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Buying human resources software: The implementation phase

In this fourth article of a seven-part series on buying HR software, two experts suggest which questions to ask before implementing your software.

You've negotiated a sweet price with your human resources software vendor, asking all the tough questions we suggested in our last article. Remember though, you haven't signed yet. If we have to mention in each of these articles that you lose your power the minute the pen hits the paper, we will. At this point, you start wondering how the human resources software will go from demo room concept to a critical part of your company's operations. We're not going to tell you all the reasons implementations fail. Plenty of others, like our friends at Dovetail Software, have them well documented. Instead, we'll focus on what you can do at this point to maximize the chance of success, just as we'll do during our live panel discussion for India HR Live.

Here are five key questions you should consider:

Can I meet my implementation team before I sign?

The first reaction from the human resources software vendor will be "huh?" You're too early in the process from their perspective. Your timing is just right from yours. Here's why. One possible outcome is that the vendor will say yes and assemble an A-Team, complete with the enforcer, Mr. T (maybe we're dating ourselves). You'll get to ask the A-Team questions that give you a sense of comfort about the vendor's product and HR knowledge. If the vendor declines, you'll glean important information about them from their answer. You'll find out how project assignments work, how big or small their internal implementation team is, or you'll dip your toes into the answer to our next question about implementation partners.

Do you use implementation partners, and if so will you answer a few more questions for me?

The company of one of the writers of this article (Jeremy of Hive Tech HR) is an implementation partner for several vendors, so clearly there isn't any negativity to throw toward the concept. But we write objectively, and you do need to dig a little deeper if implementation partners are part of the picture.

Are implementation partners factored into the same training plan as your direct hires? If the vendor treats them differently, that doesn't bode well. What kind of support do they receive from you, the software vendor, if questions arise during implementation? You want the vendor to do a warm handoff and to stay engaged. What is the escalation path, and are you included in it? You're looking for a "yes" here. Can I have a say in what specific partner is used, and will I know before I sign? This could open the door to a series of other questions, and if you've "heard things" about the vendor's partner ecosystem you may want to do more digging and reference checking. How are they compensated; moreover, are their interests in alignment with yours? Do they get paid at "go-live" or is customer satisfaction factored in or a Net Promoter Score (NPS)?

When will we start and how long will it take?

This is a question everyone asks. However, they're always looking selfishly at the answer. Sorry to call you selfish, but in reality, we all are. We want it implemented as quickly as possible. Instead of worrying about speed, look for the following elements in the vendor's answer:

Do the components of their timeframe indicate a solid methodology, even if the duration is longer than you'd like? Does their answer account for what they've learned during the sales process? Maybe you've explained that you'd like to start by rolling out core HR. You'll learn a lot by whether or not they include that in their timeline, or at least an explanation of why they chose not to. Is this implementation viewed by you or your firm as a transformational project? Meaning, are you reviewing underlying processes and potentially changing how you do things, not just the technology? Note: this is more common than you might imagine.

How tightly is scope defined and how will change be managed?

Some of you might not like the line "your implementation includes five customized reports," but more often than not, that approach is going to be more successful. You can still be agile with parameters. Then, the first time one of your team members says "I want a field that tracks my dependent's favorite color," you want Mr. T to say "I pity the fool." The Enforcer is the necessary evil of a successful implementation. You want to hear now that somebody is going to be managing scope change tightly. That said, try to build in a buffer for change; you don't really want to pay for the first out-of-scope item that's absolutely necessary. While The Enforcer won't be your friend on Facebook, he will help you navigate go-live.

How will we define success for the implementation?

Again, some of you are going to go for speed. Hey, we've seen companies that would have to pay millions of dollars if they didn't successfully decommission their outgoing system. If that's the case, maybe speed does matter. Or, if you really have corporate milestones you're trying to meet, such as benefits open enrollment, then success might include meeting that deadline. More often, however, you'll do better to focus on factors that will lead to longer-term success, such as quality. After all, rushing to one performance review cycle doesn't ensure that you'll be happy with what you implemented for the next five cycles. Another consideration is to use an NPS as an indicator of success. Once you get through implementation, you'll know much more about the product and the company you committed to. The answer to the question "How likely would you be to recommend this product and vendor to another company?" is very telling. (Of course, if you fabricate the NPS to stick a competitor with the lousy vendor you selected, that's a different story).

As always, none of these considerations will guarantee you'll have a successful product selection, sales process, negotiation or implementation, but they sure will give you a better chance.

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 [email protected] 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 and other media outlets and sits on the boards of several technology companies. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @williamtincup.

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