Rise of Super Apps

Most of us could not live without our smartphones.  It helps us stay connected, find directions, remember the lengthy lists of duties and responsibilities, and entertain ourselves throughout our day. About half of the world has made the transition and more will surely follow.  According to the Mary Meeker internet trends report, 51 percent of the world or 3.8 billion people are using the internet in 2018.

For most of us, we use single apps when on our smartphone.  We select one at a time to address whatever need we might have or amusement we desire.  Over the last 20 years, the prevailing model has been to develop single purpose apps that focus on one issue and make it is easy and intuitive as possible.  This design characteristic not only made the apps small and easy to use, but also made them scalable to larger markets over time.

A counter-trend arising in China and other developing regions is the super app.  Mike Lazaridis, the founder of Blackberry, described a super app as “…representing a new class of mobile applications that make you wonder how you ever lived without them.” More specifically, it is a closed ecosystem of “many apps” that people would use everyday “…because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience.”  So, the super app combines the major functionality that one might use on a regular basis, such as logistics, local delivery, commerce, payments, and social interaction and concentrates those functions into a single application. For advertisers, it keeps users within the same app longer and for users it brings their major needs together in a streamlined, integrated, and easy-to-use package.

As human resource professionals, what can we learn from super apps?

One of the most important lessons pertains to the need for multiple skills within the same package.  While there are still some occupations that the most important worker parallels the single app by having one key strength the organization relies upon regardless of the presence or absence other capabilities, most workplaces demand employees align more with super apps by meeting a number of workplace needs.  For example, a recent ARG survey of 250 talent executives inquired to which skills are needed at your organization regardless of the level and role of employee (see Figure 1).  Willing to learn new knowledge, skills, and abilities received the most support with almost 80 percent of executives indicating that this was the number one area of need. Communication scored a close second place with 72 percent of talent executives expressing concerns over internal communication skills. It is interesting to note that technical or job-specific knowledge fell in the middle at around 55 percent and leadership potential appeared in the bottom third.   

Figure 1: Skills in Demand by Talent Executives
Figure 1: Skills in Demand

Another strong similarity pertains to importance of hard and soft skills.  Just as most jobs have multiple skill-based needs, a strong contributor will possess both, hard and soft skills. While hard skills were thought to be more important than soft skills in the past, thinking has transformed.  In most workplaces, hard and soft skills are equally important.  However, both are not in equal supply.  A 2016 LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers in the U.S. revealed that 59 percent believe that soft skills are difficult to find.

Finally, with the complexity of the modern workplace and challenges in the labor market, job expectations are only going to be more diverse and complex in the future.  As more automation and robotics can be used to address workplace needs, employees will have to offer broader capabilities. In some ways, possessing the skills necessary to be able to address complex and changing needs will give human employees an advantage over their machine competitors.