’t scale, and each instance needs to be individually upgraded/updated. Its an old product on a new server with Citrix.
  2. Web User Interface: Another tactic often deployed by business is to rewrite the user interface so that users can access the functionality through a web browser. Whilst it provides a modern feel and avoids the need for costly Citrix/Terminal Services, the reality behind the scenes is much the same as with a standard hosted application though this is hidden from the user until things go wrong. In the industry this is referred to as “lipstick on a pig

Why Not True Cloud?

Given the disadvantages to both the vendor and the customer of using a “cloud enabled legacy solution” it does beg the question why businesses would not invest in developing Cloud Designed Solutions. The answer is that many businesses have invested significantly in Fat Client/Server solutions for many years (Some from as early as 1995) and do not want to incur the cost required to start from scratch.

The more functionality they add into their old product the more reluctant (and expensive) they are to invest in a new product. It is akin to refusing to buy a new car because you have spent so much money repairing the old one.

HFX is True Cloud

Within Workforce Management, HFX is one of the few exceptions. In 2013, HFX secured significant investment to build a true cloud solution from the ground up. We recruited developers with 15+ years’ experience developing web solutions AND with a strong background in Workforce Management to ensure the solution was “True Cloud” AND ready for the New World of Work.

To find out what a True Cloud Workforce Management Solution looks like contact us

 

The Value of Simplify

“The height of sophistication is simplicity”
Clare Boothe Luce

simple

Whilst HFX has many values, our core value is SIMPLIFY. We believe this core value drives change and provides tangible benefits to all our customers. We apply this approach to all that we do and place our customers at the heart of the process.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
 Steve Jobs

By applying this value to software development, our team have created a powerful workforce management solution that reduces customer configuration time by over 80%. The result is that OUR customers pay significantly less for implementation, and due to faster implementation times, realise savings much quicker than with other providers.

The benefits don’t end there; because we design our solutions for customers and not for ourselves, we empower customers to take complete ownership of the system including the ability to manage the rules themselves. This not only reduces costs but enables customers to adapt the solution as they change and grow.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Hans Hofmann

Our approach to simplification also applies to our user interface. Where most software companies provide a single interface for managers and employees, we focus on providing the right user interface for each cohort (Role Based UI Design). Whilst managers are often IT literate and require a powerful user interface to carry out their daily tasks, there is a clear advantage in providing a simplified interface for everyone else.

By providing a user interface that is intuitive and simple, our customers significantly reduce training costs whilst ensuring that there is high user adoption and fewer user errors. Our Employee Self Service UI Design is based on the principles and ease of use that Cash Machines provide; No-one ever needed training on how to use a cash machine and this is also true of ours.

The benefits of simplification go further still. By simplifying the user interface, support calls reduce dramatically. For HFX, this means we have more time to devote to our customers who contact us for more complex queries; this is why we regularly receive 100% AWESOME customer ratings on our Customer Services.

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”
 Martin H. Fischer

Our approach to integration with other software solutions including HR, Payroll and ERP takes a similar approach. HFX provides RapiD interface configuration that does all the heavy lifting, translation and transformation enabling third party integration to be achieved effortlessly. By handling the complex processes within the application, we simplify the integration to third parties and even enable our customers to leverage the API so that they can integrate directly.

“Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”
 Edward R. Tufte

We have also applied our core value to other aspects of our business including the approach to Marketing. Our new website (www.hfx.co.uk) embodies our core value and mission. We designed the website with our audience in mind rather than being slaves to google search ranking algorithms.

We removed all the clutter and present the key information we think our potential customers want to know. There are no cookies, no pop-up ads, no annoying call-outs and no information overload. We want our customers to view the information they want quickly whilst having a fun and positive experience at the same time.

Hfx re-invents the website

hfx welcome to our website2

In 2017, hfx realised that it needed a new website, one which reflected our values, our innovation and our commitment to delivering solutions for the New World of Work.

Nicola Smart (COO, hfx) recalls “Early on we decided that the website should provide visitors with a positive and immersive experience that provided clear and concise information. Too many websites bombard and overwhelm you with pointless information and noise”.

12 months later and hfx releases a completely new design of website, different in almost every respect to traditional websites;

  • No annoying banners asking you to accept cookies. We decided early on that we wouldn’t be “stalking” our visitors and therefore have no need for tracking cookies. If visitors want to contact us, they know where we are.
  • No visitor badgering or callouts to nag the visitor into contacting us. We believe you either want to contact us or you don’t. No amount of badgering is going to make you change your mind – indeed in some cases the annoyance of callouts is enough to make you leave.
  • No bombarding you with information you didn’t ask for. Your time is precious, so we simplify and summarise information into key points. If you need more information you have the option to download a pdf or visit our microsite (www.hfxworkforce.com)
  • No email grabbing. We don’t require your email before you can download documents. The only time we will ask for your email is if you want to contact us via our contact form.
  • No Scroll to Infinity. So many websites insist on the “long scroll” – which is intended to take the visitor on a journey ending up with a call to action. The journey, of course, is predefined and makes to many assumptions about the visitor. Users often end up getting lost, frustrated or confused by having to scroll through the irrelevant to find the relevant. There is a need to simplify and we have achieved that eliminating almost all scrolling.

Naturally, when you buck the trend and go against the rules of website design, it’s never going to be easy.

There are no templates or previous designs to base yours on and you are battling preconceived ideas of how a marketing website should be designed. It had to be conceived and built from the ground up.

A new menu structure and navigation system was designed, redesigned and after that several more times to accommodate the vision we had for the website.

There are also trade-offs to be made; Google search and SEO friendly http://www.hfx.co.uk is not. Nor is it particularly mobile friendly. We also accepted that for many the new site would be like “marmite”; visitors would either love it or hate it, but at least it wouldn’t be another bland corporate design.

Let us know what you think of hfx.co.uk

Introducing A New Integration Paradigm

black and white blank challenge connect

Einstein stated that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” and for hfx this has become a mantra and even our core values are expressed by one word: simplify.

We follow this principle both in terms of our processes, methodology and vigorously within our cloud solution design and development.  The first challenge we tackled with Time and Attendance was the complexity of reflecting real world work rules within a simple and easy configuration that end users could quickly master and enable them to take complete ownership of the solution. The result was amazing; implementation time reduced from 9 months to 1 month enabling the customer to achieve accelerated ROI and significantly reduced costs of configuration and implementation.

This success gave us confidence to tackle the next challenge which was more nuanced but no less radical; solving the thorny issue of integration using Application Programming Interfaces.  As a group of seasoned developers with over 30 years’ experience of integration (and a combined list of over 250 interfaces developed under our belt) we looked at the fundamental issues with integration. We recognised that the issue had little to do with coding ability, language but everything to with mindset.

At a high level we recognise three key mindsets that pervaded all interface development characterised “The Solicitor Mindset”, “Pedantic Officialdom” and “S.E.P or Someone Else’s Problem” – Our analysis revealed all 3 mindsets in all 3rd party integrations we had ever seen and worked with historically. Each requires a little explanation to see how they manifest;

The Solicitors Mindset:

If you have ever had dealings with a solicitor (whether when buying/selling a house, Non-Disclosure Agreement etc) you will instantly recognise the legalise, Latin and jargon that seems to confuse rather than clearly communicate its purpose. Any attempt to simplify the text is met with a firm response by the solicitor that “Its not meant for you but for another solicitor”. This is a lazy excuse to avoid clarity and simplicity by relying on someone else with 7 years legal training to decipher text that could and should have been presented in a way that a lay person could understand. This same mindset influences the development of API’s with the argument being that the P stands for programming so there is no need to simplify the API as its not meant for anyone other than another programmer.

Pedantic Officialdom:

We’ve all had this when asked to fill out a form to change some information. Often you must enter the very same information they already hold and then when you hand it in you are told you’ve used the wrong form (often they have different forms to register new information versus amend existing information). When you fill in the correct form (which is almost identical to the other form) you are then told you must use blank ink rather than the blue or that your signature isn’t fully in the box provided (which is often too small) – I could go on, but you get the point. This very same approach is often applied to Application Interfaces. As with Pedantic Officialdom the whole purpose isn’t to make life easy for the consumer (or 3rd party) but a lazy approach to make it easier for the recipient.

Someone Else’s Problem:

Incapsulating and extending on both the previous mindsets is the overarching view that it is someone else’s problem to decipher and to comply with these pedantic and overly cumbersome rules. This approach to integration enables API’s to be created very quickly but the consequence is that they are dumb, brittle and difficult to work with and significantly increases the effort by the third party.

 A New Paradigm:

Overcoming these issues isn’t a question of technology, coding skills or even language, its harder than that because it requires a paradigm shift in thinking about the whole approach to integration.

However, as with all challenges we were confident with the right approach we could completely turn integration on its head to simplify work for 3rd parties and especially to our customers.

The first design principle we applied was that the API shouldn’t be developed for another developer, it should be developed so that a competent IT professional or implementer could consume the interface.  This principle ensures that we don’t make assumptions about who will be consuming the interface and a good test to ensure that the interface is a simple as possible (but no simpler).

The second design principle is that the API should be intelligent and not pedantic in terms of the calls into the API (for instance demanding a different call to add information versus amending information or refusing data based on lazy or pedantic rules).  If the new data requires the creation of associated or dependent information the API can automatically create this on the fly rather than simply failing. This simplifies the work for 3rd parties whilst reducing both manual entry and lazy rejection of data.

The third design principle was that the API should be easy to configure, so that if requirements change (e.g. some information previously sent IS no longer required) the API can ignore the data without the need for changes by the 3rd party. This ensures that the interface is flexible, and our solution can adapt to changes in data without the need for either the 3rd party or the interface to change. It builds in flexibility.

These 3 guiding principles enable a paradigm shift and focus all the intelligent development work within our solution making it simple to integrate from a 3rd party perspective. It turns integration on its head by making “integration our problem” rather than “Some Else’s Problem” and this changes the mindset with the result that issues are tackled and eliminated from the get go.

This approach rapidly increases integration time, reduces the need for testing and 3rd party development work. It also means that with a simplified approach to web services we can easily integrate legacy/on-premise third party products even if they are csv based using our rapid scripts that convert these into web service calls.

The Future of HR

man with steel artificial arm sitting in front of white table

In a future where many jobs will be lost to automation the question arises as to both the future of the workforce and the need for traditional departments such as HR.

The reality though is that whilst automation will encroach further and further into the workplace removing swathes of jobs and assisting with others, AI for all its hype, has its limits.

To understand where the watermark rests is not quite so simple, but there are guiding principles. Machines are capable of processing huge amounts of data instantly and identifying patterns, trends and correlations. This provides enormous benefit to decision makers who can leverage this data to make informed decisions.

However, decision making at a high level is often the result of considering not just one data point however well evidenced, but many and from different disciplines. Computers often can do one thing very well and fast but can rarely assess the bigger picture.

Neural Networks are capable of learning, but again this is often domain focused. We will see in future the rise of self-driving cars and literally billions of pounds are being spent each year to make this a reality. Whilst there is a high degree of confidence that this huge investment will succeed, the code behind it won’t be able to diagnose cancer in a patient.

Humans are never born to drive or diagnose a patient but have the unique ability to learn completely new and unrelated skills. Given the rapidly changing world and technology, this is a good thing, and it is ironical that whilst we are rapidly adapting to new technology, technology itself is not very good at adapting.

So, what does this all mean for the workplace, the new world of work and HR? Computers and AI will be focused on “narrow field” activities and tasks, those that require speed, accuracy and analysing big data. On the other hand, humans adapt rapidly, have holistic and “outside the box” thinking, multi-disciplinary knowledge and creativity.

Whilst HR contains a lot of administrative tasks which can be automated, there is much that cannot. HR requires a whole range of diverse knowledge and insight from understanding the Law to the values and culture of the organisation, from the needs and objectives of both company and staff to respecting union rules and the wider culture of society in which it operates.

HR acts not just to re-enforce polices and values, but also a change maker within the organisation. In fact, to do HR well, you need to understand that you are working with human beings; A statement so obvious it is often missed when discussing how a computer (with no sense of self, empathy or deep understanding) could replace people in role that requires deep interaction with others.

Computers can learn but learning without context can be at best a disaster, and at worst, catastrophic. For example, Microsoft took down Tay, an AI Chatbot on twitter only 16 hours after launch because – through learning – had started tweet offensive and racist comments. It had no moral compass or understanding of the wider culture to recognise that there is good learning and bad learning.

Imagine you are driving your car 60 mph when a child crosses the road in-front of you. There is no time for you to break without hitting the child, so you can either swerve the car up onto a pavement and hit a wall (with the potential you will incur life changing injuries) or kill the child. This is not hypothetical but a real moral and legal dilemma for the manufacturers of self-driving cars. Is their legal responsibility to the owner of the car or to other road-users? There is no legal requirement for a driver to risk or sacrifice their life to save another. Supposing the car is programmed to risk your life rather than kill the pedestrian, but now the person running across the road is a terrorist with a gun whom you are trying to stop with your car.

You might think this is going off-topic, but having a moral perspective, values and a big picture view are all important for the right decisions to be made every day.

Even the best AI lacks these things and for those who believe these issues will be sorted in the future, the answer is that we might not need to wait after all. Many in the AI field believe these kinds of issues can only be solved if AI moves to a biological architecture (rather than digital), that it requires consciousness, self-awareness and intentionality. If correct, then these attributes already exist in what we currently call humans.

hfx CEO wins Excellence Award

cup-1010909_1920Nick Whiteley, our CEO, has just been listed in the Global CEO Excellence Awards of CEO Monthly magazine[i]. Awarded Best Workforce Management Business Leader and the Excellence Award for Absence Management Solutions (UK), both awards form part of CEO Monthly’s programme to recognise the CEOs responsible for driving change while successfully managing the day-to-day operations within an organisation.

We are thrilled that Nick has been chosen along with other leading CEOs for his outstanding achievements.  It recognises his leadership and innovation in the development of our next generation product and underlines our position as a leading provider of workforce management solutions in the UK.

Recently Nick has led HFX’s development strategy to design solutions that address the need for today’s organisations to capture and analyse data to provide insights for employee efficiencies. We have focussed on developing powerful solutions that are simple to use and integrate, which is no easy task, but reaps benefits for our customers.

Our Time and Attendance solution, now combined with Access Control and 3D Rostering, forms our next generation system. It enables organisations to gain an important multi-dimension view of staff activity, to identify where costs are going and optimise plans and workforce accordingly.

We are already seeing rapid uptake of our solutions with many new customers facing these workforce challenges. It builds on our expertise of helping organisations to manage working hours transparently and equitably, improving productivity and employee wellbeing.

If this sounds like a challenge that your organisation is facing, then it’s time to talk to us.

Nicola Smart, COO, HFX

[i] For more information on the 2018 Global CEO awards, Sponsored by Hospitality Minds, https://www.ceo-review.com/2018-the-2018-global-ceo-excellence-awards-press-release