A quick guide to the tech terms HR needs to know
Est. Read Time: 4 min.
Confession time. How many of us gloss over confusing tech terms when we come across them in an article? Or nod along in agreement during a stakeholder presentation when, deep down, we’re really not sure what an API is? You’re not alone.
HR’s vernacular is quickly evolving to include terms that were once only spoken by IT, development and security teams. And, no matter which HR function you live and breathe—benefits, recruitment, operations—they’re all being influenced by tech talk. To help, we put together a quick, plain-language guide to the most common terms and what they have to do with HR.
Accessibility: The degree to which a software program’s design enables it to be used by the widest possible range of users, which typically means accommodating those with impairments that are permanent (e.g., people who are deaf), temporary (someone with an ear infection), or situational (someone who’s in a noisy location).
Agile HR - A methodology that involves dividing larger tasks into shorter phases of work and conducting frequent reassessment, adaptation of plans and continuous improvement. When HR adopts an agile methodology they’re able to respond and adapt to organizational and technology changes.
Application programming interface (API): A set of rules that makes it possible for one application to “talk to” another application. APIs allow an application to extract information from another service or program and use that information in its own application. An example is an API that makes it possible for your HR Service Delivery platform to pull in employee data from your HRIS.
Artificial intelligence: An umbrella term that includes any technology with the capability to mimic human intelligence, such as learning, problem solving, pattern recognition, decision making, and language translation. It can be used to augment human tasks so that HR can work more efficiently.
Augmented intelligence: The use of artificial intelligence to assist and complement--rather than replace--human capabilities. In the HR space, augmented intelligence can boost HR’s capacity to focus on creative, innovative programs and solutions.
Big data: The staggering volume of information available at any given time coupled with technology’s ability to process it at superhuman speed and translate it into detailed analytics that help HR make fact-based decisions.
Conversational care: A service technology based on the modern way we communicate. Like text messaging, it uses a single channel for threading together conversations between employees and HR representatives, rather than discrete and scattered messages (like an inbox).
Cloud-based technology: Solutions and applications that are delivered to a user’s computer and other devices through the internet instead of an on-premise server. This provides faster computing ability, easy and frequent upgrades, greater flexibility and scalability, and access from any location or device.
Design thinking: A human-centered process for creative problem solving. According Ideo, the agency to coin the term, “It encourages organizations to focus on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes.” For HR, this approach can be used to create meaningful employee experiences and improve processes.
Digital employee experience: The collection of interactions employees have with technology as they use it to navigate key lifecycle events at their organization, such as on-boarding, promotions, parental leave, etc.
Digital transformation: The adoption of technology within an organization that involves not only replacing manual systems with digital ones, but also redesigning processes and structures so HR can operate more efficiently and agile.
Digital workplace: A term that encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace, including e-mail, conferencing tools, and knowledge portals. It’s often used to describe the degree to which an organization’s employees can work without being tied to a single physical location, like an HQ office.
Employee self-service: The ability for employees to independently access information, policies and procedures through a central portal from any device (mobile or desktop), any location (home or work), and at any time (during office hours or the weekend)—without any HR assistance.
HR technology stack: The combination of best-of-breed HR technology products that integrate with one another, eliminating manual, duplicative work while creating a better digital experience for employees, managers, and the HR team itself.
Machine learning: A subset of artificial intelligence, machine learning is a computer system’s ability to perform a task—and get better at performing it—without specific instructions. Instead, the system relies on past experience, patterns and inferences. One application within HR is a system’s ability to recognize the type of HR document at hand and automatically classify it in the right folder, without having to tell the system where to file it.
Multi-tenant SaaS: A method for deploying cloud-based technology in which a single configuration services multiple customers, resulting in fast implementation time and automatic upgrades (avoiding the need to pay for new functionality or use IT resources).
Natural language processing (NLP): An AI technology that deciphers human language. It provides more than rote translation; it discerns emotion, context and subtleties which enables machines to think and speak like humans. In HR, it can be used to analyze open-ended employee survey responses.
Robotic process automation (RPA): Technology used to automate repeatable tasks without the need for human intervention. It deploys a “bot” that mimics the repeatable actions a human would typically perform in a software application, such as processing a transaction, triggering a response, or manipulating data.
Role-based access: A security feature that allows a software administrator to control the level of access certain roles have in regards to specific data or documents. For example, with role-based access in an HR Service Delivery platform, an administrator can indicate that only HR representatives in Spain can access documents for Spain employees.
Sentiment analysis: A technology function that translates free text into qualitative data which gives insight into underlying mood, attitudes and opinions. It can be used to analyze employee survey data for adverse emotions, such as unhappiness or frustration, helping HR better manage turnover.
Unstructured data: Data that typically takes the form of text, images, video or sound, unlike structured data which tends to be numbers-based (birthdates, transaction information). Unstructured data isn’t as easily organized, analyzed, and understood as structured data, but NLP-powered technology is making it possible.
User experience (UX): The overall perception a user has when interacting with a product, company or service. An HR technology has a good UX if it enables its users to work fast and efficiently, and makes them feel empowered and in control. Within HR, the term has been adapted to refer to the employee experience.
User interface (UI): The part of a software program that users can see. It’s everything they interact with to control what a program can do. The UI can include the menu bar, search box, buttons, etc. A good UI is designed to be intuitive so that a user instinctively knows how to operate it with little to no training.
That wraps up our list of the top tech terms HR needs to know as the industry grows increasingly digital. What other confusing tech terms are you hearing? Let us know in the comments!
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About Jolene Nicotina
Jolene Nicotina is the Content Marketing Manager for North America at PeopleDoc, Inc. She works on making sure HR professionals have all the latest information they need related to HR service delivery, HR technology, and PeopleDoc, Inc. Prior to PeopleDoc, Jolene worked in marketing communications for the healthcare technology industry.