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Three tips to avoid talent management suite integration hurdles

Integration issues with talent management suites are best avoided by asking the right questions during the vendor selection process, users say.

The best way to avoid integration issues with a talent management suite is to ask the right questions during the vendor selection process -- but those questions may not be immediately obvious, according to users. One recruiter at an accounting firm bemoaned this very snag when telling of the problems her organization is experiencing with talent management software vendor Kenexa.

"Part of the issue was that people making the decision didn't know to ask the [right] questions," the recruiter, who requested anonymity, said. Asked to describe the integration between Kenexa and the organization's onboarding system, she replied, "I wouldn't call it smooth."

Five questions to ask talent management suite vendors before buying

Which modules were built and which were acquired?

Are all modules on the same database?

What partnerships do you have in place?

Can you refer me to a reference client in my industry?

Can you refer me to a reference client using my core HR system?

Users talking with Framingham, Mass.-based IT research firm IDC for a 2012 study also cited the integration challenges associated with talent management software as a major pain point, according to Lisa Rowan, IDC's program director for HR, talent and learning strategies research. Specifically, users cited compatibility problems faced when integrating individual modules within a talent management suite and when integrating talent management software with core HR systems. Rowan said those integration hurdles can obstruct workforce visibility and create the potential for duplicate efforts, often defeating the purpose of deploying an integrated talent management suite.

HR managers using a variety of products said integration hurdles can be mitigated or avoided by researching which modules were built and which were acquired, consulting the right references and having the IT department involved before making an investment -- and that's certainly a better strategy than trying to remedy problems after implementation. Rowan said that many talent management vendors are cloud-based, and therefore there's not much HR managers can do to contend with serious integration problems between modules after a suite has been implemented.

"Keep elevating it as a challenge to the vendor -- typically these are going to be Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, so, as a buyer, you are not going to be able to write code around it, nor should you," she said. "There's precious little you can do."

Find out which modules were bought and which were built

Poor integration between talent management suite modules from a single vendor is often caused by the fact that an in-house development team built some of those modules, while others were acquired. Stacie Mallen, HR vice president at Ulthera Inc., a medical device company located in Mesa, Ariz., said many HR managers do not know that this is the case. "I would say the general answer is no, people are not aware," said Mallen, a user of SilkRoad talent management software. "They think just because it's on one user interface, it's on one database."

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With that in mind, Rowan said it's important to ask vendors which modules were built and which were acquired. "If you found out that they bought their performance [module], you're on notice that you need to delve deep there," she said. "Whatever it might be that was not originally built by that vendor, you need to be on alert." Mallen said the fact that SilkRoad internally developed many of their modules played into her decision to adopt the platform.

Yvonne Ruiz, senior HRIS analyst at Berkeley College, headquartered in Woodland Park, N.J., also recommended taking the vendor's business partnerships into account. An understanding of which software vendors the talent management provider is partnered with can inform future purchasing decisions and help assuage potential integration issues. "When they have partnerships already created, that's great because they've already made sure [the systems] work well with each other," Ruiz, an UltiPro user, said.

Mallen stressed that the decision to purchase a talent management suite should boil down to more than what looks the best, as attractive user interfaces can sometimes mask poor integration capabilities. "You [can] get wooed by a great user interface, but if it's a nightmare in the back-end database administration side, you're going to be pulling your hair out," she said. "There are some products out there that aren't as pretty but that do better on the back end than others."

Talk to clients in similar industries and scenarios

Several users also underscored the importance of speaking to customer references about how they would rate the integration of the product, especially clients in the same industry or using the same core HR systems.

"The medical industry's going to be a lot different than construction," said Tanie York, an independent HR consultant who recently worked with Taleo at Home Depot. "Try to find someone within your industry, [ask] what road blocks did they experience, and then ask the vendor up front, 'How am I going to overcome this?'"

Mallen pointed out that vendors will often present "model" customers as references, and those customers’ experiences may not be relevant to the buyer's use case. "The best advice I can give is to ask for references that are relevant to your industry and to your size, because the pain points will be more similar."

To avoid integration problems between a talent management suite and core HR systems, Rowan suggested that buyers speak to a reference client using the exact same core system. "Be very specific about what your core platform is, and then probe the talent management vendor carefully about that particular platform," she said. "Make sure that you talk to references that are using your core HR with that vendor's talent management, and probe for [their] experiences."

Rowan also recommended that buyers test their company's various use cases. "Make sure that when you're doing your due diligence with vendors that you're coming up with demo scenarios that are pertinent to your organization and would highlight where integration shines or doesn't," she said.

Plan to have an IT resource involved

Although cloud-based applications are often designed to be easy for business users to deploy, several users said getting the necessary integrations in order still requires a technical resource.

Mallen's organization doesn't have an internal IT department, and she actually performed the implementation of one of SilkRoad's modules herself. But she did enlist a consultant to help align the data, and she suggested others do the same.

"You have to have somebody on your team that does understand back-end integration," she said. "And if you don't, you need to get a consultant that can help you make sure the data is talking."

Integrated talent management suite requires collaboration

Rowan said the success of a talent management suite deployment hinges on how "integrated" the different sectors of an organization's HR department are willing to be. The chances of finding a single vendor with a"best of breed" offering in each functional area is slim, she said. Managers leading different divisions within HR will likely have to make some trade-offs and compromise with their colleagues.

"Assess how ready you are in terms of being able as a group to adopt a single platform. You really can't succeed if recruiting or learning is off on its own," she said. "People have to come together and say maybe it's not the best fit for all of us individually, but the integrated platform will fit us better in the end."

Emma Snider is the associate site editor for Follow her on Twitter: @emmajs24.

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