It is just over 18 years since Dave Ulrich first started talking about HR Transformation in the form we know it now. During that time, many promises have been made but not delivered, and HR has mostly not transformed itself as envisioned, but rather evolved gradually.

What Was The Vision

In his 1996 book “Human Resources Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering results”, Ulrich proposed that the HR function should transform by:

  • Creating centres of expertise and shared services, rather than all HR staff trying to cover all HR areas
  • Hence creating efficiencies and therefore cost savings
  • Freeing themselves up to become a strategic partner to the business

This rapidly became the prevailing orthodoxy in HR, although at that time, the idea of HR being a “strategic partner to the business” provoked scepticism or even ridicule in many boardrooms because of the low esteem in which the HR function was held.

How did it Change

As this approach matured, HR increasingly looked to technology as the enabler of transformation,  because administrative tasks would be executed by employees and managers via self service, instead of HR having to do them.

The Promises of the ERP vendors

The makers of HR software seized upon the vision outlined for HR Transformation and promised ESS and MSS to support the transformation in delivery model. But they lacked the infrastructure, Internet standards in areas such as browser compatibility, security etc were fragmented or non-existent,  and the general population was not sufficiently used to working with browser based software to enable self service to catch on. In effect, ERP vendors exposed already hostile data entry screens to employees and managers who had little appetite, little understanding of HR constraints/needs and were often provided with little or no training.

Niche companies made money out of building more user friendly front ends, either as bolt-ons or as bespoke solutions for individual companies determined to pursue the transformation vision. But the tipping point for adoption had not come.

The Time is Now

The creation of Workday’s HCM product constituted a step change in the technology available to support HR Transformation. At last, a new generation of HR software, designed for browsers, indeed for phones and tablets, has brought much more user-friendly self service to employees and managers.

At the same time, the majority of the end user population is much more familiar with interacting with browser based systems – through online check-in, purchasing goods and services, online banking, iTunes, Facebook etc. This is not a trivial change – the concepts of drop-down lists, scrolling, check boxes, dynamic screen changes as items are selected, icons etc,  familiar as they are to those of us who have worked in the IT industry, have taken their time to become ubiquitous.


The time has finally come when technology epitomised by Workday’s HCM product means that the vision and aims of HR Transformation can finally be achieved by most organisations. The vision was valid from the beginning, but now the tools are available to realise it.