How Standards Bolster Innovation

A Quick Look into the Past

Towards the end of the 19th century, electrical engineering became one of the core engines of the second industrial revolution. As Nicholas Carr put it, in "The Big Switch," manufacturing energy provided factories "with a decisive advantage over other manufacturers. The company was able to expand the yield and efficiency of its factory. [...] Like other factories of the time, they were as much in the business of manufacturing energy as manufacturing goods". This of course, quickly changed, as power plants started to rise and provide energy at a low-cost to everyone.

An aspect that is often overlooked in that story is that none of this could have happened without the emergence of standards.

At the time, each factory was producing energy its own way, and with different characteristics. From the voltage it produced to the way electricity was carried from production to consumption, each factory had a unique manner of doing it. Recognizing the lack of efficiency, most major players met and agreed on defining standards for all aspects of electricity: volt, ampere, coulomb, ohm, farad, and the shape and form of electrical outlets. This standardization process led the way to the electric grid as we know it nowadays.

Not having to worry about manufacturing energy anymore, factories could, at last, channel their ideas, and their capital, on what was their core business: manufacturing great new products! Moreover, this newly available -and cheap- energy quickly enabled anyone with a good idea to create a business and start manufacturing.

In short, it allowed new ideas and innovation to blossom.

Fast Foward to the 90s

Modern Talent Management solutions started to emerge at the end of the 90s, with a strong focus on Talent Acquisition (that was still called Recruiting at the time). Each solution provider offered deep, and innovative, expertise in a particular process (recruiting, learning, performance ...). Customers, eager to get value from these innovations, were buying left and right. For each process, the best solution! What they quickly discovered, though, was that these best-of-breed offerings, would not easily integrate with each other; which was becoming crucial to reap all the benefits of Talent Management.

So, organizations did the most logical thing: they turned to integrated suites.

Then they discovered something new. Actually, it's the individual recruiters, learning specialists, and other HR professionals who made that discovery: they didn't get access to the same level of innovation that they were receiving with their best-of-breed solutions.

So, organizations were, and are still now, faced with two choices:

  1. They pick a few vendors that are best at what they are doing, and they compromise on the integration of their processes
  2. They pick one vendor that integrates all processes, but they compromise on the depth of functionality

In all cases, they pretty much forego all the innovation that is happening outside of their vendors, as those providers cannot invest in partnering and integrating with everyone that is out there.

A More Open World

Similar to the 19th-century factories who were manufacturing their own energy, nowadays Talent Management providers focus a lot of their energy and capital, on defining API (Application Programming Interfaces) that enable them to connect and integrate with other software providers. The problem is, no two APIs are the same! This means that every time you want to connect two systems, someone has to adapt to the other party's API. And as you increase the number of parties involved, you also increase the costs of developing and maintaining those integrations. This is not an economically sustainable model. Even for the biggest players.

This is why we need standards in the Talent Management space. Organizations of all sizes need to have easy access to all the innovation that is out there. Small startups with great ideas need to have access to clients who could benefit from their new way of resolving new and existing challenges. These two worlds need to know more about each other. Let's connect them!

Introducing HR Open

The funny thing is, these standards for the Talent Management industry already exist!

The HR Open Standards Consortium (stands for Human Resources Open Standards - used to be known as HR-XML), hosts various standards for recruiting, payroll, screening, and more.

Many solution providers already support the standards, especially in some domains (e.g. screening or assessment), and in some regions (e.g. Europe, including European Commission’s projects). Not all providers do support them, though. For various and often counterproductive reasons.

In Conclusion
  • Standards are an enabler for innovation by allowing everyone to focus on delivering additional value rather than re-inventing the wheel and wasting time on plumbing issues.
  • There are great standards in the HR space. You can check them out here! And as clients of talent management solutions, why not request your providers to follow these standards?

Romuald Restout is a Senior level professional with over fifteen years of experience in enterprise software development in a multitude of roles including development, architecture, design, and product management. He served on the HR Open Board for over 13 years.