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Buying human resources software: Decide on features first

In this first article of a seven-part series on buying HR software, two experts offer questions to ask as you determine what features best meet your needs.

Too often in the sales process we fall in love with features that look great but aren't exactly what we need --...

like a fish chasing a shiny object. Six months later, when core users and the company at large are let down, they will be pointing their collective finger at you -- and anyone else responsible for choosing a system that didn't meet their needs. Here are some questions to ask to avoid that all-too-common outcome.

1. Why should we buy this software now?

The goal here is simple: Find out what is being displaced and why. You're switching out payroll providers. Why?  What's broken?  What's undone?  You're doing everything via Excel spreadsheet. How would you like to be entering the data? Employees send in benefit enrollment forms. What's your vision for how they would enroll in the future? Before getting into the details, spend time understanding your current environment. How is it not meeting your high-level objectives?

2. Is my process right and my product wrong?

Process is always more important than technology. You can put inferior technology on top of a great process and you'll still have value. Yet, time after time, companies try to layer a performance management technology over a lousy process. If you have eight different types of reviews, maybe you should streamline your process before swapping out systems. Spend time looking critically at your processes.

3. What features are important to us?

Most HR software applications have what can best be described as "feature bloat."  Such applications contain tons of features but have little use of each and every one. Sorting through features to determine what's good and what's not puts even more of a burden on the buyer. As you would when buying a car, know exactly what you want. Regardless of whether HR or IT is going to sign the check, get up close and personal with your requirements. After cataloguing them, determine what's nice to have, what's important and what's critical.

4. Is this the system my employees and I want to wake up to every day?

Not everyone will use the system every day, but some will. Put yourself in their shoes. How will that funky wheel of features make users feel when they just want to enter a promotion? How frustrated will the manager be when she still can't approve time off on her iPhone? And how red will the associate's face turn when he tries to enter his new baby's Social Security number and it takes him 20 minutes to find the form? Having software that is easy on the eye and intuitive does matter.

5. What reports and analytics are important to us?

Technology that provides operational benefits is great, but gaining insight from technology is far better. We can't listen to another company leader tell us, "I want to get better" if they're not willing to seek, or listen to, insights they can be getting from their technology. What are you solving for in your business beyond operations?  What's critical to the business from a reporting perspective? Don't assume all HR technology comes with great reporting or analytics out of the box.

6. What else does this product need to be connected to?

Buyers are sick and tired of technology that doesn't play well in the sandbox. Ask questions of providers. Do you have an open application programming interface (API)?  Who are you integrated with?  Where can this data be pushed to and pulled from? Out of the box, without six months of work and lack of data integrity?

In the remaining six articles on the points of satisfaction in the HR technology buying process we'll shift the focus from products to other critical phases, such as the sales process, vendor negotiation and project implementation (see the sidebar). You might end up with a new HR system your employees will want to use from their laptops and smartphones.

The seven points of satisfaction
in buying HR tech

Each article in the series addresses one of the steps in the purchasing process that is a key determinant of buyer satisfaction.

  1. Product selection
  2. Sales process
  3. Negotiation
  4. Implementation
  5. Training
  6. Adoption
  7. Support

About the authors
Jeremy Ames is co-founder of Hive Tech HR, a consulting company based in Medway, Mass. He is a 15-year veteran of IT implementation projects and sits on the HR Management and Technology Expertise panel of the Society for Human Resource Management. Email him at Jeremy.ames@hivetechhr.com or follow him on Twitter @jeremyallynames.

William Tincup is principal analyst and co-founder of Key Interval Research, which is based in Occidental, Calif. He is a contributor to HRExaminer.com and other media outlets and sits on the boards of several technology companies. Follow him on Twitter @williamtincup.

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This was last published in January 2015

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