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    « A Reader asks: How to get more 'Strategic'? | Main | HR Technology Conference - Take Your Chances »

    HR Technology Conference - Silos

    Two of the consistent themes that I picked up on at the HR Technology Conference were:

    One - Most, (if not all) of the Talent Management vendors (SuccessFactors, Taleo, Halogen, Salary.com, etc.), are working diligently to expand the breadth of their offerings. Some are introducing new modules to their suites (SuccessFactors now offers ATS capability for example), entering into partnerships with other vendors (Taleo with Learn.com) or building more functionality to 'compete' with or at least offer an alternative to traditional HRIS vendors for the coveted 'System of Record' position.Flickr - Zoom Zoom

    Two - One of the most significant barriers to success in the implementation of these so-called Integrated Talent Management suites are internal organizational silos.  Said differently, in large organizations the Talent Acquisition, Compensation Planning, core HR, and Training and Development groups are separated in the company, are many times working at cross-purposes.  The needs of these different groups often have to be reconciled, and sometimes compromised to 'fit' into an integrated solution.

    I heard this 'silo' issue at least three different times at the conference, and after being initially surprised it began to make perfect sense. The larger a system footprint gets, the more internal process and functions it impacts, the more people have to be involved, and the greater the need for increased coordination and collaboration.

    The larger systems get, the more complicated they are to implement, and the more likely that some area of the organization will not get what they want.  This is almost unavoidable, and the reason why most of these Talent Management vendors have risen up in the first place is this phenomenon in the ERP market.

    I think the challenge going forward for the vendors themselves, and for the customers looking to implement these ever expanding systems is to avoid the issues faced by the large ERP systems.  There is a fundamental difference as some of them transition from their position as 'Best-of-Breed' to something much larger.

    Developing, selling, and implementing large systems that cross so many processes and organizational functions is a much more complex undertaking that slapping in a new stand-alone ATS or online Performance Management tool.  Customers will have to be smarter, vendors will need to get better at supporting these implementations, and HR and business leaders had better be prepared to deconstruct their silos.


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      It's easy to assume that it will always be the cheapest price that wins. It is not the case in the public sector

    Reader Comments (21)

    Nice post, thanks it make sense to me. I've learn new things actually.

    October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEricksonx

    Steve, you have highlighted the great level of effort and complexity divide between those who design/build/sell/buy/implement multi-process, especially multi-geography, multi-regulatory HR technology and those who don't. One of the points I made (who remembers in which session?) was that many of the talent management suite vendors moving toward system of record functionality have little to no idea what supporting the full range of regulated functionality entails. Add to that ensuring that payrolls are not put at risk (even if they're outsourced, the system of record drives payroll), that lack of compliance doesn't lead to expensive litigation/regulatory intrusions/reputational risks, and that you can drive corporate financials, and you've got a much bigger challenge than many of the talent management teams have undertaken yet. All can be learned in time, but there are reasons why SOR software for large/complex/usually multi-national if not global companies is pretty bulky and why those implementations are fraught with peril. The silos issue looms as you've described it.

    October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi Bloom

    @EricsonX - Thanks very much for reading and I appreciate the comments.

    @Naomi - As usual you see the bigger picture and the significant challenges inherent in attempts by Talent Management vendors to encroach on the the traditional ERP or system of record territory. I do wonder if the ones that stick to their core areas and simply try to make them better are pursuing a more effective long-term strategy than the ones that seem to be on a relentless campaign to become somehow the 'new ERP'. Thanks so much for reading and commenting and of course for spending some time chatting at the HR Technology Conference and I very much look forward to seeing you again soon.

    October 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    If HR divisions are organized in silos (for better or worse) then perhaps it makes sense for HR technology to be developed for these silos. Doesn't this support the argument that best-of-breed makes more sense for the HR structure of today's organizations?

    As a technology provider, I want to be providing systems and tools that make HR professionals' lives easier...now. I want to help HR divisions with their current needs rather than forcing them onto all encompassing suites that may (or may not) be relevant 10 years from now. We can cross that bridge when we see where HR organizational structure is going.

    With technology delivered over the Internet, organizations have the opportunity to use the best of the best tools for each of their needs. In truth, if you really think of it from the users perspective, the benefits gained by logging into a single platform do not outweigh the drawbacks of technology that is jack of all trades, master of none. With software delivered online, the unifying factor is the Internet. Whether you log into one website or several websites matters little.

    Beth - I agree with much of your comment. I have seen too many occasions where 'integration' and 'keeping it all under one roof' decisions are made that end up leading to under utilized systems and less than optimal solutions. The problem in so many cases is that the hard work that is required to build integrations between disparate systems can usually be quantified, but the 'costs' to the business of settling for sub-optimal solutions in an integrated suite are often unknown. Real, but not known precisely. I do think best-of-breed still is a perfectly correct strategy for many organizations. Ironically, this was the argument that the talent management vendors have made for years when selling to accounts that had a big ERP system that did contain a (usually) inferior set of competing functionality. Thanks very much for your comments and insights.

    October 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    You make a great point. It's difficult to quantify the benefit of using the right tools versus the tool in front of you.

    I have to say though that the cost of integration is bullshit. (Not what you are saying but what vendors might be charging.) The way the web works, by definition, allows for easy flow of information. Many HR vendors and consultants like to pretend that we are still in the client-server days when developing programs that had to be compiled was very complex.

    I'm going to create an uproar when I say that on the web there is no such thing as integration. There is simply one program spitting out information that is sent over and acted upon by another program. It's not rocket science.

    October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth N. Carvin

    There are some areas where the user experience may be impacted by silos. Even if the systems are web based.
    Integration has value. An address change sounds simple at ESS right? The reality is you may need to pick a new physician and create a benefit enrollment event. Or you want to be on boarded with day 1 coverage . Employees want one and done transactions. Most interfaces are not real-time presented to the ESS- MSS.

    October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

    @Beth - I tend to agree that the costs and complexities of integration are exaggerated by those that benefit from the pre-packaged solution. The end user simply does not care. Give them tools that they can easily use, to allow them to perform their jobs in the most effective way.

    @Debbie - I agree that employees want to completed those kinds of administrative processes in the most efficient and simplest manner. Whether the ESS system is embedded inside an HRIS, or is a separate vendor portal that draws employee data from the HRIS does not matter to them one bit. If the portal can produce a far superior user experience, that the employees can use and perhaps even enjoy, then it may be the absolutely correct move to use a 'best-of-breed' tool. Thanks very much for reading and for your comments.

    October 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Great post as usual and I love the conversation in the comments. From where I sit on the IT side of HR Technology, I know I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on integration of all my "best-of-breed" tools. These are all Web based applications and are all completed disconnected from each from an end-user perspective. I'm not saying that customers should be using integrated solutions over best-of-breed but I have to disagree with Beth about the cost of integration. While the web SHOULD allow for an easy flow of information, that only applies if the vendor solution takes advantage of it. My best-of-bread Talent Management vendor and my Learning Management vendor requires a flat file interface from our core HR system. No real-time interface, no web service, nothing. Even with Web Services the integration is not trivial. Vendors are getting better at delivering integration tools (Workday's Integration Builder wizard comes to mind) but we are still not there yet. I also agree with Debbie's point about the lack of real-time interfaces to ESS/MSS.

    I think companies need to look at the entire cost/benefit angle when selecting best-of-breed versus Integrated Solution. With the popularity of SaaS based best-of-breed systems, it is too easy for HR to select a system without doing proper due diligence on the integration costs/issues and sometimes they end up with a sub-optimal solution.

    Beth/Debbie/Steve - I have thick skin so tell me what you think...

    October 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Krupa

    It would be more fun if I disagreed with Michael Krupa but unfortunately (or fortunately) I agree. My rant on cost of integration was toward the vendors who make an easy thing like passing information securely across the Internet into a costly mess. There is no need for it to be difficult nor expensive.

    Another (controversial) point I will raise is on the need for Integration. We run into situations often where companies feel the need to integrate purely because they think they should rather than because it will add any value. Many systems and tools can run easily, effectively and efficiently without having to integrate. Integration in these cases buys them very little. Sometimes it makes sense to allow a best-of-breed to work on its own. This of course depends on the application itself and for what it will be used.

    @Michael - Thanks very much for sharing your expertise in this discussion. As you are in the middle of these issues every day, your perspective is important. And both you and Beth are correct that this really should not be all that hard, but in fact it usually is.

    @Beth - You are likely right in your observation that integration for the sake of integration is being sold in a major way. Is it always truly necessary? Certainly not. But was it the most overriding theme of the big show? I think yes. Does that mean it is truly important to day-to-day technology decisions? Probably somewhat.

    Thanks both for keeping the conversation going!

    October 7, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    I wonder of all of HR isn't becoming an unnecessary silo. The net effect of social media in other parts of the organization is to break down boundaries. The fact that the organization deals with its stakeholders based on internal organization design is very 20th century.

    Employees are potential employees and investors and customers and contractors and partners.

    Current structures make stakeholders run around between departments. The end of silos between departments is coming at the same time as the brakdown of theose d=same barriers within departments.

    October 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Sumser

    @John - Thanks for the observations. As people transition between these different roles in their various interactions with an enterprise the challenge for HR and the enterprise in general to adapt is significant. In the HR space, and very commonly seen in the HR technology space, so much structure, process, regulations, etc. all center around the defined relationship (employee, contractor, supplier, etc.). Organizations are challenged by both their traditions and the technologies and systems that have evolved over the years the prop up these traditions. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can adapt to these new paradigms.

    October 17, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

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    November 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Integrated Talent Management Systems really do help a lot of companiies. It makes recruiting, compensation and performance management easier. Sometimes it really hard to market and sell these systems, but it comes down to pesentation and explaining all the benefits for the companies to understand its worth.

    Duncan Samuel
    Billing And Time Tracking Software

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    When's the next HR Technology Conference going to take place?

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