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    « First Impressions | Main | A Reader asks: How to get more 'Strategic'? »

    HR Technology Conference - Choosing Technology

    Wrapping up observations from the HR Technology Conference in Chicago with a question that I get all the time in one form or another:

    What solution is the best for (insert among the following: ATS, Performance Management, Comp. Planning, LMS, collaboration, idea management, etc.?)

    The answer, as always is: 'It depends'.

    I know, classic consultant-speak cop-out. And while Salary.com did a great presentation in the HR Technology Shootout, easily out pacing SAP, Lawson, and Plateau in the minds of the conference attendees, does that mean that they offer the 'best' solution? Honestly, for large portions of the shootout, the solutions presented were fairly indistinguishable from each other.

    It is not really possible for an observer, even a relatively informed one, to give a quick answer to the question. There are so many variables that have to be considered in determining what the 'best' solution is for a given organization's unique set of problems.

    So while I can't tell you what technology is the 'best', I can offer a few suggestions to help evaluate from the literally thousands of HR Technology providers.

    Understand the problem - What are the business problems you are trying to solve? 'We need Talent Management technology' is not good enough.  Try to focus on the most pressing current issues that need attention, while also considering the state of the organization three years out.

    Know your capabilities - How proficient are your end users with technology? If you are deploying a new system for employee performance management, the primary users of the system will be first-line managers.  Make sure you understand their ability, motivations, and what is in it for them before making the final decision on a vendor.  Better still, include some of these end users on the selection team. Do you have internal IT support? Are there company rules on data privacy that make implementing solutions hosted on the vendor's servers unappealing?

    Learn the market - Not easy, but necessary.  You have to avail yourself of all available resources to learn about the vendors in the market space. Obviously attending the big HR Technology Conference is a quick way to get in front of representatives from all the major vendors in the space. Most vendors typically offer periodic webinars and/or recorded demonstrations of their solutions, and many even offer free trials of their solutions. But beyond assessing capability and features, and assessing gaps in functionality, take a long hard look at the market position of the vendor.  Are they financially stable?
    Are they on some larger firm's takeover radar? Do they have a commitment to continuously innovate, and are those innovations easily applied to all customers?Flickr -8 Skeins

    Trust, but verify - Obviously many if not most vendors will tell you what (they think) you want to hear. If a needed feature is not currently in the solution offered, many vendors will promise that it is coming soon, or if you enter into contract with them, that they will add the feature for the customer. Historically, one method of 'verification' of vendor claims or promises has been the customer reference. The vendor provides a hand-picked list of their current customers that the prospect is encouraged to contact to learn more about the customer's experience with the vendor. But of course since all the customer references are vendor-supplied, how do you know how much to trust the information you get from these references?

    Leverage your networks - An advantage of cultivating and maintaining an active network of HR and HR Technology professionals is the ability to connect with current and future users of a given technology solution. Posting questions on LinkedIn groups, or in LinkedIn Q&A, or on Twitter can almost certainly yield relevant information and additional connections that are not necessarily filtered through the vendor's prism. Just like you read the reviews on Amazon.com before you plunk down for that new plasma TV, take the time to uncover some independent insights on the technologies you are considering.

    Investing in new HR Technology solutions can be one of the most important decisions that you organization makes, effecting employee productivity, engagement, and ultimately business performance.

    Better choose wisely.

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    Reader Comments (7)

    Nice piece Steve. Great point with regard to customer references and reaching via their networks(i.e. Twitter) a bad selection in some cases can impede the process more than no selection and as you said there are many systems that are so similar anything but the informed consumer can get locked into a solution that may not be the best choice for them. Research takes time, but that extra effort always pays for itself (one way or another). Thanks for the frank and concise update.

    October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTraci

    Steve- great post , thank you. Are you aware of any published material for buyers that compares vendors on both key functionality and financial stability?

    October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

    Steve, you already know my thoughts on scripted scenario demos where those scenarios are written not only to illuminate how well a product supports a business need but also to illuminate the underlying object models and applications/data architecture. It's not just about what a product does but also how it does it and with what systemic capabilities it supports a wide range of related scenarios. Naomi's "killer" scenarios are designed to do this double duty.

    October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi Bloom

    I've consulted on the SAP HR module for a long time now, and have seen it work great for some companies and terribly for others, time after time. The difference between success and failure seems to me not so much in the software but in how it was implemented (most often by consultants) and how well the organization was able to respond to the changes (ultimately the client's work). Due diligence is often done on the software itself, but not so much on the implementation team or the organization itself - and I think those are two key areas that will determine success or failure, more so than the software's technical capabilities.

    October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Bogner

    Great post, Steve. There certainly are a lot of areas to consider when selecting technology. I agree whole heartedly that the answer is "it depends!"

    One point I'd like to add is the one that is most difficult to quantify on the features and benefits spreadsheet. It's about the work ethic, values and philosophies of the technology provider and its staff. Technology is technology but it takes a special company to go the extra mile to make sure that you are getting what you need from the technology and are satisfied day in and day out. If you can seek out a company that will drop everything when you have a problem or question and treat you like gold (because that is what you are!) then you have found a true partner.

    I do think references are of value (even if hand-picked by vendor). If you ask the right questions you can hear the enthusiasm or lack thereof in their voices. I also like Steve's suggestion of seeking out others who are familiar with the technology and the provider. All clients, hand-picked and otherwise, should be equally enthused.

    @Traci - I think you are 100% correct that it is so worth taking the additional time for research and due diligence. Some 'extra' effort up front almost always pays off in the long run.

    @Debbie - There are a couple of sites (Capterra, CompareHRIS) that do some of what you are referring to, but I am not aware of any sites that truly compile functional reviews alongside user or customer ratings. This would be a pretty cool site to start up, don't you think?

    @Naomi - I left out my top recommendation for choosing HR Technology - 'Call Naomi' :). But there is only one of you and lots of companies evaluating technology!

    @Steve - Totally agree that the selection of software is really only about 20% of the project (maybe less). So many of the major vendors all offer more of less the same basic functionality, the trick is the alignment of resources, commitment to change, and effective leadership to steer the project to a successful outcome. All of which are significantly harder than just making the initial selection.

    @Beth - A superb point, and one that I really should have included in the post. Does the vendor truly invest in the customer success, beyond the contract, or the go-live date? The ultimate success or failure is in the ongoing and hopefully enduring value derived from the technology, and that only is possible in a true partnership that you describe.

    Thanks all for the fantastic comments!

    October 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

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