Best of the Lot

Best of the Lot | Human Resource Executive Online The editors of Human Resource Executive® announce their selections for the top HR and training products of 2008. The competition attracted a wide array of solutions that seem to be mastering software integration and the use of Web 2.0 technology, such as social networking, wikis, blogs, video-sharing and other forms of collaboration.

The competition this year for top HR and training products presented special challenges to the editors of Human Resource Executive®. Once again, a record number of entries were submitted and hundreds of hours of research and demonstrations were collectively spent. As in 2007, we came up with 10 top HR and three top training products.

And again, they ran the gamut, from HR management, compensation and time-and-attendance systems to talent-management and training applications. (To be considered, entries had to be released between July 2007 and July 2008 and, as in past contests, they were judged on innovation, user-friendliness and the value they add to the HR profession.)

The 2008 contest, however, attracted a much wider array of solutions that seem to be mastering software integration and the use of Web 2.0 technology, such as social networking, wikis, blogs, video-sharing and other forms of collaboration. The 13 products described below are, in our estimation, the best of those solutions, capable of delivering on their promises and making HR's job easier.

Once again, we remind you to conduct your own due diligence before licensing or buying any of these products.

Top HR Products

TalentManager Succession Planning, Waltham, Mass.

What It Is: TalentManager Succession Planning is a module designed to let users search for candidates based on a combination of requirements including competencies, performance, readiness, potential and promotability. Workers are given their own employee profile, which managers can compare side by side, either by position requirements or by their performance reviews. They can also be compared in the "succession dashboard," which uses configurable data points and assigns descriptors such as potential and performance. Managers can align and realign the order of employees in approved succession plans. The product is typically priced at about 35 percent of the annual license fee for the performance-management models. Pricing is on a sliding scale, starting at $100 per employee and going down to about $5, depending on company size, plus a one-time implementation fee of 50 percent of the annual license fee.

Why We Like It: Considering that many companies hold their succession-planning information in books or binders that aren't easily changed -- or perhaps they have no plan at all -- HR executives should find TalentManager Succession Planning a vast improvement, especially its intuitive user interface, and an easily customizable way to create plans for the future. We especially liked the way the employee profiles read like baseball cards, complete with name, title, picture, risk rating and last performance review on the front. On the back are key talent indicators such as promotability rating, potential rating and number of direct reports. Also worth noting are the collaborative aspects of the software, which set it apart from other succession-planning applications in the market.

Success Profiles: Navigator

Development Dimensions International Inc., Bridgeville, Pa.

What It Is: Navigator is designed to automate job analysis and competency management using a mix of customization, automation and integration with other talent-management providers. Addressing all four facets of DDI's Success Profile platform -- knowledge, experience, competencies and personal attributes required for every job -- it relies on instant access to more than 3,000 benchmark job analyses already conducted by the company. The objective is to bring competency management and performance management together into one service while serving as a central connecting hub for additional software. Users can filter competency data by industry, job level and job function, and receive instant reports on the frequency those competencies were found in each analysis. They can also customize data-collection methods DDI helps them manage. Knowledge and experience facets are also part of the modeling process, relying on a library of more than 3,500 items. In addition, the system helps users choose outside and in-house experts for collaboration and automates voting, card-sorting and categorizing for competency profiles. The price can range from $15,000 to $89,000 depending on company size, number of licenses and the length of the agreement. 

Why We Like It: With organizations growing globally and business strategies always changing, confirming competency models has become an extremely important and challenging process. Navigator not only streamlines and simplifies what is often complex and cumbersome; it also offers a more reasonably priced middle ground between customization and semi-customization, which many in HR have been looking for in the job-analysis space. DDI leads the pack by providing a central hub for all facets of the competency management process, including integration with other talent-management software, thereby taking the integration onus off the customer. Its impressive library of competencies and competency benchmarks further enhances the reliability of what one DDI representative calls "a more predictive, holistic competency management and talent-management tool" -- a description we'll concur with.


eQuest, San Ramon, Calif.

What It Is: Prophesy3 is an end-to-end tracking system that includes analytics, from posting of a job through the hiring process. The tracking includes where, when and at what time a candidate initially views a posted job, measures how many viewers submit a resume, tracks interviews and job offers, and reports on original job-board source as well as cost-to-hire and time-to-hire. The application also allows recruiters to benchmark their metrics and results against the eQuest database. Prophesy3, which can be integrated with most enterprise-resource planning and applicant-tracking systems, costs about $6,000 per year.

Why We Like It: This product offers the information many recruiters have been looking for -- and what experts such as Gerry Crispin of CareerXRoads have been pushing companies to find out: where successful job candidates are coming from. P3 builds on eQuest's earlier product, which helped recruiters better select job boards for specific open positions, but would lose information once an applicant clicked onto a corporate job site. With P3, recruiters can follow each potential applicant's actions from initial viewing of a job posting through the interview, offer and final hire. Recruiters can immerse themselves in the metrics -- and then use that data to improve their sourcing and conversion of job candidates.

Recruiting CRM

Avature USA, New York

What It Is: Recruiting CRM is a candidate sourcing system designed specifically to help firms recruit globally. It's intended to sit in front of an applicant-tracking system and help recruiters search for, find and connect with job candidates and manage the resulting workflow. Its features include a "Web crawler" that searches the open Internet for resumes and additional data about candidates, then downloads the data and filters out essential contact information and indexes it to make it available for fast searching. Recruiting CRM's "parsing engine" creates "Person Records" for each candidate with the intent of making it easier to track candidates electronically. Users can also use the software to search free and paid-subscription job boards, track and consolidate phone, e-mail and chat between recruiters and candidates and build social-network profiles of candidates that can be integrated with LinkedIn, Plaxo, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. The product costs $300 per month for the first user, with additional users costing $250 per month.

Why We Like It: Our first thought upon seeing the name of the company that makes this product, Avature, was "Ava-who?" Turns out Avature's founder is none other than Dimitri Boylan, the founder of HotJobs. With Recruiting CRM, Boylan clearly hopes to revolutionize the recruiting marketplace once again, this time by focusing on the talent pipelines that all forward-looking companies should be building. Although Recruiting CRM isn't perfect (the user interface is a bit cluttered and not as intuitive as we'd like), the product represents a major step forward in making the often messy, time-consuming process of recruiting more manageable and efficient. The product's tagging feature allows recruiters to file candidate profiles based on their personal methods of searching for and organizing information. Its ability to automatically connect to LinkedIn and other social-networking sites and collect data from across the Internet is especially valuable, given the enormous amount of information recruiters must wade through these days. For companies with global recruiting needs, the multi-language capabilities will come in handy. All in all, Recruiting CRM warrants serious consideration from companies in the thick of talent wars.

The Lab

HighRoads Inc., Woburn, Mass.

What It Is: The Lab is a Web-based portal designed to let users compare their health-benefit plans with those of their competitors in real-time, without waiting for the results of vendors' or consultants' self-reported paper surveys. Because HighRoads already updates summary plan descriptions and automates and operates benefit plans for more than 130 companies, it provides updated information on premiums and costs for all types of benefits -- ranging from co-pays and hospital-stay deductibles to reimbursements for alternative and voluntary services. Searches can be customized by company size, industry, location and demographics, and can yield instant charts and graphics illustrating where a company's plan stands in comparison to others. The product also includes a glossary feature as well as reporting capabilities. The Lab is available via subscription service for $4,995 per year.

Why We Like It: With healthcare costs continuing to climb and benefits packages growing in importance to job seekers, the value of accurate and immediate benchmarking information is higher than ever. Because the information is based on actual plans in HighRoads' system and not on paper surveys, HR professionals can trust the integrity of what they're getting and customize it immediately to see exactly where they stand compared to peers. They can also see what's really happening in the market before meetings or presentations, which helps immeasurably when trying to create the best package for their organization at the best price. The visuals are attractive and easy to interpret and understand. We especially like the real-time glossary feature that helps HR navigate through the ever-increasing labyrinth of benefits terminology. All in all, very straightforward and extremely helpful.


JWT INSIDE Track, New York

What It Is: INSIDE Track is an applicant-tracking and measurement product for use by JWT INSIDE clients that's designed to assess the cost-effectiveness of media-communication channels based on a URL-tagging system rather than self-reporting methods. It applies source tracking and application data to any online or offline media placement run through the client extranet -- including job postings, direct e-mail campaigns, billboards, radio spots, print advertisements, traditional direct-mail programs, job-fair flyers, brochures and online buttons or banners. Clients see all media channels displayed with the dollars spent, number of visits to their sites and online applications that the channel generated. Users can also drill down within each media channel listing to the individual media properties used, and can also drill down to specific media placements and transactions. The product is sold on an annual subscription business model. Because it's a data engine, pricing is based on the annual media spend of an individual client and the estimated number of external hires the client will make. For instance, a company that spends $450,000 per year in media and makes 2,000 external hires per year would pay just over $30,000 a year.

Why We Like It: We haven't seen an applicant-tracking tool that can do as much as this, tracking clicks and completed applications for both offline and online media insertions by channel, media property and individual transaction. Incorporating URLs on every source form -- from job-fair forms to ads, banners and online applications -- seems like the logical next step in ATS technology, which is still primarily reliant on self-identified tracking: "How did you hear about us?" JWT INSIDE Track leads the way in making it possible for customers to track, compare and correlate all media channels and garner critical ROI data such as cost-per-click, cost-per-completed-application and what media channels are proving most effective. With budgets and labor pools both tightening, this is crucial information for anyone trying to decide which media sources to use. The graphics are also eye-pleasing and easy to follow. You can really see what money was spent in what ad mediums, and how that money delivered results.

Kenexa SimSJT: Customer Service

Kenexa, Wayne, Pa.

What It Is: Kenexa's SimSJT Customer Service is a Web-based off-the-shelf assessment "simulation" product that uses virtual 3-D environments (remember The Sims? Well, the people populating SimSJT could be cousins) intended to help employers decide if job candidates are cut out for customer-service work before they're hired. SimSJT provides users (job candidates) with a virtual 3-D animated interface that puts them in real situations, with the aim of determining whether they're up to snuff when it comes to delivering high-quality customer service. SimSJT, which runs via Adobe Flash on the Web, asks candidates to show how they would handle specific customer-service situations (it measures eight personality traits and competencies specific to customer service). It's broken down into hotel, retail, apartment-leasing, office and restaurant segments, so employers in those segments can choose their own module. Price-wise, SimSJT will cost employers between $10 to $15 per candidate tested, depending on volume.

Why We Like It: Kenexa is already among the leaders in the talent-management technology space, but SimSJT adds a nice flair to the company's stable of products and services. Mostly, SimSJT is a nifty way to uncover whether or not a job candidate is equipped with the right mind-set to deliver quality customer service. How? By presenting the candidate with some very cool-looking "what to do?" scenarios via a virtual world. And that's a good idea, apparently, as research shows that many candidates for customer-service jobs (especially among some ethnic groups) may be lacking in certain verbal skills but would make great customer-service workers. Using video, audio and animation, the user is drawn into the process. As you experience the SimSJT process, you can understand why it would be effective. Best of all, SimSJT is fun to use -- another boost in helping employers assess and attract the right people to handle face-to-face customer service.

OrgPlus Enterprise Blueprint

HumanConcepts, Sausalito, Calif.

What It Is: OrgPlus Enterprise Blueprint is a SaaS-delivered product designed to take advantage of interactive and collaborative technologies to create organizational charts. The application is an add-on module to OrgPlus' base application. Users can create various scenarios to view the impact of proposed staffing changes, create a "staging" area -- a temporary holding area for unassigned employees and business units -- and produce reports based on approved charts. The system is permissions-based, allowing only authorized users to view and change charts. Working through projected scenarios, users can collaborate on projected organizational changes, and then publish their charts in a variety of formats. Pricing starts at $4,000 for a 1,000-employee organization.

Why We Like It: For some, creating or modifying an organization chart is about as much fun as changing a flat tire: It's tedious, not always intuitive and feels like the loneliest task in the world. OrgPlus Enterprise Blueprint can't change a flat tire for you, but it does alleviate some of the isolation and tedium of organization charting. Taking advantage of its Software-as-a-Service model, this add-on module to OrgPlus lets multiple users collaborate on organization charts, even allowing users to create "what-if" scenarios to project how structural changes may affect the organization. Users with the proper authorization can view and collaborate on an organization scenario -- particularly useful for mergers and acquisitions that require collaboration from departments spanning the country or the globe. Other highlights of the application include drag-and-drop functionality for adding roles to a hierarchy and a useful "staging area," which allows users to place unaccounted-for employees or departments in a temporary area, awaiting assignment.

LinkedIn Recruiter

LinkedIn Corporate Solutions, Mountain View, Calif.

What It Is: LinkedIn Recruiter is designed to let staffing teams search for and connect with active and passive job candidates within the 26 million -- and growing -- group of professionals in 133 countries who've set up LinkedIn profiles. Searches can be targeted by keyword, education, geography or skills. The product also lets recruiters seek referrals from those in LinkedIn to other potential job candidates, uses an "InMail" system to reach prospects, supports OFCCP auditing and provides collaborative tools that allow recruiters to share profiles and projects with their colleagues. A clipboard feature allows for better organization of information, as recruiters can use it as a staging area for candidate information while searching and then export the information to various projects or databases. The information collected can also be easily linked to a company's applicant-tracking system. Pricing is $7,000 per recruiter, per year, with discounted volume rates.

Why We Like It: The biggest advantage to the product -- and the target of some criticism -- is that recruiters have access to the database of professionals who signed up for a social-networking site only to find that it is now serving as a sourcing site for recruiters. The company notes, however, that only those who opt in to the service will be contacted. Plus, the use of InMail means no contact information is disclosed unless the candidate wants. From a recruiter's perspective, the tool offers an easy way to access the always-in-demand passive candidate and, for the company, the dashboard set-up means all information remains with the company and is not in any recruiter's account.

HireRight Enterprise

HireRight Inc., Irvine, Calif.

What It Is: This enterprise-wide screening-management solution allows users to request and oversee criminal-records searches, employment and education-history verifications, I-9s and credit reports, motor-vehicle records searches, drug tests and more. Searches can be international or state-specific. The dashboard -- a first for management of screening activities -- displays summaries and real-time progress on all requests, offers a library of letters and e-signatures for compliance and provides workforce analytics. The application can be integrated with other applicant-tracking systems. The HireRight Enterprise platform is free to large clients, with a slight charge for integration to companies using it as a stand-alone system. Pricing for services ordered and managed through the system vary. For a company with 10,000 employees hiring 1,000 people per year and using a relatively standard collection of screening services, the cost would be about $60,000 a year.

Why We Like It: This is the first application that uses Web 2.0 features to manage the lifecycle of the screening process, and the new platform allows recruiters to easily see detailed information by moving their mouse over different elements on the page. The new platform also allows for simple back-and-forth toggling between menus without users having to stop one process to begin another. We also like the potential time savings enabled by the ability to process up to five applicants with just one click, as well as the increased emphasis on sharing information by being able to flag the status of background reports, including hiring managers in the process and adding comments in a status report. And the dashboard neatly ties the whole process together, keeping everyone in the loop and all processes on track.

Top Training Products

The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, Interactive Edition

FranklinCovey, Salt Lake City

Ninth House Inc., San Francisco


What It Is: Based on Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, Interactive Edition is designed to help users develop their individual and organizational effectiveness. Users view a Hollywood-style film about a young professional named Stacey who was recently promoted to team leader at a call center. The users watch her make decisions -- at work and at home -- that help her go from struggling to succeeding. Pre-tests and post-tests help users see where they initially stand and what they've learned. After learning the seven habits, viewers take on a persona named Riley and enter a simulation where Riley is tasked with retooling a hospital's Web site. As Riley goes through the process, users are frequently asked multiple-choice questions about how best to proceed, with the goal of testing their knowledge of the seven habits. Users are encouraged to refine their skills by taking the 21-Day Challenge, where they take 15 minutes to plan out each week, create a mission statement, strengthen an important relationship and build an action plan to overcome certain obstacles. Pricing for the product starts at $235 per person.

Why We Like It: This product should keep employees engaged as they go through the process. The films look like a Hollywood-produced movie or TV show, with high-quality acting, writing and production and even a touch of comedy to keep users interested. We especially like the Simulation film about Riley, who is in charge of the Web site remodeling. It's shot from the user's perspective and functions much like a "choose-your-own-adventure" story. After answering a question about how to proceed, then watching the other characters smile, grimace or even give you a stern talking-to, users should know whether they gave the correct answer. It also was a nice touch to name the main character Riley, which allows for both men and women to identify with the character.

Onboard Connection

TalentKeepers Inc., Maitland, Fla.

What It Is: While other orientation programs focus on company goals and procedures or employee performance, OnBoard Connection aims its sights on the relationship between new and existing employees and their leaders. Consisting of new team-member surveys, structured meeting formats and a leader training program, it is designed to teach leaders how to build strong relationships with their employees based on mutual trust and commitment. Information culled from short surveys that asks team members what they value most in a leader can be used by leaders to build solid foundations with employees during "Handshake Meetings," where expectations on both sides are set and an action summary plan is created. The product can be used on its own or can augment an existing orientation process, and pricing starts at $20 per employee for a 1,000-employee organization.

Why We Like It: A productive working relationship starts with the very first handshake, which is OnBoard Connection's starting point. The training is engagingly animated and instructions are easy to follow. Other highlights of the program include "Knowledge checks" to help leaders remember key learning points that can be used during meetings. We also like the detailed reporting features that keep leaders accountable through participation reports, which are available to senior managers, HR leaders and other stakeholders.

Wage & Hour

ELT Inc., San Francisco

What It Is: Wage & Hour is designed to educate both managers and employees in the specifics of wage-and-hour laws, with the intent of helping organizations avoid wage and hour-related lawsuits. Using a library of prepared content, filtered through "smart logic" to fit the user's specific needs, the customizable course encompasses federal and state wage laws as well as company-specific policies. Employees must click on one of the screen of faces -- lined up like the opening shot of The Brady Bunch -- -listen to each story, and then correctly complete some questions before tackling the next vignette, all dealing with various wage-and-hour issues such as overtime, off-the-clock work, reporting errors, and meals and breaks. The manager course is more extensive, including lessons on handling complaints and recordkeeping. Price ranges from $5 to $30 per user license, and basic customization costs $1,500.

Why We Like It: Wage & Hour is easy to use and the information is easy to understand. The scenarios were reality-based and, with wage-and-hour lawsuits skyrocketing, the need to provide guidance to managers and employees is probably overdue for many companies. Of course, the inclusion of individual state law is extremely important to the product's usefulness, but another touch that makes this product worthwhile is that it incorporates the user company's policy and reporting information so that the vignettes are not performed in a vacuum. The voice-overs are appealing and the conversations are realistic.

Oct 2, 2008
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