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Four considerations before investing in a talent management suite

According to Hyoun Park, companies should approach a talent management suite purchase from four angles: tech, people, strategy and change tolerance.

Talent management technology offers an opportunity to transform your organization's approach to acquire, support, engage and improve your employees. Over the past decade, a new generation of talent management software suites has emerged to provide companies with enhanced recruitment, onboarding, training, performance and compensation management, and succession planning. Providers of these next-generation talent management suites include larger vendors like SAP, Oracle, and ADP as well as more specialized companies such as Cornerstone OnDemand, iCIMS, Halogen, Peoplefluent, Skillsoft and Saba.

But as companies seek to improve their talent management capabilities; is it necessary to purchase a new talent management suite? Or should they simply update their core HR management system? Or, should they put technology second and prioritize with process and policy changes? To understand which path to take, potential talent management software buyers need to consider four issues: strategy, technology, personnel and willingness to change.

Strategy: the framework for new technology

As a starting point, companies should think about their current and proposed talent strategies. The truth is that any new talent initiatives will take 5-10 years to fully permeate the organization, whether this means aggressively targeting external talent, acqui-hiring small companies or enhancing internal skill sets to build internal succession paths.

To take full advantage of vendors, ask them about the talent strategies and policies they have supported with companies in similar verticals, geographies, maturities and employee counts. Pick their brains about what your peers are doing to glean what types of opportunities your company might be missing. Also be sure to get an idea for how long it has taken for new talent management capabilities to become fully adopted in these organizations. With talent management suites and capabilities, the technical implementation is usually a short-term challenge compared to the ongoing alignment of strategy, personnel and available tools.

Technology: consider integration and duplicate functionality

Buyers also need to think about how new tools will integrate with existing data, software and third-party training and collaboration systems. One of the key goals of talent management is to get a holistic view of each employee throughout the employment cycle, from initial recruitment through onboarding, training, performance, compensation, promotion and finally, succession. This requires linkage between talent management, HR management, third-party learning systems and possibly even social networking and unified communications platforms.

In the long run, all of these integrations will be necessary. However, if your organization is already considering a multi-tier approach, it might make sense to start a talent management project by acquiring a learning and development module that integrates with an existing HRMS rather than a full talent management suite.

In addition, some of the capabilities currently wrapped into talent management are frequently included within other technology investments your organization has already made. For instance, the social and conferencing capabilities associated with talent management collaboration modules are also available in unified communications suites provided by vendors such as Avaya and Unify. Predictive analytics and business intelligence capabilities might already be in-house through investments in IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microstrategy, or Tableau.

With this in mind, buyers should decide which set of tools to standardize or decide how to rationalize the use of standalone collaboration and analytics with overlapping talent management tools. This might not be an either/or decision, but it is an issue that HR and IT systems architects should think about as they evaluate and implement a talent management suite.

Personnel: form a diverse project team

Because of the variety of technologies that comprise talent management, the team tasked with evaluating talent management software should be diverse. The most obvious stakeholders are HR managers, application architecture managers and the line-of-business managers who make personnel decisions. These core members have made HR technology decisions for decades.

However, the analytics, video, social and collaboration capabilities offered in new talent management suites can potentially necessitate a few more seats at the table. For instance, regarding analytics, your organization might have a business intelligence Center of Excellence that has proven practices regarding the usage, visualization and propagation of key metrics. For video-based training and communications, your organization could have experts either in corporate communications or in the networking departments who have dealt with video creation and streaming video challenges. If your organization is evaluating social recruiting and networking tools, you might bring in community managers, customer excellence managers and social media marketing or service personnel with track records of social media success. Finally, collaboration capabilities such as web and video conferencing, mobile device and app support or calling have traditionally been the purview of telecom managers and analysts -- aka "the phone guys". Take advantage of these resources to get additional insight into emerging talent management capabilities. This will help you make better decisions and create stronger integrations with existing technologies.

Commitment to change: test before you buy

Talent management suites are ever-evolving, especially with regard to social and mobile capabilities. Many vendors are still working on multi-vendor mobile app support and collaborative toolsets, and clients are unsure how to use these new functionalities.

That said, even if a vendor can complete the RFX checklist of capabilities and provide a great demo, it doesn't mean they will be able to deliver on client needs. The best way to test out new talent management capabilities is to actually put a trial implementation in place for a specific department, location or set of users. Bring your executive champion into the trial and use it as an opportunity to build out the extended team of stakeholders needed to support the strategic talent management strategy. By doing so, you can figure out if the commitment to better talent management practices is a compelling initiative to the company's leaders before new technological capabilities are foisted upon an unwilling, unaware or wary population.

View talent management as a core business investment

Talent management is different from many new technologies in that it doesn't simply make the business faster, cheaper and easier to manage. Done right, talent management technology can actually make a company better by furnishing long-term strategic advantages that supply a consistent supply of high-end talent and support continuity in the executive ranks.

Many businesses are quick to say that talent is what separates them from their competitors, yet the majority of organizations still struggle to implement consistent business-wide talent improvement initiatives outside of learning and development. Because of this, it is important to treat a talent management suite purchase not only as a technical expenditure, but as a core business investment. By viewing talent management technology in this light, potential buyers can avoid the pitfalls of treating talent modules as individual, stand-alone components and make the most appropriate buying decision in context of their key strategic, operational and technological concerns.

About the author:
Hyoun Park is a founder and Principal Consultant at DataHive Consulting. He focuses on the intersections of social media, Big Data and human insight to develop enterprise technology solutions. For the past 20 years, Park has focused on harnessing the transformative power of the web, social media, enterprise mobility and the cloud while responsibly sticking to a budget. Follow him on Twitter @hyounpark.

This was last published in June 2014

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