The HR software landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years.

The latest HR systems have opened up new, more cost-effective and flexible ways of working, liberating HR professionals from endless admin and helping employees connect in a way that is productive for everyone.

Underpinning this new way of working is a fundamentally different way of developing, delivering and updating HR software.

Top 10 HR Tech Terms What you need to know when evaluating HR software Cezanne HR Blog

Why the HR technology you choose really matters

Not every HR software developer has re-developed their offering to work across the latest technology platforms. Instead, they’ve made do with half measures which, while they appear to do everything you need in terms of functionality, may sell you short.

“Too many vendors today are seeing an opportunity to make big profits in software-as-a-service by taking advantage of client naiveté and simply rebranding older deployment models as SaaS, on-demand, or Cloud. These solutions inevitably fail to live up to customer expectations.” Forrester Research

For example, if you don’t want to be faced with time-consuming and costly upgrades, it’s important to be aware of the underlying product architecture. If the system isn’t multi-tenanted, how does the supplier ensure that none of their customers get left behind when new features are released, and that updates are applied without impacting your users or any of the configurations or customisations you’ve paid for?

For self-service to work, employees have to be able to use the HR system from their device of choice, not just from their work PC. If the vendor hasn’t embraced HTML5, responsive design and mobile apps, that may not be an option.

With so many of us using mobiles or tablets at home or on the move, and expecting to be able to access business applications as easily as we do online banking or shopping, the flexibility to use HR software from any modern device, PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone, can make or break self-service adoption.

Here’s our list of 10 key technologies you need to know when evaluating the latest HR software solutions:

1. SaaS (Software as a Service):

SaaS describes the way that online software is delivered. Instead of buying, managing and updating software, computers, databases, firewalls and all the rest of the paraphernalia need to run your own business applications, customers simply log on via the internet to use the software ‘as a service’.

2. Cloud:

The Cloud is a metaphor for a global network, and now commonly used to represent the internet. Cloud software, or software that is in the Cloud, is used to describe any kind of application that you can access via the internet. This includes older hosted software, as well as the more modern multi-tenanted solutions.

3. Multi-tenanted:

“Multi-tenanted” describes software that’s been built to be shared. A common analogy is an apartment block, where all the tenants share the same infrastructure, but have their own secure space. The landlord is responsible for the maintenance and improvements to the building (the core code), and the tenants look after their own space.

That approach has revolutionised how software is developed, delivered and priced. Since the supplier only has a single code base to manage, new features can be developed more quickly; updates applied automatically; and cost savings reflected in the price that customers pay.

4. Web Browsers:

Web browsers are something we tend to take for granted. It is the software that tells your PC, laptop, tablet or mobile how to display the web page or software you access via the internet – and help keep your devices safe too. You can find advice here on the importance of keeping your browsers up to date. The most widely used browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari.

5. HTML5:

HTML5 is the most up to date version of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the standard programming language for describing the contents and appearance of Web pages. Unlike in the past, the leading PC, laptop, tablet and mobile manufacturers have all chosen to support HTML5. That means software applications developed using HTML5 will work across multiple devices without requiring additional plugins or specialist development.

6. Native Apps:

A native app or application is tailor made for a specific operating system (OS) such as Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. It uses the design standards and software of the specific device to create the best possible user experience. HR software with it’s own native mobile app will be easier and more intuitive to use than a phone’s web browser equivalent.

7. Plugins:

Plugins are generally used to describe a piece of software that needs to be installed alongside a web browser to make something work. One of the best known plugins was the Adobe Flash player which, until the arrival of HTML5, was the preferred way to stream videos and make sites more interactive.

The downside of plugins like Adobe’s Flash or Microsoft’s Silverlight, is that they only worked on some browsers – and therefore on some devices – and this list is getting shorter all the time. If your HR software needs a plugin to run in your favourite browsers, you may want to look elsewhere.

8. Responsive Design:

Tablet, phone and desktop screens come in many different sizes. With responsive design, software is built so that the layout changes based on the size or orientation of the device. For example: on a phone, a user would see content displayed in a single column view, whereas on the PC, the same content could be shown in two columns. Since screen sizes are always changing, it’s important that the software can adapt to any screen size.

9. API:

“API” Stands for Application Programming Interface. In the past, if you wanted to exchange data with another business application – for example, between HR and payroll software – a custom integration had to be developed by the vendor, and updated each time either system changed. The more modern approach is for companies to publish an API, which makes interfaces both simpler and more cost effective to develop. An added benefit is that your own IT team may well be able to build the integrations themselves.

10. Elastic Computing:

The ability to dynamically add in extra computing resources, for example during times of peak usage. If your provider tells you that they have this set up, it means they are optimising their use of technology to bring down costs without compromising their service. The alternative is to pay for extra capacity to cope with fluctuation demand (the rush to complete performance reviews for example), and pass that cost on to customer, or pray that no one blames them when the system runs slow.

Are there other tech terms you think we should add? Just let us know. Or, for another perspective on why SaaS matters, read What’s True SaaS And Why The Hell Should Customers Care? by independent US analyst and internationally recognised CM software expert, Naomi Bloom.

Sue Lingard author image

Sue Lingard

Sue studied Personnel Management at the London School of Economics before taking on management roles in the travel, recruitment and finally HR software industry. She's particularly interested in how technologies enable HR teams - and the people they support - to work better together.