Cream of the Crop

The editors of Human Resource Executive® list their choices for the top HR and training products of 2005.

By Staff Writers

Once again, the editors of Human Resource Executive® have chosen 10 HR products and five training products that they believe represent the very best of what vendors introduced to the market during the period of July 2004 to July 2005.

Out of the 100-plus entries received this year, we narrowed down our selections by judging each one on innovation, the value it adds to the HR function and its user-friendliness. We also consulted with industry experts to determine just how original the products are. In the end, the products we chose (the overwhelming majority of them are technology-based, in keeping with the trends of recent years) exemplify the smart use of the Web to streamline the workflow involved in everyday processes such as benefits enrollment and new-employee orientation.

In all cases, the editors feel strongly these products deliver value to HR professionals, but stress the importance of conducting the necessary due diligence before making investments.


Enterprise Voice Gateway

BrassRing, Waltham, Mass.

What It Is: Enterprise Voice Gateway is an interactive-voice response tool designed to help companies screen and evaluate job applicants who lack access to the Web or who do not have a resume. Organizations can accept applications via a toll-free telephone number and upload them directly into their BrassRing Enterprise application, which can convert the recordings into WAV sound files that let users listen to answers that require a verbal response. Users can create customized questionnaires or use generic ones. The tool gives clients the ability to ask "closed" and "open-ended" questions to gather information typically obtained during an in-person interview. Candidates can save their information and return later to complete their IVR application by creating a pass code for re-entry into the system. Enterprise Voice Gateway is available in multiple-language versions. It is available only to users of BrassRing's Enterprise hiring system.

Why We Like It: True, IVR systems aren't exactly new. We also award top products that are add-ons to existing systems -- which this one is--only in rare cases. We believe this is one such instance. Although computer usage is prevalent in all sectors of U.S. society, the fact is that many hourly job candidates still aren't as comfortable using the Web to apply for jobs as they are with more traditional methods, such as the phone. Meanwhile, job candidates in most Third World countries are far less likely to own a computer than their American counterparts -- in these cases, Voice Gateway's multi-language capabilities can come in very handy. The tool's ability to convert voice responses into WAV files is extremely useful in cases in which hiring managers want to hear an applicant's response to an open-ended question. All in all, Voice Gateway is a user-friendly, comprehensive tool that should receive serious consideration from BrassRing customers who plan to do any large-scale hiring in the near future.

Deploy OnBoarding

Deploy Solutions, Auburndale, Mass.

What It Is: Deploy OnBoarding is an application designed to simplify the onboarding process for new employees. The application lets users complete online forms that have been prepopulated with data pertaining to the new hire and certify they've read and understood company policies and manuals. The onboarding process can be automatically initiated for salaried hires when the applicant accepts the offer letter. For hourly workers, the process is initiated when the manager clicks a "hire" button. A "wizard" guides users through the step-by-step process for completing forms such as personal information, payroll tax forms, direct deposit, acknowledgement of company policies and the I-9 Forms. Data input from the manager and the new hire is automatically replicated to all corporate and government forms in PDF format. The system can automatically send new-hire information via e-mail, fax, hard copy, XML or other formats to other systems and departments such as payroll, IT and security to ensure the new hire has everything he or she needs on the start date. The system can also automatically forward relevant new-hire information to external providers such as drug-testing vendors and uniform providers. Deploy OnBoarding can be integrated with Deploy's talent-management system or with other systems.

Why We Like It: Thanks in part to the increasing usage of e-signatures, electronic onboarding tools have most definitely arrived. Deploy OnBoarding is certainly one of the standout applications we've encountered. Its ability to pre-populate forms with employee data taken from hiring systems, its intuitive user interface, automatic replication of data into PDF format and automatic notification capabilities constitute a system in which the designers have thought of just about everything. It even streamlines the otherwise cumbersome I-9 Form completion process. Although other onboarding applications on the market have almost as many capabilities, Deploy OnBoarding's combination of ease-of-use and interoperability make it worthy of serious consideration.

The "DisciPlan" Corrective Action Program

DisciPlan Inc., Lake Charles, La.

What It Is: The "DisciPlan" Corrective Action Program is designed to provide a system of fair and consistent employee corrective action for organizations in the public and private sectors. Tested in hard-copy form for more than 10 years in a union environment, the new software program's features include a master file for complete documentation of the total disciplinary history of employees, an incident investigation report, witness-statement documentation, a violation database with descriptions of all possible violations of personal rules and regulations and corrective-action guidelines and subsequent levels of discipline. It also contains a termination checklist to ensure all terminations of employment are handled properly. There is an initial licensing fee base rate of $50 per employee, with a 10 percent annual renewal fee for new versions, updates and technical support.

Why We Like It: DisciPlan's CAP gives organizations the ability to maintain consistency in the levels of discipline at all levels, regardless of the number of people responsible for dealing with violations of rules, regulations and personal conduct. This is no small feat, given the lawsuits companies face every day alleging everything from wrongful termination to discrimination.

By providing total documentation of the corrective-action process, the application also has the potential to save supervisory hours and dollars spent in employment-related litigation. This system provides clear-cut definitions of unacceptable conduct, and gives management a uniform procedure to follow in meting out discipline, taking corrective measures, and if necessary, terminating an employee. Lawsuits brought by disgruntled ex-employees may be a permanent feature of the corporate landscape, but DisciPlan's CAP should greatly lessen their chances of success.

Halogen eCompensation

Halogen Software Inc., Ottawa, Canada

What It Is: Halogen eCompensation is a Web-based solution designed to streamline and simplify the compensation-adjustment process. Released in June 2005, the software is able to handle all levels of compensation, including base salary, variable pay, bonus pay and stock options. Features include the ability to access background information such as performance appraisals; verify recommendations against established budgets and pay guidelines and automate workflow, including sending out reminders to parties involved in the process. It can suggest pay increases based on performance and other criteria, and automatically flags compensation adjustments that are outside company recommended salary scales and budgets. eCompensation can be purchased as a stand-alone product, and can be either installed on-site or hosted. There's a one-time licensing charge for the software--for an organization with 1,000 employees, pricing would start at around $15,000. Maintenance and support is extra.

Why We Like It: eCompensation isn't the first compensation software we've reviewed for this competition. Nor is it likely to be the last. However, eCompensation deserves a place on any shopper's short list. As is the case with Halogen's flagship products -- Halogen eAppraisal and eAppraisal Healthcare -- eCompensation targets mid-market companies, yet its functionality is as robust as many of the enterprise solutions we've reviewed. In particular, we were impressed with the way it tied to the company's performance-appraisal solution, pulling in appraisal scores and using it to suggest individual adjustments. Workflow is another strong point. Tasks are automatically routed to appropriate parties, reminder notices are generated and late items are flagged. Considering these strengths and others, there's ample reason for e-Appraisal customers and others in the market for a compensation solution to take a closer look at Halogen's latest offering.


Nuvosoft, Waltham, Mass.

What It Is: Rbenefits is a Web-based employee benefits self-service tool used to manage online open enrollment of benefits, ongoing informational updates, dependent and beneficiary changes and post-enrollment comprehensive benefit statements. The online tool is designed to replace the paper enrollment process and provides a database of online forms available to employees 24 hours a day and -- depending upon an employer's data security policies -- available at home where they can be completed in consultation with family members. The tool also automates the process by sending e-mail notifications to employees about enrollment deadlines and incomplete forms and, when enrollment is complete, generates final benefit statements. Rbenefits can be customized for use with existing HR and employee benefits portals and can accommodate a wide range of employee benefits and vendors. Costs start at $85,000.

Why We Like It: Annual open enrollment is a well-known pain in the neck for HR and employee benefits staffs, and most medium-to-large employers are aggressively moving to automate the enrollment functions and eliminate the error-prone paper process. As a result, many vendors and employee-benefit brokers are offering their own enrollment systems available on an annual per-use basis. Rbenefits allows employers to build their own system, available year-round and easily customized. The system can be instantly updated as benefits are added or changed. The tool is easily integrated with an existing corporate LAN or HR portal, which helps eliminate the confusion of multiple employee-benefits tools.

Real Value Statement

Online, Uniondale, NY

What It Is: Real Value Statement is a personalized total-compensation statement that aggregates cash compensation, benefits contributions and tax savings for each employee and can be distributed via Online's Web-based "Benergy" employee-benefits portal or in printed form. The statements display balances for retirement and investment programs such as 401(k) plans, pension estimates and company stock programs as well as cash equivalents of other company benefits. The RVS also calculates the tax savings earned from full or partial use of tax-advantaged benefits such as flexible spending accounts and consumer-driven health plans. The RVS is designed to be used by agents and brokers as well as human resource executives, who can construct the individual statements using an online "wizard" and a Microsoft Excel workbook. Real Value Statement integrates with other Benergy modules, including an online enrollment tool. The product is available only to users of Online Benefits' Benergy portal. Costs range from $3.60 to $7.50 per employee per year, based on the size of the employer.

Why We Like It: Total compensation statements are hardly a new idea and most large employers now routinely provide them to all employees on an annual basis after payroll and benefits departments spend a month or two crunching numbers. The edge for Real Value Statement is its ease and speed of construction. Using the online wizard and the Excel spreadsheet tool, users can construct new statements quickly -- daily if necessary -- and publish them to employees overnight. The tools are simple and can be used by employers of all sizes to give employees a very professional-looking statement. Real Value Statement uses bright, colorful graphics and informative charts that actually help explain the tax advantages of various benefits, not just communicate their savings.

Abra Workforce Connections

Sage Software, Herndon, Va.

What It Is: Abra Workforce Connections is a new Web-based application bundled into Sage Software's Abra HRMS, which is focused squarely on small and mid-market organizations (starting with 75 employees). Workforce Connections has two main components: Abra ESS ( employee self-service) and Abra Benefits Enrollment. Abra Workforce Connections offers a central online location for employees, managers and administrators to view and manage important personal and company information, as well as process payroll requests. Workforce Connections automates HR and payroll processes, and provides employees with secure access to personal information from any Internet connection. Abra Workforce Connections is priced at $1,300 for a 75-employee ESS or Benefits module. And yes, you can buy them separately, if you only need one.

Why We Like It: Sage Software (formerly called Best Software) has always ranked among the leaders serving the small and mid-market HRMS vertical. For Workforce Connections, the keyword is "easy." It's easy to configure, requiring little or no technical skills by the HR staff. Workforce Connections works via modular functionality, offers affordable pricing and has low technical infrastructure requirements. HR users also can easily define approval and notification workflows, document links and Web sites, menus, text, logos and colors with zero programming skills. It's got a clean, simple interface (for HR users and employees as well), and plenty of user-friendly navigational features, including "slide-out" menus and assignable usage "roles" (employee, manager, benefits admin., etc.). In addition, Workforce Connections is one of the first mid-market employee self-service products based on Microsoft's .NET framework, which means it can offer a highly flexible application infrastructure (for example, it supports several different database products) and also is extremely secure. For years, high-level ESS and benefits enrollment was only available to the large enterprise market (companies with at least 5,000 or more employees). However, with Workforce Connections, even the little guys can get the same ESS functionality and efficiency (and less calls to HR, too) as the big boys.


TruStar Solutions, Fishers, Ind.

What It Is: Harvest is an automated job-posting service designed to help companies stay in compliance with Department of Labor regulations by extracting information from their corporate career Web sites, configuring it in HR XML for use on America's Job Board, and tracking and compiling the information for audit purposes. Cost is $3,500 per year.

Why We Like It: This product fulfills a need that has been largely ignored--the time-consuming task required by Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that government contractors manually post all jobs to either local unemployment offices or the America's Job Bank Web site. While some vendors, job boards or applicant tracking systems can scrap jobs and forward the postings to AJB, such processes often require micromanagement and do not result in adequate records should a company be audited. Harvest's "no touch" approach takes the entire job out of the hands of the company. The high-frequency "job wrapping," formatting and forwarding of jobs are totally automated, and compliance records can be broken down by business unit, location or any other criteria. The solution can also be used to send job postings to diversity or military job sites, or in any other variety of configurations.

viForm Path

viDesktop Inc., Toronto, Canada

What It Is: viForm Path is designed to help HR convert paper-based forms such as vacation requests or personal information changes to an online template that employees can quickly complete. All forms are viewed on a home page and can be customized and updated over time. Individual fields can be edited, read-only or hidden to specific groups of employees. Since it's compatible with many systems and databases, any field can be exported to another database within the organization. The software automatically notifies HR via e-mail when a form has been completed. If requiring approval, HR can simply click incomplete, approve or reject and write comments on the form, such as more information is needed. Then the system alerts the employee by e-mail that HR has responded. The basic rate for unlimited processes is $100 per user.

Why We like It: viForm Path doesn't operate in a silo -- while it has very strong HR applications, other departments can use it to streamline their own workflow processes. It's also very easy to use and maintain. Employees can manage their own personal information, relieving HR of mundane tasks. Another bonus: The program offers a variety of templates developed by other organizations that can be used or modified as companies see fit.

I-9 eXpress

TALX Corp., St. Louis

What It Is: I-9 eXpress issues electronic I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms that can be completed online, including electronic signatures. I-9 also enables companies to convert paper I-9 forms with written signatures to an electronic format, so the forms can be stored electronically in a secure, central repository at TALX Corp.'s service center. Authorized employees fill in the required fields and online edits examine the data to identify errors and omissions. The application also issues management reports to measure compliance, identify missing forms, support audits and automatically notify employers when an employee's work authorization needs to be re-verified. It allows employers to automatically verify the name, Social Security number and birth date of a new hire with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Pricing varies based on the number of electronic I-9s created, paper I-9 conversions ordered and Social Security number verifications required. Price also varies based on the use of other TALX services to monitor new hires for delivery of accurate compliance reports and liability elimination.

Why We Like It: TALX responded quickly to newly enacted regulations which allow employers to improve the process of verifying eligibility for employment and authorize employers to electronically complete and store I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms for all employees. The first of its kind, the service is straightforward and simple to use, and greatly reduces the margin for errors and omissions in filling out I-9 forms. I-9 eXpress enables employers to become 100 percent compliant with the law, save money and alleviate the burden placed on HR to process, store and retrieve completed paper forms.


Centra 7.5

Centra Software, Lexington, Mass.

What It Is: Centra 7.5 enhances the company's existing online training application-service-provider program with the addition of a new performance-support system and a live help component for personalized, on-the-job learning. Three new modules have been added to Centra's core Centra Live technology: Info Guide, an on-demand performance-support system; Performance Insight, a Web-based enterprise reporting system; and Instant Assist, which provides real-time application or business-procedure support through online chat screens and help-desk representatives. Components of the application and add-on modules can be licensed separately or together. Pricing varies based on configuration and scope of services. A typical configuration is priced at $50,000 (based on about 100 named users).

Why We Like It: We generally don't select product updates as winners, but in Centra's case, the additional modules have dramatically changed the way this product meets online-learning needs. What's more, the additions are innovative and unique enough to make this product stand apart from others in the event-based training and evaluation space. We're especially impressed with Instant Assist, whereby users can converse with experts in real-time chat rooms without losing track of where they are in a particular learning process and can share their desktops virtually for fast issue resolution without having to keep track of which application their question pertains to. We also like the fact that help-desk representatives can transfer or invite other experts into the conversation and all involved can paste in links to other information guides. The fact that transcripts of conversations are automatically e-mailed to the employee, the help desk and all those involved in the session ensures a level of reporting and follow up we've not seen elsewhere.

Full Throttle

Solutions House Inc., Tampa, Fla.

What It Is: A business game with design elements similar to Candy Land and Monopoly, this product utilizes active or discovery learning in order to build financial awareness and understanding of the sources of a company's economic value. It's customizable and can be adapted to meet other teaching needs, such as management development and leadership coaching. Full Throttle is a two-part, one-day program modeled around a fictitious motorcycle company bearing the same name. Participants spend the morning in the role of the company controller, learning how business events cascade through financial statements and how the operation is affected by such things as vendor capacity, sales pipelines and competition. In the afternoon, they become the CEO who keeps track of key gauges, such as financial rating and market position, and makes decisions concerning strategies and board-of-director relationships while assessing impact, risk and tradeoffs. The product sells for $65,000 and includes a lifetime license to use and reprint.

Why We Like It: While Full Throttle employs discovery-learning strategies similar to other business-acumen games by competing vendors, it takes employee engagement a step further than those predecessors. By reaping the very rewards or setbacks they sow through on-the-spot choices and adjustments they make, players are forced to fully consider the impact each business decision has on an organization. As the CEO, the player sees the broader picture of a corporate structure and learns the tenets of a balanced-scorecard approach while, in turn, gaining a deeper understanding of senior-management decisions. For companies facing challenges such as layoffs, mergers and restructuring, it can help employees gain a sense of alignment with management's hard choices and a better understanding of their own contribution to the overall mission.

Enterprise English Assessment Service

GlobalEnglish, Brisbane, Calif.

What It Is: An online tool that can provide an accurate measurement of the English language proficiency of thousands of employees across a broad, geographically distributed workforce. The 25-minute adaptive test consists of listening and reading sections that assess a test taker's ability to understand written and spoken English. The test "adapts" the questioning to become easier or more difficult, depending on previous answers. Although the test focuses on reading and listening ability, individual questions focus on a wider range of skills, including grammar and vocabulary. Test questions are presented with text, graphics and audio prompts to assess a learner's understanding of language use in a real context. The test provides each user with immediate individual test results, which includes a test score, feedback on strengths and weaknesses and a recommendation on where to focus learning. The program's reporting function allows test results to be aggregated and analyzed over groups that match each organization's structure, which will help objectively and efficiently determine which employees need to improve their English skills, and place employees into the appropriate levels of English training. Pricing starts at $50 per test with volume discounts available.

Why We Like It: Diversity, both in terms of cultural background and in terms of nationality, has been proven to be a positive for many enterprises. At the same time, many enterprises are going global, or making plans to do so. Despite this, the English language, with all its quirks and subtleties, is still the language of business on much of the planet. As a result, businesses are encountering a new difficulty -- employees who need to be truly fluent in English, but are not as fluent as they think they are. What, for example, is a Shanghai-born administrative assistant, who has diligently trained in standard English, to make of a phone message from New York that a company executive is "all tied up for the rest of the day?" This easy-to-follow test is designed to discover if she will calmly reschedule the planned meeting or consider calling the police.

Executive Challenge

Enspire, Austin, Texas

What It Is: Executive Challenge is a team-based simulation. Each participant is assigned a unique leadership role within a simulated company, tasked with specific duties and given limited resources. Participants make real-world business decisions, both individually and collaboratively. Participants use their own computer, connected to a server, which provides them with a personalized screen. This interface tracks resources, budget constraints and time limits as well as the progress of projects. Pricing varies based on number of participants, number of implementations, levels of customization, etc.

Why We Like It: Enspire says this simulation was designed to provide organizations with a transformational learning experience focused on creating meaningful change, and they have succeeded in creating a program that does just that. The game helps participants learn to balance individual vs. organizational objectives, and short-term vs. long-term decisions, when faced with tough choices and adverse events. Ultimately, the simulation provides a platform for participants to test their leadership skills and identify personal blind spots. Importantly, participants spend as much time strategizing, debriefing, communicating, receiving coaching and reflecting on the experience as they do in front of a computer screen. The result is an experience that is more memorable and, ultimately, more effective.

GeoMaestro, Version 4.4

GeoLearning Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa

What It Is: GeoLearning's GeoMaestro, version 4.4 is a thorough update to the GeoMaestro system, which can now centralize and automate the entire learning process, from traditional classroom instruction to Web-based training, on-the-job training and self-directed study. Built-in collaborative communication tools include e-mail, automatic notifications, electronic calendars, bulletin boards and text chat. Also included is GeoLearning's Classroom and Event Schedule, which provides built-in test and survey creation engines, a searchable course catalog and cumulative course rating system, and MyPlan Competency module, used to develop, assign and track progress.

Why We Like It: Nearly all of the enhancements in this latest update demonstrate that careful thought was given to the day-to-day needs of training administrators. The new reporting options mean they can share reports with any user in the system regardless of their access level. The new multiple-domain structure gives them the ability to deploy branded websites. The reorganization of the Classroom Scheduler functionality allows them to resolve conflicts as soon as they arise. They can now attach documents and comments to user-defined tasks, and on and on. In short, an impressive enhancement to an already praiseworthy system.

Jan 30, 2006
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