5 features you need to see in your next-gen Employee Portal

With the average enterprise having 11 separate HR systems that their workers interact with, the need to simplify the digital employee experience is more pressing than ever, especially with 2020’s acceleration of remote working. 

The problem exists whether you have your Core HR system in the cloud or on-premise and so HR leaders are revisiting a buzzword of the 2000s: Portals.

If you’re wrestling with the problem of too many systems causing too much complexity resulting in too much work for your HR service desk, then you should be in the market for a next-gen portal: here’s 5 features you need to be sure are delivered by any solution you evaluate.

1) Interactive pages that allow data entry

Modern-day portal technology blurs the lines between your standard ‘news and knowledge’ intranet and the various ERP systems that provide HR services, removing the traditional friction that occurs when an employee or manager asks themselves “How do I do that?”. 

Using modern integration techniques, you should be looking for systems that can allow workers to enter data alongside all the traditional knowledge and articles you’d see in a regular intranet. Users should not be made to read an article in one place and then have to struggle to find the navigation path to take action. 

Take a look at the screenshot below of a process that most of us will only take once at an organization: leaving.



Figure 1 : Information and action sitting side by side

Firstly, note the language. “Thinking of leaving?” is how employees think, avoiding HR terms like termination or separation. Then, most of the page is dedicated to delivering information and helpful articles, sitting right alongside simple fields to capture the desired leaving date and reason. 

Crucially, modern-day portals can integrate to your back-end Core HR, so that the ‘Save’ button directly hits Workday, PeopleSoft, SAP, or whatever you happen to be using. No ‘service requests’ into HR to do the data entry, it’s all automated, streamlining processes and making everyone’s life simpler. 

The end to end experience is ‘frictionless’ with everything a user needs in one place to complete their tasks. 

2) Go ‘No-Code’ or go home

Not heard of ‘no-code’? Keep an eye out for the term because no-code platforms (versus the alternative ‘low-code’) presents enormous opportunities for organizations. 

Think of the average HR business partner trying to get a new online process changed or digitizing an offline form to deploy online. Invariably a call goes into IT who add it to the list of things to allocate out to their technical developers to action. 

“That’ll take 6 weeks” will be a typical response to the frustrated HR business partner who wants rapid change. 

No-code platforms don’t cut out IT completely but are much simpler and& faster to extend and configure, opening up the available skill pool of people who can make those urgent changes you need fast. 

Take a look at the extract below, taken from ServiceNow’s ‘low code’ platform.


Service Now Low Code Example

Figure 2: Configuring a low-code platform

A seasoned developer might scoff at the simplicity of the ‘low-code’ above. But it’s still code. And most of us can’t code. Low-Code platforms still require that scarce technical resource to be involved in change. 

Now take a look at configuring a similar process in Applaud’s no-code platform. 


Applaud No Code Platform Example

Figure 3: Configuring a no-code Platform

It still requires people with a technical bent to make a change but no developers are needed here. And simpler changes, like changing text on screen or creating new content doesn’t require IT at all, that can easily be managed by HR or HR IS. 

No-code platforms are about to explode in popularity due to the rapid innovation possibilities they open up and their lower cost of ownership. If you’re shopping around, make sure you send ‘low-code’ platforms home.


3) Navigate via Search

When I speak to customers, one of the most common complaints is ‘our workers don’t know where to go to do their tasks’. 

HR software has been mired in the traditional menu structures that you just don’t see in the best consumer digital experiences anymore. The traditional SAP / Peoplesoft menus of yesteryear might have evolved to the more engaging slabs of color from Workday but they are still menus. They hide a multitude of sub-navigation; you need to know where to click to get what you want. 


SAP Employee Menu

Figure 4: SAP Employee Menu


Workday Manager Menu

Figure 5: Workday Manager Menu

Think of how you find things as a consumer. You use search. 

Menus and colorful icons still have their place, of course. We are still conditioned to scan home pages with the common options presented for us. But get past those and no-one has the patience to click around looking for the right link or sub-menu. 

If you’re looking for a next-gen portal then the search should bring back more than employee names and knowledge articles. It should act as the primary method of navigation for the average user. Want to resign? Ask search how to do it and you should be presented with the right option to take you to the right place in one click. 



Figure 6 : Search functionality

4) Mobile is table stakes; you need ‘mobile-first’

Every vendor says they do mobile. But do they do it well? Test them with these questions:

  • Can a non-technical person configure the mobile experience without any coding?
  • Is the mobile experience ‘responsive’ with pages and content automatically rearranging themselves to be ‘mobile-friendly’? 
  • Is there one single set of configuration that controls the content and security across desktop, smartphone, and tablet?
  • Can new content be published immediately without the need for IT deploying a new version of the app or users downloading updates? 
  • Can you brand and rename the app with your corporate identity and colors?
  • Does the mobile version support single sign-on? 
  • Can it be accessed via both native apps and via a web browser?

There’s ‘mobile-enabled’ and there’s ‘mobile-first’. If you get ‘no’s or ‘maybes’ to any of the above questions, you’ll be investing in a platform that doesn’t take mobile as seriously as you do. 

mobile user experience

Figure 6: Applaud's mobile experience

5) Experience Surveys

You have your new shiny portal up and running. Now, how do you measure that the all-important ‘digital employee experience’ is trending upwards?

Heavy-duty employee surveys from the likes of Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey are one way. Pulse Surveys are more effective, randomly popping up, asking a single question like: “Is the current experience any good?”. 

Start collecting feedback from your workers using different apps and then extend to capture information about ‘employee journeys’, like taking feedback at fixed points after onboarding, promotion, or relocation. 

Any modern platform claiming to improve ‘digital employee experience’ should be able to prove it. Look for survey tools and dashboards that collect the reaction of those workers you are working hard to retain.



Figure 7: Capturing feedback on the onboarding experience

So, in summary, when you’re looking to replace your current portal, extend your search to ‘experience platforms’ (at Applaud, we call our solution a ‘Workforce Experience Layer’). You want your solution to see you through this decade. 

Challenge any vendor who doesn’t provide the above 5 features; they’re not ready for the demands your workers and HR team will have in the 2020s.  


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Published October 27, 2020 / by Ivan Harding