People First: The Ethos, The Tech and The Future
From flow technology and chatbots to a new blueprint for the employee-employer relationship, People First is bringing something totally new to the HR software market. But what about the technology behind the big ideas?
I caught up with Andrew Sephton, Cloud Solutions Architect, to find out how People First is designed and built.
Can you tell me a bit about the process of designing and building People First? What came first – the ethos or the technology?
The ethos behind People First – and the big ideas that set us apart from other HR software providers – was born out of a need for something totally different. Issues around employee engagement and productivity aren’t going to go away without a new approach, and we didn’t see anyone or anything else on the market tackling these problems head-on. So it was more a case of finding ways to tackle these issues through technology.
We wanted to make the experience of using People First as frictionless as possible, from implementation right through to user experience. So one of the original goals was to move away from traditional on-site hosting towards a cloud-based global SaaS (software as a service) model. This allows us to onboard new customers very quickly, as there is no on-site hardware to set up, and regularly ship new features, which customers receive automatically.
When it comes to the ongoing delivery of new features, the Product Team typically comes up with ideas, and we then identify the most appropriate technical solution. The Research & Development team or Architecture may also come up with features based around a new technology, which we can then develop and use to disrupt the market.
What makes People First stand out from a technical point of view?
People First is a multi-tenancy software, meaning we can run many organizations on a single deployment while ensuring that data is kept secure. Thanks to our continuous delivery pipeline, we can deploy new features directly to all customers every two weeks – and we’re working to make this even more frequent.
Then there’s the modular design of People First, which allows us to develop new features without risk to other areas of the application and speeds up deployment. We use a range of technologies – JAVA, .NET and Angular among others – to build People First, and this enables us to pick the most appropriate technology for specific features.
Finally, People First provides all its functionality via APIs, which makes it possible to integrate with almost any other system.
Can you tell me a bit more about APIs?
APIs, or application programming interfaces, allow different software components to talk to each other, providing a greater level of connection and integration between systems. They act as the messenger between components, taking requests one way and returning information the other.
To help visualise this, imagine a waiter in a restaurant. Once you’ve read the menu and chosen what you want, the waiter delivers your request to the kitchen. Then, once the food is ready, the waiter returns your meal to your table. Each time you use a mobile app that connects to the internet, for example, an API is doing something similar.
Our APIs allow users to access the data and functionality we use in People First for their own needs. For example, they can create bespoke reports or synchronise data from a benefits system into People First. In fact, the People First user interface works solely by interacting with these APIs, meaning an external integrator could even create their own user interface if they wanted to.
People First is hosted on the Microsoft Azure platform – what are the benefits of this?
There are numerous benefits to using this cloud platform. First of all, speed of deployment: Azure allows us to deploy People First to most geographic locations within hours, enabling us to provide our solution in new regions across the globe very quickly.
Another reason is agility and scalability. The Azure Platform offers a vast amount of resources, allowing us to scale People First onto more hardware in order to process increases in user demand within minutes.
The Azure platform provides storage services with built-in data redundancy, placing copies of customer data across multiple data centres to allow recovery in the event of a datacentre disaster. On top of this, Microsoft implement best practices at every level to ensure that necessary legislative and security practices are in place for the services we use.
What exciting developments could we see in the future?
People First is still at an early stage in its evolution. As we continue to enhance the functionality for social, flow and insights, new technologies will be integrated, such as the introduction of media services to support remote video check-ins and interviews with candidates. We are also keen to develop machine learning/AI services to identify and predict trends to help employees stay in the flow and simplify HR processes.