Staff Holiday Planning tools, old style, involves spreadsheets.  First seen by me in the early 1980s – around the same time as the film, Back to Future.

I remember when Back to the Future was released and I can’t believe it’s been 30 years!  I was only 18 at the time… I saw it in our local cinema (now a Wetherspoons) and remember enjoying the adventures of Marty Mc Fly as he went back and forward through time in a DeLorean time machine. Men across the world were envious of him.

30 years after the release of Back to the Future, lots has changed… I have three grown up daughters, a granddaughter, a husband and I’m Head of Marketing for Activ Absence as well as editing HR News. Some things haven’t changed.  For example, my husband, who wasn’t born until 1987, still dreams of owning a DeLorean time machine, and many HR teams still use spreadsheets for staff holiday planning.

It may not feel like it, but when I look at technology, I’m actually surprised its only been 30 years.

I take modern tech for granted these days.  We have (between all two of us in our house), 6 pcs, 2 tablets and 4 smart phones.  Both my husband and I are grown up geeks (though I’m a big tad older).   30 years ago my first Saturday job was selling ZX81s and the all-new ZX Spectrums for a high street chain – I didn’t have rich parents and saved for a year to own just one.  (I actually bought my husband a ‘retro’ ZX Spectrum for our anniversary this year, it seems like forever ago when it was brand new and revolutionary to have a computer that didn’t need an entire room to run.)

At that time, widespread internet and email were a new age dream but you could, if you had one of those ‘phone handset receivers’, connect to other computers or a network of bulletin boards (I would say like in the film War Games but then I’d really be showing my age!!)  Mobile phones?  Ha, even in the house, you still used the phones with the old fashioned dial!

In my first day job, to type a letter, we used the first edition of Wordstar, and had a very basic Lotus 123 spreadsheet running on a Tandy computer in the corner.  Most off the shelf computers, including the Tandy, were standalone and every application was specific to that type of machine.   There was an accounts package (we were lucky and tech savvy), but most businesses in those days used a proprietary double entry manual bookkeeping system.  We did our staff holiday planning with paper forms and a wall planner.

The very first edition of Excel spreadsheets (at that time only for the Mac) was also released in 1985 – and excited forward-thinking HR Managers first started to use spreadsheets for staff holiday planning.

A few years later, as ‘IBM compatible’ pcs running MS-DOS began to conquer the IT world, I recall the release of a 386 with 16MB RAM (yes I did say MB!) and was excited!  I watched a first hand tech revolution as packages like Sage accounts became commonplace in SME’s  (I even sold Sage), though larger businesses had to have bespoke systems.  Now, its pretty much unthinkable even for a micro business to NOT use an accounts package and large companies use fantastic ERP systems.

Accounts itself has changed and is now taught in colleges using Sage or Quickbooks – the old double entry systems are redundant.

The first websites and fledgling internet access came later… I built my first, very simple website at the age of 29 (still writing them now at 48!)

In 30 years since ‘Back to the Future’, tech has changed almost beyond recognition.  My phone is infinitely more powerful than the 386 computer I got so excited about.  I don’t have to think about how to get online, I look on my phone first for everything.  If I’m stuck on anything, from illness to business, even for what line of code to use if I’m writing a website, ‘google is my friend’ – and these days people aren’t asking me to help them build websites, they are asking me on how to get on page one of Google – which is more important than making it look nice.

All of this leaping through technology has happened so quickly that we forget that not all areas of business have fully experienced the tech evolution.  Those ‘revolutionary’ spreadsheets from 30 years ago, and even wall planners and paper forms should be completely outdated and classed as ‘vintage’ or a ‘relic’, much like the old ZX Spectrum I bought as a novelty for my husband.

However they are still very much the norm for HR, even in huge organisations.  In 2015, the evolution we saw in accounts in the 80s and 90s is only just starting to hit HR.

One of the reasons that HR hasn’t yet grown at the pace of other tech is that old-style software installations required lengthy rollout projects, with physical software deployments and expensive hardware upgrades.  Accountants drive business change and HR was seen as a low priority.

However, businesses are under pressure to find new savings and drive business forward. and as accountants have investigated and analysed every area of the business, they have begun to realise just how key the HR function is and how vital it is to tackle absence management, performance management and develop people.   It isn’t a choice, it is essential to get a grip on costs, business growth and talent management in order to maintain a competitive advantage in a modern world.

At the same time, the way in which people work has changed, with businesses now operating on a global platform and embracing challenges of remote working, different time zones and multiple legislation changes.

This change is coinciding with the emergence of new cloud based HR solutions, which remove many of the traditional cost barriers and engage users who already use laptops, smart phones and tablets to manage people in ways that were simply not possible before. Remote workers?  No problem!  Global workforce? Easy! Traditional HR challenges and new ones are being tackled alike with relative ease, and getting a grip on  the cost of absence is reducing it by 20-30% in the forward thinking organisations already taking advantage.

The HR revolution has already started, cloud based software solutions are growing at two to three times the pace of on-premises solutions and recent Deloitte[K1]  research shows that 84% of UK businesses are seeking to change the way they handle HR functions.  Online seems to be the way forward and ‘cloud sector’ is evolving at the same rate that pc technology did 20 years ago.

Deloitte identified that cost savings (85%) and greater effectiveness (75%) were the most influential motivators for change and online solutions achieve these objectives quickly–with added benefits,
(a)    your data is held securely off site and
(b)   it’s usually future proof because software updates and technical support are almost always included in the fee and
(c)   It’s very scalable and flexible, and will work equally if you have one or thousands of users.

Activ People HR is not new to the online HR software business.  We first developed module-based HR software about 10 years ago, and while SaaS was in its infancy at the time, its now the way everything is going and we are seeing demand spiral.  We are definitely still at the top of our game – and we are constantly improving our software to cement that reputation.  We’re watching HR transform before our eyes.

In true ‘Back to the Future’ style, I’d love to step forward 10 years, never mind 30.  I’ll wager that HR courses will be teaching hi tech methods, and wall planners and spreadsheets will be a relic of the past, in the way that those old double entry books are now.

The spreadsheets and paper-based systems of old have simply run their course.  They have too many flaws and they are too expensive to use in practice when you consider the implications of HR time, staffing mistakes, a more litigious society and a need for more effective reporting.  Cloud based software is bringing a staff holiday planning revolution!

I’m watching from the periphery as HR is evolving, sacking their spreadsheets and getting online with a great degree of interest, and I’m enjoying the view.

However, looking back 30 years is making me fear just exactly how many tech devices I will have in my home in 30 years time!

Lisa Baker
Head of Marketing