In today’s financial environment, HR decision-makers have little margin for error with technology decisions and implementation. By following these Ten Commandments of HR Technology, you will mitigate risk and stay on the right side of the leadership table.
What’s at Stake Here?
Last year, federal economists declared that the Great Recession had ended sometime around the middle of 2009. But for many HR professionals, the effects of the worst economic down-turn since the Great Depression have been hard-hitting and long-lasting. Despite tighter operating budgets, the pressure perhaps never has been greater on HR to deliver higher quality service—and with greater efficiency. Often, the solution to this two-edged demand is supplied by the right HR technology—whether in the form of a simple-but-solid online benefits-enrollment system, or a more complex, fully integrated HR technology solution cutting across payroll, HR, benefits, and time and attendance. Regardless of the specific technology, HR decision-makers understand that technology is part of the solution, and that tens to hundreds of thousands of tightly held budget dollars are at stake.
HR and IT decision-makers understand all too well another reality. Make the right investment in the right technology, and the organization reaps the rewards. The COO and CFO appreciate the return on investment, as well as the projected savings over the old way of doing things. And when things go well, employees appreciate the control, accessibility, and accuracy that usually accompany a well-conceived system upgrade or implementation of a new technology.
But decision-makers also understand the flip-side reality of HR technology: the wrong investment in the wrong technology can be a fast track to organizational pain and suffering.
Ten HR Technology Commandments You’ll Want to Follow
So how does HR attack the technology and efficiency challenge with both caution and confidence? By adhering to the Ten Commandments of HR Technology.
Most HR decision-makers probably would prefer moving forward with major decisions by relying on critical thinking, due diligence, and experience-based guidance—not luck or beefy budgets. Within this framework, we’re sharing our Ten Commandments of HR Technology as a guide for making some of the most important, organization-impacting decisions an HR leader will make. Paying sufficient attention to these commandments can help ensure successful choice-making and guard your organization from unnecessary technology trauma!
I: Thy Technologies Must Integrate and Speak to One Another
Far too many systems on the market today solve just one “pain point” for the HR professional. Maybe that initial decision is to leverage a more robust payroll solution. But then the HR professional determines that the organization needs an HRIS database, so they search the market and pull that trigger. Further down the line, they decide they want to automate time-capture, and they add that system. And on it goes. In the end, what HR—and the broader organization— ends up with are disparate systems that don’t integrate with one another. The downstream challenges and inefficiencies of these disconnected decisions land squarely back in the lap of HR, which will be forced to fight through entering data into multiple systems and dealing with databases that are out of sync. Not a great outcome.
The objective of any HR technology must be to make life simpler. But when disparate systems don’t integrate, life becomes more difficult. Avoid this potential pitfall by adhering to this critical commandment.
II. Thy Systems Must Be Flexible and Scalable
As with any critical business decision, HR technology decisions must be made with foresight and anticipation of what the future holds. Making an HR technology decision that simply addresses today’s needs for the current size and scope of the organization will yield less-than-desirable results. Selected technologies must be able to grow with an organization and be flexible enough to adapt to those needs. Think longer term, plan ahead, and make your decisions accordingly.
III. Thou Must Ensure the Security of Thy Technology and Data
It seems that not a day passes without an article being published on the dangers of identity theft. Given the highly sensitive nature of HR data, these warnings should not go unheeded. Additionally, as residents of the great state of Florida, HR professionals understand all too well the critical need to protect HR data and systems from natural disasters, such as hurricanes.
As part of any HR technology evaluation process, HR practitioners must address these two critical requirements. It’s HR’s responsibility to ensure that any potential partner has openly discussed the company’s data security, disaster recovery, and business resumption plans. As you evaluate this component of a vendor’s offer, ask to see his disaster recovery and business resumption program details. Be sure the vendor can adequately respond to questions like, “How often do you test your business resumption process?” “Where are your redundant data centers located?” “Is your organization SAS70-certified?” “If not, why not?” “Is the certification Type I or Type II?” A Type I certification is a good start, but Type II is much more reliable and should provide additional comfort for you and your employees. The answers to these questions will ensure that you align yourself with a partner which shares that concern for data security.
IV. Thy Technology Should Educate as Well as Transact
This commandment mostly speaks to benefits administration systems and the need to support and drive consumerism, which is likely a goal of most HR professionals. While the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (“Healthcare Reform”) is working to stem the tide of double-digit healthcare increases, it has been a widely held belief that a more educated consumer is a critical element in solving many of our healthcare problems today. And one of the proven ways to accomplish this objective is to communicate with and educate employees about their benefit programs. Doing so—effectively and consistently—enables employees to take greater ownership of and responsibility for benefit decisions.
By using a technology solution that educates as well as transacts, you can help move employees in the direction of consumerism and support the common goal of HR professionals and U.S. citizens alike— lower healthcare premiums.
V. Thou Shall Ensure that Service and Support are on Par with the Technology
Service is Service, and Technology is Technology. Yet, despite what some technology providers might have you believe, the two are not mutually exclusive. As you make your HR technology decision, you’ll want to be absolutely certain that that the customer service being offered to support the technology platform is on par with the technology. A number of technology companies believe the term “Software as a Service (SaaS)” grants a license to focus solely on their technology platform—at the expense of customer service. Repeat after me—“software cannot replace service.” The two must go hand in hand.
When making a buying decision, push yourself beyond a narrow focus on the technology itself. Be sure to spend at least as much time understanding how the vendor intends to support and service that technology. Skipping this aspect of the evaluation process is a clear predictor for a frustrating vendor relationship. HR technology companies absolutely must service their technology and need to be investing as much time, if not more, in ensuring that their service is on par with their technology.
VI. Thou Shall Prefer “Configurable” over “Customizable”
This gets to the heart of some sales speak. When a sales person says that a system can be customized to meet the needs of the customer, this means they will retrofit the system to meet the customer’s specific request. While this offer may seem plausible on the service, it’s actually a short-term-gain solution that will likely lead to long-term pain. In this scenario, the system is not designed to do what you’ve asked it to do, and the provider has tinkered with the underlying code to make it do what it wasn’t supposed to do. This dynamic will lead to real challenges in the future.
What you’d rather have is a system that allows for configurability. With configurability, parameters enable the system to do what you need it to do, and you won’t have to rely on a technology expert’s ability to “hard-code” or adjust the source code to customize the system to meet your needs. And what happens when that technology expert leaves the company? Or when they upgrade the system and forget that they made this change unique to your system? T-R-O-U-B-L-E! Always ensure that the system was designed with flexibility in mind and that it can be configured to meet your needs.
VII. Thou Shall Not Need an IT Degree to Setup or Manage
Let’s face it; most HR professionals became HR professionals because they enjoy working with and supporting people within the structure of an organization. We don’t believe HR professionals became HR professionals so that they could learn how to code reports and configure HR systems. Successful HR technology companies have realized this and ensure that their solutions are designed for the layman, not the technician. If the provider allows for HR to have some ownership to manage the configuration (new payroll rule, new deduction, etc.), the system should be user-friendly and easy to manage. If the system is too complex to learn from a 60-minute web-training session, then it’s too complex. Remember “K.I.S.S”—Keep its software simple!
VIII. Thy Data Belongs to You—Not the Provider
This is a contractual element that must not be overlooked. There are some providers out there that seem to think that your HR data belongs to them—and that they can hold your data hostage to make it difficult to obtain upon termination. Be certain that this is not the case by carefully reviewing contracts before signing. This is your data. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!
IX. Thou Shall Require Strong Reporting Capabilities
As an HR professional, you are responsible for a magnitude of data. What you do with that data is what makes you successful. The most successful HR departments are the ones that can turn data into information and can make critical business decisions based on that information. But if that data resides solely within the confines of the provider’s databases, and HR is unable to easily access that data, then it may as well not even exist.
Technology should be an enabler to ensure the successful use of HR data. But there are many technology platforms on the market that make pulling data incredibly difficult. You should not need an IT degree to understand how data tables join together or know how to write SQL scripts to access your data. There are some incredibly easy-to-use report-writing platforms on the market today, and your selected HR technology partner should be leveraging them for your benefit. Report-writing software should be incredibly simple to use, intuitive, and should provide instant results. Armed with this easy-to-access data, HR professionals can help drive business decisions from their places at the proverbial executive table.
X. Thy Systems Shall Be Hosted and Web-Enabled
There was a time and a place for technology to be installed and managed locally. But that time was the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, there’s no reason to have to worry with upgrading software and managing your own disaster recovery or business-resumption plans. Your IT department has a host of other concerns and should not have to worry about maintaining yet another software system. Costs have come down considerably for SaaS models and should be fully leveraged for the mid-sized company. As some people like to say these days, “Move it to the cloud.”
So, What Now?
As virtually every HR professional knows, the answer to most every HR responsibility involves balance. It’s no different when it comes to important HR technology decisions. And what might balance look like as you and your team take on key technology decisions? That depends on the size, structure, people, and culture of your organization. But regardless of those factors, making HR technology decisions—and acting effectively on those decisions—most likely involves balancing on multiple dimensions. Here are four to consider:
- Planning, without paralysis. Strategy, study, and planning are critically important. However, unless managed carefully, planning and study also can be real momentum (or project) killers. If it’s taking your team a while to get to a planning outcome, figure out what’s blocking the progress—and get it out of the way.
- Speed, without haste. On the other hand, beware the high-energy drivers around you that may be pushing for technology solutions yesterday. As uncomfortable as it may be, you must be ready to stand firm against pressure to move too quickly. Excess speed is usually a high-risk, high-cost proposition. And when things go wrong as a result, HR often takes the blame.
- Involving, without overwhelming. As you consider key HR technology decisions, it’s critically important to involve the key stakeholders in the process. Thankfully, most organizations have enough project history to know who these groups are—HR, IT, and key senior leaders. But culturally, some organizations may be too inclusive when it comes to decision-making. If this is your organization’s culture, think through ways to keep the team lean enough to get things done.
- Fiscal responsibility without doing things “on the cheap.” When it comes to technology, it seems the temptation is always lurking: save significant dollars up front and give the organization what it needs. But here again, age-old wisdom and common sense apply. Usually, though not always, you get what you pay for. So, rather than pursuing the cheapest technology solution, pursue the solution that best fits your organization’s needs. If budgets are a barrier (and they almost always are), prioritize to phase in technology components over time—but be sure to follow the first commandment.
To paraphrase a well-worn saying, “You may not have the time (or money) to do things right the first time. But you’ll almost always have the time (or money) to do them over.” Before you make your next big HR technology decision, we encourage you to consider our Ten Commandments of HR Technology. Use them to test the vendors vying for your business. There is, of course, a solid HR technology solution for what your organization needs. You just need to take the right steps to find it.
Scott Millson is an independent HR technology advisor with more than 21 years of HR technology expertise and a Principal with MillsonJames. MillsonJames is focused on helping organizations maximize their potential through strategic utilization of HR technologies.
Vernon Valentine is principal consultant for Haywood Communication, a strategic communication consulting firm focused on employee education, HR program marketing, change management, and executive messaging.