Federal HR Technology – The Legacy Party is Over

The slow pace of change within the federal government has been spoken, written and joked about countless times over many years.

As GovLoop points out, one of the main stumbling blocks for agency leaders has been the pace of government change. Millennials are quick to adopt new technologies and programs. But the government is not.” And the Washington Post reports that federal managers often feel government is too slow to adopt state-of-the art systems.” 

HR technology, including recruitment, performance management and learning software, has historically just another example of how slowly change comes about – or doesn’t come at all.

But finally, as frustration with the old ways increases and there is a growing recognition that modernization provides huge benefits (such as reduced costs, improved productivity, better-performing workforces, enhanced HR capabilities and more), agencies are now more inclined to look for new ways of operating to achieve their mission in the changing federal landscape.

A preference for innovation over legacy

In a joint study to explore the root causes hindering modernization efforts across federal agencies, Public Spend Forum and Censeo Consulting Group found that a majority of respondents agree that they prefer seeking solution strategy and design advice from outside of their incumbent vendor – only 8 percent disagree and prefer incumbent vendors. The study further found that only 36 percent believe incumbents should frequently play a role in designing a modernization solution.


If these were polling numbers for an election, the race would be declared over before any ballots are cast.

And that’s what I’m seeing also, as federal HR leaders, together with their IT counterparts, are more often now saying “enough” to their tired, inflexible legacy systems.

Free Blueprint: HR Service Delivery for Federal HR Leaders

The move away from legacy HR systems now appears firmly underway. For example, just about all federal agencies have long had automated talent acquisition systems. But these systems have run their course, and for more and more agencies, a new way forward is required to address the challenges of today’s workforce.

Those older systems, designed in the early 2000s, filled a necessary gap at the time. But the world is of course much different now, even in the federal arena – even with its slow pace of change. More regulations, new and changing requirements, more security risks, bigger threats of exposure and more external systems and data to interact with.

One size does not fit all, and what fits one day will not fit tomorrow.

The need to adapt

As agencies try to adapt, they’re learning that their years-old legacy software makes change expensive and difficult, if not impossible.

On the talent acquisition and recruitment front, regulations keep changing and agencies need to quickly adapt to the changes – and also adapt to a new environment and a pool of younger, mobile and demanding applicants.

For performance management, the majority of agencies are still mired with a “pen-to-paper” review process. With federal employee engagement and morale at low levels, leadership development is an ongoing challenge. In addition, a wave of impending retirements mean agencies need to move fast to bring improvements. HR leaders have learned that their legacy solutions make any of these necessary changes nearly impossible.

Exacerbating the problem, there is often no data (or inadequate data) to provide HR agency leaders with insight to problems and how they can be corrected:

  • Where are the bottlenecks?
  • What will the impact of turnover and skill gaps be?
  • What recruitment practices are working and which are not?
  • What onboarding practices are best?
  • Which employees are ready to fill positions and become leaders?
  • Who is at risk of leaving?
  • Why are people on some teams leaving their agency but other teams are thriving?

The list of questions goes on and on.

Legacy systems generally can’t answer any of them or adapt to the changing landscape. It’s often too hard, too time consuming and too expensive to manipulate the system.

Furthermore, today’s users of federal HR technology don’t want to be told how to run their HR departments and their processes. They don’t want to be told how they can achieve their talent management goals. They want to keep their processes that work, but bring efficiencies and improvements to them.

Agencies need to improve their sourcing, recruitment, assessment, hiring, onboarding, retention, engagement, succession planning and employee development – but only under their terms. Let the system adapt, not the other way around.

Fortunately, innovation in federal HR technology is here — the legacy party is over.

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