Opinion by Hans Mangelschots
"Following the launch of Meta and the reference to a Metaverse, several articles have already been published. One is a bit more stimulating than the other and that also prompted me to investigate. So I stepped into a DeLorean for a journey Back into the Future.
“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” - Dr. Emmett Brown, ‘Back To The Future’.
What I have learned is that a Metaverse goes much further than the virtual reality world that many refer to - and that the former Facebook with Oculus also responds to by rebranding into Meta. It may be a turning point in our digital evolution, but it is more than VR, it is also about a mindset,a culture and even a possible paradigm shift. It is about people.
As an innovation optimist and market analyst, even I was surprised by the world of possibilities that will open up for us on the one hand, but also by the stark contrast with today's frame of reference on the other."
The word "metaverse" generally refers to a virtual world that is outside, on top of, or an extension of the physical world. The word was coined in a 1992 dystopian sci-fi novel, Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson. – Source: Mashable
Innovation, Work, HR & Technology in the 21st century
When we apply the theory "Diffusion of innovations" accordingto Rogers to HR Technology, which takes into account adoption rate vs. time vs. market share, we have to conclude that there are not one, but more innovation waves since the turn of the century. These also appear to be going faster and faster, and that has an impact on HR.
When we step into our imaginary Delorean and take a look at the past, present and future, we see that in each wave there are various dynamics and elements that have caused a new wave of innovation to be launched, again and again.
But what if those dynamics and elements cause a chain reaction that already pioneers a whole new wave and a whole new world? And what if that world doesn't work with the conventional standards of today?
In this diptych, we take a further look at those waves of innovation during the digitization of HR and zoom in on that new world – which extends beyond what Zückerberg would have us believe and for a reason too. To make the evolution and the contrast clear, we will work chronologically.
Wave 1 – Web 1: Processing information & work
In the early days of the internet, it mainly had a value in the Information Economy , with search engines and web browsers as the most well-known products among the home user. These made their money with advertisements.
The largest group of users of software in the workplace were Digital Adopters; people who were not born during the internet age but learned to work with it once it became socially accepted, or adopted at the workplace.
The labour market dynamics used a traditional career vision and the talent supply was usually bigger than the demand. The current workforce could easily be supplemented, so HR could focus on managing work and processes.
Just after the turn of the century, when the internet almost went mainstream, HR was not always the most urgent department to modernize with an equipped software package for Talent Management. So it took a while before one could talk about software for personnel services or a talent management solution in the cloud. Often under the guise of "that way we save paper and space in the archive".
It wasn't until around 2010 that a movement was started to bring the management of personnel with software into the cloud and in the end this fact was also more or less widely accepted – although chances were that it was only a spreadsheet collection.
As stated at the time, software mainly had a function in the information economy; it had to process and store information. In the case of HR, this concerned information about the different processes of HR (and of the work itself). Due to the difficult coding, it was not always easy to implement or create custom software. This often made it an expensive undertaking only wealthy corporations and enterprises could afford first.
Wave 2 – Web 2: Digitization and personalization of Work
The second wave started around 2015, when it turned out that developing and marketing applications on the internet was easier. Entrepreneurs were learning from the rise of the Platform Economy , with e-commerce like Alibaba and Bol.com, consumer-oriented applications like Uber, AirBnB or all kinds of Social Media, which collect their income from linking supply and demand, and gain market share by responding to the expectations of the users.
It is this wave that connects digital adopters, along with the entry of the mobile internet, to digital natives – people who were born during the internet age and have never known anything else. The joint mindset and also the behavior changes in this wave is passed on and reinforced, as it were.
In fact, I would venture to say that the shift to a digital-first human is one of the most profound changes of this century — and it's only in its infancy.
As a consumer in a platform economy, people are also becoming increasingly aware of the choices they can make, of the personalized online services that a good customer can get and they do more and more preliminary research (read reviews).
This has an impact on people's expectations regarding the labour market, on the digitisation of work itself and therefore also on the development of software for HR.
The group of assertive and enterpreneural people who are aware of their competencies and also dare to put them on the market, because there is a demand for them, has been increasing for years - in Belgium, but we can imagine the other European countries have the same context.
cfr. Unizo has increased the number of freelancers in Flanders and Brussels by almost 40% during the last 5 years. (That's almost 40% more people who like to take the reins in their own hands and personalize their work, since 2015 when software development in the cloud went mainstream.)
The labour market thus acquires a hybrid undertone where permanent and flex, autonomous and heteronom talents are recruited. The skills gap, partly due to the digital evolution, cannot be filled quickly enough due to a lack of qualitative, but also quantitative supply. And the offer that is out there is very assertive and self-aware. This is where we are today.
In HR circles, people speak of a Total Talent Management Strategy or Integral Talent Policy in order to be able to use a full potential workforce. HRTech Influencer George Bersin has a very interesting Hybrid Workforce theory about that.
HR Technology also joined the platform economy and focused with cloud-based SaaS models on tackling the challenges on the labour market; attracting the right talent, matching talent with vacancies and training, learning at work as a means to optimize retention and maintain productivity, etc.
When Technology developers for HR in this wave become aware that the change of mindset among future talent is also accompanied by different expectations and the attitude of self-awareness, the focus is on the digital experience of the employee (Employee Experience) and how this can strengthen the appeal of a company. Organizations can maintain productivity, can improve learning and optimize retention by meeting the expectations of these future Career Owners.
A big difference with the previous innovation wave is that we see a huge diversification of solutions here, often with pointsolutions that address 1 function or challenge very qualitatively. Artificial Intelligence is also starting to gain maturity and is called in to find, attract, match and/or re-coordinate the necessary talent, but also to optimize the work experience in the back-end by automating administration and other tasks.
Also during this wave, an evolution is taking place today towards a low-code model with open API's (application programming interfaces) that allows collaboration and integration with different solutions to form one qualitative HRTECH Stack without too high implementation costs (a Digital Employee Experience or a Candidate Experience solution with an app marketplace, for example).
The many investments in the HR Technology market in the past record year – with millions of dollars invested in recruitment solutions, in low-code talent management systems and innovative learning solutions – confirm that we are almost at the top of our adoptionGauss curve during this second Innovation wave.
Finally, Covid19 has not been a disruptor in terms of innovation, but an accelerator. The Tech was already there, it was the adoption that was accellerated.
Remote Work can now be perfectly organized and even optimized in many cases, dispite the difficulties at the beginning and some unforeseen bumps in the road that clearly do not yet make it generally accepted. I.e. some people are only compfortable while they retain central control, while this may be of secondary importance in the future. If these people felt that during Covid19 digitization went fast, one does not yet realize what is coming.
In the next part, an extra long edition, we look ahead to the third Innovation Wave and why it can lead to an inevitable paradigm shift in the medium term...
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