Pulling a Switch

In this Q&A with Human Resource Executive®, expert Elaine Orler details when changing recruiting vendors makes sense and when it doesn't.

Friday, June 16, 2006
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In a poll conducted at the 2005 HR Technology Conference®, nearly half of the attendees indicated they planned to switch recruiting vendors in the next 12 months.

Some may find that number somewhat surprising, but not Elaine Orler, a principal consultant at Phoenixville, Pa.-based The Newman Group, which assists companies with their talent management initiatives. One in two, she says, is very much in line with what she's seeing out there today.

At this year's HR Technology Conference and Exposition® (Oct. 4 through 6), Orler will be conducting a session entitled "When and How You Should Switch Recruiting Vendors" to help shed light on both the best and worse practices when it comes to changing recruiting vendors. It's clearly a subject Orler has thought long and hard about.

There may be a point at which a relationship simply won't work, Orler says, but companies need to remember that the cost of making a switch can be huge. "If the relationship with the vendor that you have has a product strategy that is in alignment with your business, it is always going to be more cost-effective to figure out how to make that relationship work."

That said, Orler does have some specific advice for companies taking the plunge.

Orler has more than a decade of experience in project management and in designing recruiting technology strategies for large enterprises. She has in-depth expertise in the evaluation and design of electronic recruiting and applicant-tracking systems, including selection, implementation and optimization of leading-edge recruiting systems.

Prior to joining The Newman Group, she was HR consulting practice leader for the Talent Market Group and held HR management positions at Qualcomm Inc. and Gateway Computers.

David Shadovitz, editor of Human Resource Executive®, recently spoke to Orler about her session at the upcoming conference and the challenges facing employers and HR leaders considering a switch.

More information about the conference can be found at

Briefly describe what you're going to be talking about during the session at the HR Technology Conference® this year.

We're going to be focusing on helping organizations understand when they need to make the decision to switch vendors and solutions. During the last couple of years, a lot of organizations have adopted technology to support recruiting, and now the big question is, is it actually meeting their business needs?

What are some of the frivolous or unnecessary reasons for companies wanting to switch their recruiting vendors?

Frivolous and unnecessary? Well, there's a delicate balance there because, as a third party looking at those decisions, we might consider it frivolous and unnecessary. As an organization that's in an extreme amount of a pain or frustration, they probably don't feel that way.

I would say that, many times, the driving reason to switch vendors has to do with a lack of support from the vendor, or the client's perception of a lack of support and a lack of commitment from the vendor. There's a disconnect in the relationship; there were deliverables or commitments that didn't get achieved or the client feels frustrated with the vendor because they feel that the vendor isn't treating them [in the way] they expect.

The second [leading] driver tends to be a change in leadership or an organization's direction. New leaders bring with them a solution that they prefer to use; that they've had a better relationship with.

I couldn't give an exact statistic, but the majority of the time it is the relationship that is too far damaged, not the application performance. Support, turnaround times, performance, the perception that the solution did not meet the needs -- -these are the wrong reasons to change, but they're often the reasons organizations will make a shift.

What are the justifiable reasons for making a switch?

The primary one is often system performance, or the application's stability and its ability to deliver to the business. The second might be the vendor footprint. An organization that purchased an applicant-tracking solution two years ago is looking to expand, to do true talent management or [have] a broader footprint -- something that its vendor [currently] can't do. So it might look to another solution or a platform that will grow with their business needs.

Are there things a company can fix or tweak in its current system, thereby making a switch to a new one unnecessary?

There are always certain things that you can adjust within your existing solution.

We've seen organizations that said "This is absolutely the process we must maintain," and they've retrofitted the product to meet the process, when, in fact, changing the process itself -- just through one or two tweaks -- would [permit the application] to work much better. 

I've been in many debates with management folks in my past career lives as to what comes first, process or technology, and which drives which. Does process drive technology or does technology drive process?

I think there needs to be a little bit of a give and take with both. The technology solutions that are out there today have an enormous amount of options and multiple ways to support your recruitment process and workflow.

What are some of things you encourage your clients to keep in mind as they consider a switch?

One of the things we really try to encourage our clients to do is to move away from the past, to really make sure that the new solution they're selecting isn't based on the fact that "We had it this way and we didn't like it, so we have to have it that way." It's making sure that they can move beyond their previous experiences and start afresh.

Realistic expectations are one of the things we try to press as often as possible. No relationship is ever going to be perfect.

Three dimensions that HR absolutely has to consider across the board are the technical compatibility, the functional compatibility and the vendor compatibility with the organization. Then there's a lot of criteria underneath those three dimensions that will help them differentiate the vendors that will prove to be better partners in the future.

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Is it taking companies longer to evaluate their options and make a change?

The decision process is definitely taking a bit longer. I haven't seen a selection decision done in under six months -- almost a year at larger organizations. 

How does that compare with before?

If we look back three years ago, it was probably a three- to four-month cycle because it wasn't as complex.

There are a lot more vendors in the market now to consider, new entrants that are offering so many different aspects of recruiting, from managing social networking to managing your internal mobility to fully integrating performance management with your candidate assessment. Then you've got individual best-of-breed vendors . . . to ones that say they can do it all. 

Are there certain individuals within organizations who are often the ones pushing for a switch? 

I see it coming from one of two [places]. It's either coming from the IT organization, which says, "It's time to get on a standard platform, let's get everybody on the same foundation."

Or it's coming from recruiters, who are saying, "Look, my job is to generate qualified talent in this organization, and my needs are not being met by the platform I have."

The partnering and the collaboration to come up with the [best] solution have gotten better over [time]. 

I think there's clearly a need to make sure that all the right participants are involved in the decision. That [means] making the length of the decision a little bit longer.

Do you see any clear winners and losers among the vendors?

There's no one clear winner in this market.

I think the vendors continue to take a different approach to expanding their product roadmap and footprint. Some vendors have made the decision that they want to pursue talent management and they're [pursuing] that, whether it be through acquisition or product [development].

Other vendors have made the decision that their real strength will be depth and breadth in just talent acquisition. They're committed to developing the tools to go deep [in this area]. Those things might include taking it to the "nth" degree in terms of sourcing and recruitment, contact management and social networking.

Any final thoughts?

Companies must remember that the costs associated with switching vendors are huge. So if the relationship with your existing vendor has a product strategy that is in alignment with your business, it's always going to be more cost effective to figure out how to make that relationship work. There is a point where the relationship will never work. But if you're not at that point yet, [it makes sense to work with your] existing vendor to figure out [a fix]; to bring that relationship back, whether it is redefining the service-level agreement or sitting down with the vendor and going back through a whole fit-gap analysis [on] what the product can do. There's a variety of different ways to improve your vendor relationship.

The best course of action is to figure out if it's repairable, because that's the most cost-effective course of action.

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