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Inside HR Tech Column

Five Rules of Thumb

Here are five ideas and tips on what to look for and think about when evaluating HR technologies to get the most bang for your organization's buck.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
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The one HR technology-related question I get asked most frequently is some variation of "Which vendors have the best solution for (insert your HR process area)?", or said differently, "Which solutions should I examine for my particular problem or area of need?"

So for anyone who wants my official answer to any form of the question, "Which HR technology solution is the best?" here it is . . . . wait for it . . .  wait for it . . .

The answer, (drumroll, please) is "It depends."

The best solution for a given organization is quite likely different from the best solution for another -- even largely similar -- organization.

Unlike many commodity purchases, the HR or workforce technology that is "right" for one organization is often highly variable and dependent on a number of company specific factors, which usually will be distinct and important enough to make selecting the best software a complex and difficult process.

Since I can’t claim to know the "best" solution for your situation, I can try and help by pointing out a few (five to be exact) rules of thumb that are generally applicable in all HR-technology evaluation and selection processes. Hopefully, these can help you to make your own informed, and unique decision about software.

1. There isn’t a "Yelp for HR technology" . . . yet.

While there are some nascent attempts, (G2 Crowd, TrustRadius), at establishing a large set of Yelp-like crowd-sourced user reviews for enterprise or HR technologies, the truth is that, in general, the HR software market is still a little hazy. Finding reliable, vetted, and unbiased or independent reviews and commentary on most enterprise technologies is as difficult today as it has always been. So the key is finding sources you can trust and making sure -- even for the "neutral" sources such as some analysts or consultancies -- that you become aware and informed of any potential biases or conflicts of interests up front. I’m not saying not to trust these sources, but "trust but verify" is probably the wisest approach.

2. User experience is important, but it means different things to everyone.

There is no doubt that HR software that is easy to use or provides a consumer-like experience is currently in vogue. But while it is fairly easy to claim that a solution is easy to use, it is much harder to actually prove that to be the case. It is not at all easy, and probably not proper, to make blanket or one-size-fits-all usability claims or conclusions.

In many ways, ease of use is reliant on the people involved -- the tasks they need to accomplish, their familiarity and proclivity with technology, and even the personality and culture of the organization. What constitutes "easy to use" for one set of casual users could be lacking features or have insufficient capability for more advanced or power users. Bottom-line, ease of use alone won’t necessarily lead you to the right solutions.

3. "It’s on the road map" is not a great answer, although it might be the answer.

I once joked that the most common software-vendor answer to any question about a missing or incomplete product feature is "It’s on the road map." While (sort of) funny, it also points to one of the many challenges with modern enterprise software-balancing the desire to keep products usable, stable and easily implemented with the incessant need to build additional capability and close any functional gaps. Probably more important for you, the HR technology customer, is not what specific features are "on the roadmap", but rather the vendor’s history and track record of delivering these features when they were promised. And some features never make it off of the road map slide decks. A good rule of thumb: Be extremely careful betting on the road map, especially for any "must-have" product capability.

4. Vendor viability is important, and is not always easy to measure.

Most vendors will continue to paint a rosy picture of their prospects and financials right up until they are acquired or disappear. Their results could be seemingly trending in the right direction, but at the same time, they could be facing trouble behind the scenes. For privately held vendors, getting a full or complete view of their financial health can be tough, and even for publicly traded ones, knowing what to look for can be a challenge as well.

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Also, when a start-up HR technology company has venture capital or other outside investors, it can sometimes be a little unsettling for the tech company. If the external investors are pushing for a quick exit or return on their investment, that can prove disruptive for their end-customers.

So, when undertaking due diligence, review company financials and quarterly filings, but also be mindful of other measures of viability and stability such as cash flow, loss of key leaders and employees, and presence (or lack thereof) in industry events and forums.

5. The ecosystem around a product might be as important as the product.

By "ecosystem," we are really talking about third-party system integrators or consultants, independent product experts, user forums or LinkedIn groups dedicated to the product, and, naturally, other customers. Technology solutions that might seem a little long in the tooth often have the advantage of pretty deep and entrenched support mechanisms that will likely help to keep them viable longer than it would seem on the surface. Even the vendor’s own internal "ecosystem" matters -- ability to deploy, support and provide training for brand new products is often lacking, as it tends to place most of its effort and energy on getting the new product generally available, while shifting focus to implementation and support later in the product lifecycle. Your takeaway should be to consider the size, maturity and depth of the broader community that surrounds any HR technology.

While your organization’s specific circumstances will vary, and the "right" solution for your situation and challenges is something that, ultimately, only you can determine, there are some pretty universal and enduring concepts about HR and workplace technology that all organizations can apply. How you value, prioritize and allow others to influence your eventual software selection is up to you, but by understanding some of these basic premises, you can at least arrive more confidently at your unique outcome.

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.

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