Mobile HRMS: Native Apps vs. Web-Access

HRMS is well and truly on the go. The clear benefits of giving your people mobile access to process-based self-service – such as absence requests, team scheduling, employee directories, e-payslips, and of course their own personal employee records – are well-documented and can boost engagement and collaboration just by empowering workers. But as offerings become more sophisticated there is some debate over which is best for your mobile workers, a web HRMS app or a native HRMS app.

What's the Difference

So, what’s the difference? Put simply, a mobile app is a piece of software designed to be run on a mobile device. A native app is one that is ‘native’ to a particular brand or device; i.e. it’s written for and runs on iOS but if you want it to run on a BlackBerry a different version of the software must be written; likewise for Android, Windows, etc. Whereas a web app is accessed via a web portal using standard browsing software.

Native apps are still by far the most common and the type we are all more familiar with in our daily lives: all those hundreds of thousands of applications available through the Apple App Store or Google Play, all designed to run on a specific device operating system. For obvious reasons, smartphone and tablet manufacturers are keen on software designed just for them. But when we factor in the current workplace tide of BYOD which leads to a wide variety of mobile device brands and models in use, and all by people who need to access the same functionality, a web HRMS app that just needs a simple browser to function begins to look much more attractive.

Many of the big HR vendors – Kronos, Workday, etc. – may offer native apps in different ‘flavors’ to support their HRMS offerings; after all, they have the R&D departments to come up with such options. However, as the number of smaller cloud/SaaS vendors increases, expect to see a proliferation of web HRMS apps on display.

Convergent App Evolution

The cost demarcation becomes even more defined when an organization looks into having its own apps designed in order to offer its people a ‘branded’ mobile HRMS experience and functionality. If the company has a bulk deal with Blackberry then commissioning a native app to run on that OS makes sense, but if it has an embedded BYOD program then having several versions of that native designed will send the project budget spiralling.

One thing to bear in mind is that web and native app evolution is likely to be convergent in that the distinction for the user will become increasingly hard to define (native apps will access the web for certain functions, and web apps will have an ‘offline’ mode). The main differences in the designs are architectural. But until the day when we all we have are true hybrid mobile HRMS, one way to view it might be to bear in mind the difference between buying a bespoke suit from a tailor and buying an outfit off the shelf. A bespoke native app will almost certainly be a better fit for the device – it doesn’t rely on web access and will probably run smoother and faster. However, the web HRMS app has a greater reach, wider applicability, are cheaper and quicker to develop and may have (excuse the pun) a longer shelf life.

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall